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Please loosen the corset

I’m smack in the middle of a rewrite.  When I say rewrite, I don’t mean simple revisions.  I mean ripping out the guts, adding in another 1/3 of the story and changing the narrative from third person to first person.  This is the type of revision that terrifies me.  Give me a full-length line edit and I’m in heaven.  Armed with my red Uniball pen and my Post-it notes, I can whip through a manuscript in a couple of days.  But this ripping out the innards, twisting them around and placing them back in the same body can cause any writer a severe case of anxiety.

Here’s how the week has gone:

Day 1: After weeks of scheming and planning, I was hesitant but happy to drag myself back to the computer. I even got a few new words down on paper.  The first person voice was bland, but Anna, my main character, is tricky.  (At least that’s what I’m telling myself.) And phew, it feels good to have 2,091 words under my belt.

(The truth: 1,800 of the 2,091 words weren’t new at all.  I copied and pasted scenes from my old manuscript, cleaned up the verbiage and changed the tense.  A few new dialogue tags and we’re ready to move on.  Right?)

Day 2: Coffee.  Computer.  Quiet house.  Ready to write. BUT nothing is happening.  I’m internally flogging myself for being a cop out.  Cut-and-paste was not the intention of the second draft.  So instead of setting off on the yellow brick road in search of my courage (and my MC’s voice), I’ll just draft a few blog posts and find out what’s happening with Hurricane Isaac instead.

Day 3: Run from meeting to meeting – all the while distracted because I’m the Cowardly Lion of writing hiding in a PTA mom’s body.

Day 3: (8:14 p.m.)  All’s quiet on the Miller front. Kids are in bed and hubby is checking the baseball scores.  The first line of my revised manuscript just floated through my head.  It’s odd and a little edgy, but it works.  I sit down and manage to spit out 379 polished words in 21 minutes.  And boy are they a complete departure from the original manuscript!  Anna has suddenly taken on a life of her own.  She’s opinionated and shy and bold all at the same time.  And she’s talking about condoms.  Whoa!  Where did that one come from?  You know what?  It felt great – condoms and all.

Here’s the beauty of it.  I was playing.  Playing with words and playing with ideas.  We get ourselves all wrapped up in the seriousness of our craft.  (At least I do.) Thoughts of deadlines and ditching the dangling participles can paralyze us.  I, for one, get very Victorian when I’m writing — trussed up tight and worried about how my words will be perceived.  On Day 3, however, I threw caution to the Victorian winds and loosened up the whale-bone corset.  And once those strings were free I felt like I could play.  My MC’s voice came to life.  She was throwing off the lace tablecloths that covered her dining table legs, she was using the word “leg” instead of “limb.”  She was even talking about… condoms.  I was blushing (and she was blushing). Our collective Victorian chasteness was threatening to tighten that corset back up with every keystroke.  But I filled my lungs with air, exhaled and tore those laces to shreds.

Here’s hoping that playtime will continue with every writing session.  It’s so much more rewarding to write when you’re having fun doing it, and it secretly feels a little bit exciting to throw off those Victorian shackles along the way.

What about you?  Have you (or your characters) done anything surprising this week?

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7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you for that text. I’m in the writing process! Sometimes I have the impression that i’m writing a grocery list. I hate that (!) cause I know those parts will be candidate for a big scrubby rewriting. I’ll loose the corset!

    August 31, 2012
    • Thanks, Caroline. Yet another phrase for my writer’s t-shirts, “Writers, loosen the corset!” Hang in there and know that admidst those grocery lists are floating some literary gems.

      August 31, 2012
  2. I loved the imagery in this post, and I haven’t gone back for my first real revision yet, but I’m sure when I get in there it’s going to get bloody as I rip out rote, mechanical tropes, and shove in bloodied organs that thrive and beat with each pulse. It’ll be fun, but messy…I think for now, so I don’t get covered in the blood, I’ll keep my corset on…or whatever it is us men are supposed to wear.

    August 31, 2012
    • There was supposed to be a 🙂 at the end, whoops!

      August 31, 2012
    • Thanks for stopping by, Nathan. Keep the corset on until you’re ready to revise and then enjoy the liberating feeling of loosening it up.

      September 1, 2012
  3. Pat #

    Oh I have been there many times and I am doing it all yet again with another novel.
    And I hate it. I’m glad you have found a way to ‘loosen the corset’.
    Seriously wish I could, but there seems no other way for me than to just keep on hacking at it.

    September 1, 2012
    • We all do it differently, Pat. Keep hacking at it and let me know how it goes. Thanks for stopping by.

      September 1, 2012

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