Tuesday, October 30, 2007

There really is such a thing as ‘too tight’, or Dammit, I’ve lost my voice!!!!

It should come as no surprise to my regular readers that I’m knee deep in revisions... some days better than others and I thought I was making a good deal of progress... okay, I’m getting a little loopy, and I keep changing tracks to include some short story and essay time (oh, came up with a good essay for a particular publication that I love, hopefully it’s as good when I go to edit it next week)... are you all still with me? Sorry I’m a bit scattered here and I keep losing the damn point....

It’s a constant state of writing that you’ll look at the very same piece one day and think you’ve really hit it, but at another time you’ll want to hang it up for good and pick a more sensible career path. So, I’m barreling through revisions, cut a character, found a running theme that needed pulling out, am thrilled with the way some previously more cardboard than flesh and blood characters have come along... yada, yada... but I decided yesterday to start at the beginning and give it a quick read through – what did I find? There is such a thing as ‘too tight’.

I revised and re-revised my first two chapters in light of much research and some great commentary from both a critique group and my regular writers circle. I spent a good deal more time on those two chapters than the whole, as I was gearing them for final publication while still working on some major points throughout the rest... and the crits were good, don’t get me wrong. I do have a habit of including too much back story, I do break into a bit too much telling at certain passages, and of course there’s always room for improvement. But now, reading through those same chapters – my voice is absent.

I knew there was something wrong immediately, and the voice I’m getting in the first chapter is, well, staccato... and I’m not partial to staccato. In the aim of cutting out the unnecessary back story, I seem to have left a good deal of my own voice on the cutting room floor as well... and I like my voice – it’s got a good beat, I can dance to it...

I think it’s important that I pay attention to criticism, because there’s only so much you can see when you’re that close to your own work – and I don’t think the crits were wrong, I think I went too far over one way and lost some of the flow of my own writing in the process... I’m leaving off on those two chapters for now – I don’t want to get stuck obsessing over the first pages of my manuscript forever – so I’ll keep going where I am and see if the fix pops to light by the end of the journey.

How about you guys, have you ever gone so far in revisions that you lost a bit of your own flavor? Have you ever revised so much that you can’t see the glaring mistakes? Have you ever eaten an entire spice cake in sheer frustration? (Okay, two big pieces, but it might as well have been the whole thing). Feel free to vent if you’d like.

15 comments:

Travis Erwin said...

Definitely I have done this. Especially when I was in this horrible crit group that attacked my voice on a weekly basis.

Now days I am pretty trusting and confident in my voice, and I'm in a great group that is tough but on things like character, plot, motivation, plausability and the nuts and bolts of writing, instead of wanting me to write just like them.

By the way sometimes we are are own worst critics. I's be glad to read those first coupel of chapeter and offer my opinion if you like. Sometimes fresh set of eyes can help.

Email me or drop a comment on my blog if you are intereseted.

Mary Witzl said...

Because I tend to overwrite and tell far too much backstory, when I rewrite, I sometimes prune away all of the good details. But I still think that given my tendency to go on and on, it is better to err on the side of brevity.

I sent my finished manuscript out to a friend I trust and she sent it back with a lot of critical comments and suggestions. After the first shock of disappointment, I came to see that at least 70% of her proposed changes were spot on. She made a lot of positive comments too, but felt that I needed to make more of my comic elements and take out some of the heavier stuff. She also found a lot of my conversation tags redundant. I'm betting that when I go back to reread the manuscript, I'll see it too.

And yes -- there will still be a lot of glaring mistakes I haven't spotted! S i g h.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Travis,

Many many thanks for the outstanding offer! The crit group was great - I've mentioned them before, kidcrit at compuserve all wonderful authors and very generous with their time and thoughts. My writing circle is also excellent, all bloggers I started with at a now defunct blog community...

I think the thing that happened here is that my novel is middle grade fiction, but I've never trained in writing to that age bracket and my voice leans more literary than commercial... ugh, it needed tightening, but I think I leaned too far in toward active voice and lost a bit of my flowing prose, and I don't want stilted action...

