Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Roberts' Rules of Ardor

1. There is no right moment to begin a story or, if necessary, a novel. This goes beyond such propaganda as waiting or not waiting for inspiration. Beginning a story is the beginning of enthusiasm, even more it is the beginning of a friendship because by the time you've finished with the story or the novel, you will have come to share strengths and weaknesses with it, its and yours. There might be times in the process where neither of you is speaking to the other. Tempers flare. It may not care what you're doing for it; you may well not care what it is doing for you. Stories may be embarked upon at any time. One proof of this is a test that may be made by as simple a move as picking up at a time of only mild enthusiasm a story by an author you like.

2. You will undoubtedly have heard some rule of thumb about the amount of revision necessary to get the story or novel in shape, the particular rule of thumb being stuck in at the behest of an editor who likes numbers or because of your own sense of guilt that the story seemed to tell itself and was accordingly too easy. Revision is a structured process, its goal being to effect the most telling portrayal of the feelings set loose by the work at hand.

3. It is fun to seem contrary and bemoan how difficult writing is. It may have been difficult to learn the tools, and occasionally a story will require more thought, more trial and error. The fact is that you may have been sold a bill of goods by a used story salesperson, the bill of goods being that writing stories is difficult. You will then assume that writing is hard work, odious work, work that is no fun. If you began with the sentiment that writing was fun, you will begin to feel more justified in shifting your attitude when friends and teachers and professionals ask you when you're going to write something serious.

4. Writers who are perpetually miserable are likely to write stories about persons, places, and events where misery is a salient feature. Ask yourself if there is some embarrassment about having fun while you work. Be sure to change your ways if you ever catch yourself singing in the shower.

5. Does it make you some kind of creep if you enjoy writing stories about characters who are feeling miserable?

6. Revision is, as noted previously, a structured investigation to determine if you are telling the story at the correct pace, in the correct point of view, and whether significant emotions are being raised and discoveries being made.

7. Revision is making decisions about which of several alternatives you find most interesting and illustrative of your dramatic goal.

8. Ending a story or novel means not sticking around trying to tack on arguments or footnotes or, for that matter, introducing a digression that will result in anticlimax.

9. Ending a story is analogous to not being the last guest to leave a party. It is better to leave early than stay too late.

10. When readers tell you they want more details about your characters, they are confessing their interest in the characters.

11. When you revise, you carefully check each line and word of dialog to make sure it carries its weight and does not become talky or conversational.

12. One sure way of knowing you've completed your revision is the realization that only you will recognize the new things you're putting in or taking out.


Anonymous said...

I actually liked everything about writing my novel. The drafts, the revisions- it all was challenging but engrossing. Now I'm adrift, waiting for the damn agents to respond and reading about the drying-up publishing industry and trying not to let the discouragement overwhelm me and drive me back into the "I should have been a (fill-in-the-blank) instead." I think the key is to get back to the easy grace of writing to dispel the hard suffering of waiting and doubting- waiting for external validation of an internal process is doing me in.

Matt said...

I'm letting my novel simmer at the moment, in the hands (or soon to be in the hands of) a couple of people who I hope provide constructive feedback.

I know it requires a car wash - perhaps even a new paint job - but I don't want to move forward until I know I don't have to do body work.

I fear revising it too much; streamlining it to the point where, although aerodynamic, it somehow has lost its characteristics. To this extent, I must admit a lack of confidence in my work.

Kate Lord Brown said...

Hi Shelly - revising a book is surely like doing a quick double take in the mirror on the way out the door and taking off the first thing that catches your eye? The first novel is approximately half its original length - I chopped 50,000 words then the editor another 25k. It's still the same book - just buffed, leaner, quicker - like it has been working out and lost the flab. If 100,000 words really is the ideal length to aim for (as a writer friend's agent said the other day) it could still lose a few pounds (then couldn't we all!) Supper beckons - great post as always.

Anonymous said...

I have fun writing--though not jovial fun. I do not have fun staring at the page and not writing.

As fro revisions, I want to revise with every rejection even if the rejection gave me no clues about where to go.