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Marissa Lingen

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The things we like best [Nov. 14th, 2013|10:19 pm]
Marissa Lingen

Every job has things you like better and things you don’t like so much in it, no matter how much you like the job on the whole. There is no job that is all the good bits, start to finish.

Me, I’m happiest when I’m writing a novel. I know there are people who enjoy having written rather than enjoying writing, but I am not them, and sometimes I marvel that they can do this job at all, because it contains a lot of writing for people who don’t enjoy writing. More power to them for making it work, and we are all a beautiful rainbow and that. But what I like best in an ordinary day is to wake up and have unwritten bits of novel spread out like a quilt before me, being able to work on whatever bit I like and having it come together into something big and wonderful.

Next to that I like drafting short stories. And next to that I like trying to draft short stories and novels simultaneously–it’s really best to separate them out when I can.

Then there is a giant step down to revision and marketing.

The thing is, I am not actually doing this just for personal fulfillment. While I am comfortable with the idea that some of my work will be trunked at some point, I am not actually writing it for the purpose of trunking it. I believe in revision! I believe in it fervently, in the idea of being able to make things wonderful that did not come out quite as wonderful as I’d hoped. Revision is a gift we are given by the universe: the fact that we, we lucky ones, we have chosen an art that is, thank God, not a performance art, and therefore we can improve it after the first rush of creation.


However, waking up and saying to myself, “Today I will improve upon the thing that is suboptimal now!” is an intellectual pleasure. It is not like writing the thing in draft, which for me is an intellectual and a visceral pleasure all at once. I never wallow in revision; I can’t. That’s not how it works for me. And the drafts, sometimes I really do wallow in those.

At the moment, I have just finished one large and one small project in revision, and I have large ones ahead of me. There is the previous thing I ran past the writers’ group, which I don’t want to let languish indefinitely half-revised. And then in December the writers’ group will meet again, and I’ll get more revision ideas there. Revision will be with me for awhile; ideally it will be with me always. But it will be with me intensely for awhile even without adding to the revision queue, which I seem to be doing pretty constantly right now.

The spigot is still attempting to gush forth new story upon me. The spigot is undeterred by revision. The spigot also does not feel revision as work, though the rest of me does. This is how I managed to finish novel revisions Saturday morning and then turn to a new story with Alec without batting an eye.

I’m trying to find the balance here, between getting done useful things that really want getting done and letting myself do the really fun wonderful things–that will also, long-term, be useful. This last week, I’ve been feeling like I “earn” my time with new stuff by doing revisions on old stuff. But I don’t want to hedge things around with so many rules that I miss the really good moments. It’s not just a matter of a player on a streak having to respect the streak, because they don’t happen very often, although you can generally do worse for platitude-mining than Bull Durham. It’s also a matter of why we do this. Why I do this. And honestly, I do this so I can write scenes about a gigantic jeweled magical orrery, and also political upheaval, and also teenagers feeling confused about pretty much everything.

So I’m going to go do that. And tomorrow, I will try to do some more revisions. But also probably more of that. Because it’s what I like best.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


[User Picture]From: sartorias
2013-11-15 02:10 pm (UTC)
How about afterward? Do you get the sense of Having Good Work Done equally, or one more than the other, after a raw draft or a revision session?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-11-15 02:25 pm (UTC)

I think if I can get the sense that the revision was large, then I get the same satisfaction of Good Work Done as I do with a large chunk of new fiction. But it's very easy for me to look at a revision and say, "I just twiddled with three paragraphs, why did that take me all morning?" and not feel as satisfied.

On the other hand, when I finish drafting, I know I'm not really finished, whereas when I finish a particular revision, usually that means a story is finished enough to go to other people (whether it's the writers' group or agent/editors or, in the case of an editorially-driven revision, the reading public), so that's more satisfying.

How about you?
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2013-11-15 02:28 pm (UTC)
I used to only get that feeling after a ton of raw draft, but I tend to get it more from a revision session, if it feels like I addressed whatever problem I'm seeing.(The doubts that set in afterward are pretty much equal.)
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[User Picture]From: madwriter
2013-11-18 03:16 am (UTC)
I'm one of those odd birds who likes writing and having written. I get a tremendous sense of accomplishment from having a finished book under my belt, but there's also nothing comparable to the aha! moments that come now and again when I'm writing or revising. Especially when I sit down not knowing or only barely knowing what I'm going to write when I start, followed by the ideas flowing at the speed of my typing.
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[User Picture]From: lenora_rose
2013-11-21 05:16 pm (UTC)
Belatedly following sartorias' link here. I have to admit, in some ways, I get the best sense of accomplishment, of "This is now what I want it to be (Or at least closer)" from revisions at times. Raw text is scary, because I have fewer guarantees what it will be. Wiuth a revision the worst I can do is have it be no better than it was. Raw text can be complete and utter dreck, or five pages of the characters sitting around talking instead of doing stuff.

BUt when it works... the high from having just solved a writing problem in the story in my head by bulling through the scene and making the damn characters actually make some choices, that can be awesome. Until the next time I'm hovering at the void, or the time it's just feeling like every words is mud. Then I have to get through it with the mantra "I can't revise what doesn't exist in the first place."

I guess the TL:DR version would be, raw text is scarier and has stronger highs and deeper lows. Revision is reassuring because the lows are darn near impossible; you already start at the bottom.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-11-21 06:45 pm (UTC)
It's interesting to me that you feel that the worst is to have it be no better than it was. You're lucky, if that's true for you! I'm always concerned that I will break something that was previously working. This is one reason I try to be so clear in critiques about what was working for me: so that the author can refrain from breaking it in revisions if at all possible!
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[User Picture]From: lenora_rose
2013-11-22 02:49 am (UTC)
I can't make it worse because I always save the revisions to a new draft; if I break it that badly, I can revert, or copy-paste for the bit that didn't work.

Well, truth be told, I have that anxiety, too, but it doesn't seem remotely as bad, ever, as the fear of what the raw text will turn out to be. Probably because I've done enough revision by now that I know worked - while I STILL churn out awful first prose. (There's nothing like the feeling of finishing a paragraph or a page and knowing on the spot that it will be cut, probably in its entirety, from the next draft.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-11-22 03:28 am (UTC)
And I think this is very much dependent on how you write, because I don't churn out awful prose, I churn out pretty passable prose; if a paragraph needs cutting, it's usually because the thing in it didn't happen or didn't happen quite that way.

If we all worked the same way, there'd be nothing to talk about.
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[User Picture]From: lenora_rose
2013-11-22 03:22 am (UTC)
Rereading my initial comment, too, I realised I downplayed the importance of the raw text's highs. True that the lows of raw text are far more paralyzing than the idea of revision ever will be, but contrariwise, I, too, can lose the feeling of being a real writer if I don't get the occasional raw text writing high instead of just revise revise revise. Since that's part of why I even did NaNoWriMo this eyar (My new output was at a crawl), it's not just generally relevant, it's immediately relevant.

Edited at 2013-11-22 03:24 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: hypatia_j
2013-11-22 08:49 pm (UTC)
yes please.
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