I'd love to send you the first few chapters to have a gander at... my eyes hurt at the moment, so I won't be checking them first, okay, I'll probably check them first... Actually, I think I may take a few of the omitted paragraphs, prune them, and re-enter some... and see if it's a little more my speed...

egads this world building business is a lot of work. I'll email you sometime tomorrow if I get a chance, Halloween and all it might be Thursday instead. Thanks again, Travis. I'd love to get a few chapters of yours to crit too, if you're interested.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Mary,

We seem to have the same writing foible. I backstory the hell out of the reader, mostly because I think it's interesting and there's a small bit of me who's insecure that the reader will understand what I'm conveying without all the extra baggage... now it's just trying to find the balance without taking too much of the extra stuff away... sometimes the beauty's in the details... sometimes less is more...

It's great to have someone you trust implicitly with your work. I have a few whose opinion is gold, but then, when I get the thing back with relatively few crits I worry they're being overly nice.

ack... I think I'm overthinking this... at least I'm working on it but at the same time my instinct tells me to write it out the way I'm inclined and then tweak the cleanup rather than uprooting whole scenes... does that make sense? What I've done with the first two chapters is to make them very active in order to speak more to the middle grade market... but I think what I really need to do is capture more of my writing voice, even though it is adult, and tell it that way...

Thanks for stopping in... I recommend a slice of spice cake and then another crack at revisions after your tummy's full ;-) By the way, I'd be happy to take a look if you need another set of eyes.

Mamalujo said...

WARNING! LISTEN TO NOTHING I SAY! I AM NOWHERE NEAR AS FAR ALONG WITH BEING ABLE TO CLAIM BEING A WRITER!

There, that's out of the way.

I would have to say that I'm a firm believer in listening to your voice. Editing is always a necessity, but there is an indefinable line where you start getting rid of the quirks, eccentricities, stylisms, mannerisms and a whole bunch of other things (and "isms") that, together, make your writing different and special and unique.

I wish I wrote more, or were more productive. But whenever I try to write for the sake of writing, i.e., so I can say I'm writing, it's impossible. And it's crap.

When, however, I find myself inspired and able to channel that energy into something, I know it's good and all the editing it needs is to clean out the boneheaded mistakes and glaring problems. I don't touch its soul. Shame that these creative stars seem to align so infrequently.

Merry Jelinek said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Mamajulo,

Nice to meet you, and your disclaimer is useless here because the rest of your comment proves you are, indeed, a writer. (sorry to break it to you, it's a hard road you've been foisted on)

Publishing credits are impressive, I'm always ecstatic for authors who get a deal, or land their pieces in great journals... at the same time, though, writers who haven't gotten there yet still have the insight that comes with sitting down with the page... essentially, publishing credentials aren't a necessity to be able to discuss the process...

The muse can drive you nuts, can't it? I know, I've had time to work where I just can't string a sentence together and other times I'm dying to get to it and life just won't allow me the time... on the other hand, though, if I sit through those dry spells and muscle out the words (even though they're crap) I find that the muse becomes more active when I need her and the dry spells are less frequent... I equate inspiration like a muscle, if you don't use it it atrofies - it's always there, really, and the more you think about and apply your writing, the more ready it is and willing to take shape...

Of course, this is only my personal theory... but it works for me, so there you go.

Nice to see you - I'll be sure to stop over at your blog and see what you've been up to there.

Ello said...

It's a fine line and you do have to watch overediting - i've been victim to this. But I think you are doing the right thing, move on and come back to this later when it isn't so fresh. But good for you for writing! I haven't in 4 days!

jjdebenedictis said...

This is wonderful synchronicity, because I was rereading something on Sunday, got to a certain chapter and *bang*. It was just as you describe: the writing was staccato and I wasn't liking it at all.

Spice cake, no. Four chocolate bars in a single sitting, yes.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Ello,

Yeah, I'm a big advocate of putting it away to get a fresh perspective - that's probably why I noticed it now and not on my last pass, I reworked it so many times I just couldn't see it anymore.

Four days isn't too bad, would you like me to come badger you about it? ;-)

Hi JJ,

Gotta love synchronicity. My usual problem is over writing, not this kind of close clipped sentence structure... I think it's finding the balance that's the key.

Four chocolate bars sounds good, hmmm.... should have an overflow of them tomorrow, what with three kids trick or treating and bringing home loot from their classroom parties. I plan on stealing all the reeses cups myself.

