Rewriting Your Novel: The Deadly Game of “Compare Yourself”

The Rewriting Jungle

jungle to represent the rewriting jungle

So, there you are, the part-time novelist, maybe the nascent part-time novelist, and you’re working hard on your rewrite. It’s tough going, because, no matter how many craft books you’ve read, this is unknown territory, jungle territory no less, and you’re hacking your way through with a metaphorical machete. Despite your careful beat sheet revisions, you come to a point where the 83rd unexpected plot hole jumps out and surprises you. “Ohmigawd,” you think, “this is never going to work. I am wasting my time on what is possibly the worst travesty of literature ever committed in the English language.” So, realizing that you are getting a bit strung out, you take a break to relax and read a bit.

Which only makes things worse.

The Comparison Game

A sign that says stop the comparison game

Things get worse because you start comparing your work with whatever it is you’re reading. This happened to me the other day. Thinking novel #2 might be a lighthearted thriller, I thought I’d pick up One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich. Well, not only is that sucker light, it’s tightly plotted, it has sparkling, well-defined characters, plenty of excitement and a ton of humor. My book stinks, I thought. It is nowhere near good as this.

Well, that was depressing, so I turned to my current audiobook, Shades of Gray, by Jasper Fforde. Oh, man, the world-building that guy has put into this book! It’s about a society in which people can only see one shade of color and the whole social pecking order is built around a colortocracy, with purple vision at the top and mere gray at the bottom. And that’s not all. There are roads made of living material, giant swans, libraries empty of everything but librarians… it’s amazing. The world in my book seems shabby by comparison.

Feh, I thought, feeling doomed.

Avoid Idiot Syndrome

An idiot with a paper bag mask on his head the mask is on fire

But then I thought some more, and realized I was being an idiot. (This often happens.) Here’s why:

  • The books I was reading are finished. They’ve already been through the whole rewriting process. If they aren’t better than my second draft, something’s wrong.
  • The authors of these books have had a lot more practice than I. Both have several published books, and I’m willing to bet they both wrote a lot before they got the first one in bookstores. I didn’t write much in my youth (or early middle age), so here I am. I will never make up the experience gap, unless I live to be 200. (I’ll get back to you on that.) Might as well accept the fact and do the best I can.
  • One for the Money and Shade of Gray are great, but they aren’t my novel. Even after it’s all polished up, my book is going to be utterly different. I’m a different author with a different vision, voice and skill set.
  • For a writer, reading is sitting at the feet of the masters. There’s much to be learned from Evanovich and Fforde if I can set my ego aside and see it. Can I plot as tightly as Evanovich? I can try. Can I make my world as thoroughly as Fforde? I can try. The more I try to emulate the virtues of good writers, the better my writing will become.

Armed with Spackle

Man spackling a wall

Having thought all this, I feel better. I can finish my novel and make it the best book I can write at this stage of my development. I can learn from other writers instead of falling into the deadly game of Compare Yourself. Now I can tackle my rewrite fresh, with some positive ideas instead of a head full of put-downs.

Have spackle; will fill plot holes.

a monkey with a gun demanding a comment

What do you do to lift yourself up when you feel your writing stinks? Leave your thoughts in a comment for the other three people reading this blog. Thanks!

Advertisements

Tools for Novel Writers: From Fix-it Sheet to Fix-it Matrix

Taming The Imps of Rewriting

If you want to pry the lid off a barrel of imps and dump it out on your shoes, start rewriting your novel. That’s how I feel today, at any rate. There’s not just one thing to do. You’ve got to revise words, fill in plot holes, make characters look, act and speak consistently and, oh, sweet Saint Syrup of the Waffle House, do a hundred other things. And when I say imps, I mean imps, not tasks, because they slide out from under you, escape your attention, pile up in a writhing disorganized mass and do their best to make you crazy as a June bug in, well, like, June. It’s enough to make you run away screaming.

But I want to promote myself from nascent novelist to stuck-with-it-and-totally-finished novelist. And I presume, since you’re reading this, so do you. Or maybe you’ve done it before and you want to do it again. Let’s not split hairs. Or hares, which would be messy.

What I mean is, here we are. So let us gird up our loins and tame the imps.

The New Rewriting Steps

First, obtain a beverage. This should be free of alcohol or any other potentially mind-bending substances. I prefer coffee and, no, caffeine is not a mind-bending substance, it is a vitamin. Look it up.

Second, sit down (or stand up, if you prefer) at your chosen tool of literary construction.

Third, assemble the following: manuscript, beat sheet and fix-it sheet. (I described the fix-it sheet in “Tools for Writers: Fix-it Notes and the Fix-it Sheet.”)

Fourth, get something to make a matrix with. (A matrix is a grid; I am obligated to call it a matrix because of my brief sojourn in Hell… oh, wait, that was MBA school.)

Fifth – here’s the fun part – make a new, improved, fix-it sheet. This one enables you to track your rewriting tasks against your chapters with much more ease than the fix-it sheet.

I made my NIFIS (New, Improved Fix-It Sheet) with Microsoft Excel. Here it is:

 New Improved Fix It Sheet for Rewriting

Imps are listed across the top, sections down the left side.

Creating Your NIFIS

Take all the things you need to fix as noted in the three documents gathered in the third step and go to town making columns. Then fill in your sections in the leftmost column, or list them a section at a time as you work on them. As I go through the list, I check stuff off or mark it n/a (not applicable). I like this because it gives me one cage for all the imps, is simple to track and allows me to make the tasks as general or specific as I like. “Beat Sheet Changes” and “In-Line Fixes,” for example, are high level tasks; I track the details in the beat sheet for the former (duh) and in the manuscript for the latter (by just erasing the in-line fixes). On the other hand, “Fix-it: More Factories” is a reminder to include more of Satan’s weapons factories in the setting throughout the book, a pretty specific item.

Goofs of the Past

To give you an idea why I went this route, check out what happened with the fix-it sheet when I started revisions:

 Old Fix it Sheet for Rewriting

I still love the fix-it sheet for keeping track of issues as you go along, but it doesn’t really provide a good way of tracking where the tasks have been done or if they’re not applicable to a chapter. I also found myself resorting to symbols to indicate if changes were noted at specific places in the manuscript, were issues permeating the whole thing, etc. That was pretty clumsy. Sure, you could do it this way, but it would be a mess and I’m kind of an organization freak when it comes to the writing (in case you hadn’t figured that out already, based on this post).

I may revise my rewriting tools again sometime. I’m learning as I go and the novel, the tools and novelist-me are all still works in progress.

Bonus for the Curious

If you noticed the tabs “Arcs” and “Hair References” at the bottom of the NIFIS, check back here soon for a post explaining what those are all about.

Leave a Comment

If anybody has a better way of keeping their rewrite life in order, please let me know in a comment. Thanks!