I have been struggling once again with revising the first page of a chapter, a page which has been written, rewritten, revised and corrected, then revised again, and corrected again many times over the years, then put through a two-stage polish, at which time I thought it was done. That was was a couple years ago.
I decided to go through the book one more time, just before publishing it. I’ve been doing a three-stage “final” polish one chapter at a time, and as I read through chapter 109 this morning, I found that the first page or so was a complete mess. I could not visualize what was happening. There were passages where the author was explaining to the readers what they already knew. There were other passages where the author was reminding the readers of what they had just read in the previous chapter. It was garbage, and the bad part was ,that the author was me. It was almost as if that page was really just a rough draft instead of a final one. After all that work, how could I have ended up with something so bad?
Part of the answer is that I have been growing a lot during the last few years, learning new skills and sensibilities, and at what appears to be an accellerated rate. What had seemed to be okay then just isn’t okay any more.
For one thing, I have made certain decisions about sentence structure, word usage, punctuation, vocabulary, and phrase order, which I am using to develop a personal writing style — not for the sake of style, which is an authorly thing, but for clarity, narrative flow, readability, and sense of story, which is a storyteller thing. And I am learning more about what that style should be. Sometimes it takes several readings to make the style consistent. It’s so easy to fall back into old habits.
For another thing, I am developing my narrative voice. I discovered, while working on Dead Hand, that my voice was very different from what I had been used to. I started to “correct” it, but decided to develop it, and make it consistent instead. And I learned that I should not use the same voice for different stories, but should use an appropriate narrative voice for each. Dead Hand, Stroad’s Cross, Sturgis, The Black Ring, and Slaves of War each have different voices, though the voices are all mine. And they all written in my developing style.
It’s true that the last time I worked on chapter 109, I had something like thirty five years writing experience. But my expectations and standards have risen a lot. And my stories are now more complex. And I’m making greater demands on myself. So I’m seeing faults and problems which are real, (and which could sometimes cause editors to reject a book,) but which I just could not see even two years ago.
When I run into a difficult passage, such as the first page of chapter 109, which requires massive revisions, and takes over two hours, the fact that I can now see these problems should be reassuring instead of distressing. It simply means that I have grown. Instead of being upset that I had somehow let those problems slip by, I should feel good about now being able to fix them before publication. The alternative is to not grow, and if I’m not growing as a writer, not constantly getting better even if by tiny increments, then it’s time for me to quit.
Fortunately, I don’t find problems like that in everything I write.