Sickness and Lies (and a little truth) (from the Archives)
I come to my writing table with two sharpened pencils, a black pen and a cup of tea. My desk is clear of clutter. My Internet is turned off. My phone is on vibrate. My dog is quiet. I work for three hours straight and can often write 5,000 words that need little revision. In one sitting.
Vomit. By great good fortune I was able to hear the brilliant Lisa Yee speak about revision at a conference in 2008. She said that the first draft is like throwing up. You get it all out. With revision, you clean it up.
My problem? I vomit copiously. Spectacular page counts that make my other critique group gasp. I love the history so much that I want to get in all these fascinating details that have little to do with the actual story. Like the obscene little carvings on Anne of Cleves’ marriage bed. Or how the Thames River froze completely during the single winter Jane Seymour was Queen.
Also, my characters drive my novel. For some of them, their stories are already written. I can’t change history. But others make their own choices. And they surprise me. I can’t control that. So I just let it go. And go. And go.
So my first revision includes judicious cutting. And then I get organized. Susan Hart Lindquist taught me a beautifully complex editing technique involving multi-colored post-it notes. I use that. For my current revision, I’ve drawn a lengthy (20 ft.) timeline-like map with a 3-5 word outline of every scene and written in changes for every character, for the setting, for intention in different colored pencils.
So my process? Is a little schizophrenic. Part slob, part obsessive-compulsive. I used to fear outlines like the plague, but can see the beauty in them now. Maybe in the next book, my vomit will be organized. Contained. Less prolific and more specific. Maybe it will happen. Maybe it won’t. Every book is different. Every day is different.
Some days, like today, I wake up at 5 o’clock and start writing. I’m interrupted by the dog barking at the neighbor’s Harley Davidson. By the kids waking up and needing cereal. By my husband reminding me to pay the bills. Like Donna, I check Facebook, Twitter, e-mail. I write some more. I live my life. But every day I write. At least a little. Even just a single sticky note, reminding me to add one more historical detail.