Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How I Learned to Love the Revisions, Cuts and Rewrites of Writing My Novels -- Guest Blogger, Lin Wilder!



Bet you have decided to read this because the title grabbed you. Maybe you’re thinking something like, “No way,” or “This has got to be a fake lead-in,” or “No sane person enjoys rewriting or revising their stories, it’s pure tedium and frequently painful.”

Right?

Exactly what I have thought while working on the revisions for each of the four books I have published in the last three years. There are about five maybe six reasons for the difference with my newest book but first a brief background. And then to the reasons why revisions, cuts and rewrites got to be fun.


For most of my life, I wrote and published non-fiction and the work with editors was labor intensive-like all writing- but mostly enjoyable. I think that was due to the collaboration- even friendship, I felt with most of my editors. If you can remember the days before the internet, writing and publishing was kind of intimate. There was no email, so my editor and I talked frequently on the phone, we got to know one another. For bigger projects like the textbook, the editor flew to Houston to meet with me several times.

Then later for journals where I published frequently the relationship with editor became more friend than editor. When he or she returned a manuscript with critical comments, I made the corrections and we were done with it. The article got published, no big deal.

But those experiences were not repeated during these first three years of writing fiction. In fact, my attitude about revising each of my former three novels and memoir can be categorized by the last of the first sentence: pure tedium and frequently painful.
Why?
  • Although my prior extensive writing and publishing experience provided the confidence and skills needed by anyone wanting to write a book, all that background turned out to be a problem. The field of academic medicine, critical care nursing and hospital administration is a small world. Therefore, all that writing brought acclaim, requests for speaking engagements and consultations. I expected my foray into fiction to be a similar experience. I can only smile at my naivete. And wonder if I’d known that I was jumping from a very small puddle to open ocean would I still have done it? Since 2007, when I began my first novel, the market has exploded.
  • Non-fiction is easier writing than is fiction. Still work, in
    that coherence, organization, and all the essentials of good writing are required but non-fiction demands far less of the writer than does fiction. By default, non-fiction requires a kind of anonymity from the author. The subject is king. All that the writer does is make it intriguing, even a little provocative to the reader. But fiction? No anonymity here. None. In fact, by creating characters we write into existence thoughts and feelings which may never have been expressed. Since the writing of fiction is necessarily so much more personal, critical comments and bad reviews hurt.
  • There is a reason the pundits predict that it takes writers six, seven or ten novels to get known. The feelings I’ve expressed above are not unique to me, I am sure. Plus, it takes time to get it right.There are some authors who ‘make it’ with their first book. Most have not.
  • Getting it right begs for more explanation. You are like me, I wager, in that you write because there is a story that is bursting to get out. So, it becomes a case of writing because we cannot not write. Most of us are good writers. But the objective eye of a practiced editor is essential. It may take time to find the person with whom you work best. It sure has for me.
What’s Changed?
  • With more experience, we can lighten up. Accept missed deadlines. Learn to slough off bad reviews. Decide why we write and for whom. That’s why I finished this last book in early October as I expected despite walking away for days, even weeks. During those times when a new character eluded me, I took time off. A first. And did not feel guilty because while I was working out, reading a novel or doing nothing, he slowly began to take shape. I had not been able to do that and found that nothing was lost.
  • Last October, I contracted with a new editor. She and I talked occasionally by email about my progress. Back in March, she sent me this email: “Take. Your. Time.” Instead of being behind of our agreed schedule, and learned I was ahead of schedule. Great, she has a sense of humor.
  • Perhaps because of the adage, ‘the master appears when the student is ready,’ my new editor is making the rewrite fun. One of my favorite of her merciless critiques was ‘this feels like you are writing a whole novel in this one paragraph-either explain this or cut it. I hope you cut it.” I laughed. And cut it. Working with her feels as if I have a partner in chipping away at the unnecessary words, or even pages.


Lin Wilder holds  a Doctorate in Public Health and has published extensively in fields like cardiac physiology, institutional ethics and hospital management. In 2007, she switched from non-fiction to fiction. Her series of medical thrillers include many references to the Texas Medical Center where Lin worked for over twenty-three years. Her latest novel is Malthus Revisited: The Cup of Wrath, the fourth in the Dr.Lindsey McCall medical mystery series. Finding the Narrow Path was an unplanned return to non-fiction. All her books are available at Amazon and at her website, linwilder.com where she writes weekly articles.