Mary Witzl said...

What you say makes sense: it is wise to push yourself to write even when the prose doesn't seem to be flowing beautifully. Just thinking about what you are writing helps, in my opinion. However plodding and stilted it might sound, write what you can, when you can -- however little that might be -- and then come back later and play with it. That has worked better for me than waiting for the muse to come back. Sometimes you end up waiting for so long that you lose the thread -- and the impetus.

Shelly said...

This used to happen to me all the time. I'd listen to some bit of criticism here, some there, and end up not having the foggiest idea what to think of my own writing. It always helps me to put it away and get some fresh perspective.

I am getting to be a little better about it now. But if I have a piece I haven't touched in a while, I almost always cringe when I get back to it. I think I am very much my own worst critic.

Colleen_Katana said...

Merry! Hello, it's Colleen! I finally joined up to blogspot!
Anyway, I am having very similar issues with revisions too. It's a catch 22 because you want to listen to what people are telling you to change, but I've found that what one person hates, another person also loves. So, if something within my books makes me laugh, it stays regardless of what other people think...well, unless it's a unanimous vote against it.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Mary,

"Just thinking about what you are writing helps, in my opinion." - I couldn't agree more! I've often joked about the fact that my husband thinks I talk to myself... and I do, I play out scenes in my head whenever I get a chance which may mean, making faces in order to think through how to show them on the page, or saying phrases to get the voice right... I try not to do this in front of people, but I often do - so that crazy guy on the bus you're so afraid of, maybe he's just a writer.

One of the coolest things about writing is the fact that your story, the more you work with it, will work itself out in your mind even when you're not writing. Scenes and characters flesh themselves out while I'm doing dishes, reading, or just relaxing with friends... there's so much more to it than just sitting down at the computer - but, if you don't sit down and write it, the damn thing will just stay in your own head...

Hi Shelly,

You know, the own worst critic thing seems to be more of my problem than other people's opinions... I don't think the opinions were wrong, I think I took them too far and in the process took too much away from my writing.. I still can't help but feel that the root of the problem is trying to conform my writing to a grade level... My novel (plot and themes) are obviously middle grade in nature... on the other hand, I think that age bracket can handle adult writing and I think the novel would be better for it.

I've said this before, I've studied all different facets of publishing and writing and feel pretty confident with my knowledge of the industry and process - except when it comes to children's - I never studied it at all prior to this novel and there are some differences there. In the last six months or so I've done a lot of research, read a lot of middle grade, and looked very seriously into the differences in my usual writing style and in middle grade voice, simply because this novel is middle grade - but I don't write that way. Every short story and most of my future novel ideas are decidedly adult.

I love this novel and I want to see it published, but I don't want to change my voice in order to do that. (I'm also thinking career here, publishing the one novel isn't my goal my goal is to keep writing and gaining an audience - this one fell into my head, I think largely because I'm raising my own kids and working a lot with children's learning, so the middle grade just came naturally... I can't help but feel as my kids age and my life goes back to more adult themes, so will my writing) So, in the end, I'll be redoing the first two chapters in order to mesh with the rest of the ms. I'm still leaving out the backstory, but some of the flowing prose can stay, I think.

I thought it was fantabulous that you and Sharon picked up a decidedly British feel to the first chapter before I changed it so much - that was exactly what I was going for there, and I think things like that have suffered in the revisions as they are.

I'm also still a big believer in second and third sets of eyes... but I think I need to listen more to my own instincts than I did on the revisions to those first two chapters.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Colleen!!!

Yay, so great to see you here! You do have to go with your instinct... there are certain rules to writing that you can't get around, such as showing not telling, but even there it's a balance... yes you need to show but if you don't balance with some telling your voice becomes manic...

There are some agent blogs you might like to check out on my blogroll... they're a great way to keep an eye on both those particular agents and the protocals for the industry itself. BookEnds Literary, Dystel and Goderich (they don't blog often but when they do it's good info), Nathan Bransford, and Pubrants are up there... from there you'll find other blogs on agents and a lot of great writers comment there, too...

Great to see you again... I'll send a reply to your latest email soon and I'll definitely stop in to see your blog.