Thursday, July 09, 2009

The incredible growing and shrinking novel.

I have finished my novel and sent it off to publisher and agent.

Hooray!

Some time ago I asked readers of this blog whether they are a taker-outer or a putter-inner. I have recently proved to myself what I already knew - I am definitely a putter-inner. When I finished the first draft of Magpie Hall, it was 74,300 words long. When I finished the second draft, it was considerably longer. I am not someone who throws everything at the page and then has to cut it back, like topiary, to find its form. Instead I throw down what I need, then go back and expand things.

Now it seems that I am both a putter-inner and a taker-outer. My final draft, even though I added a couple of scenes, is now shorter than my second draft. Turns out there was a lot of fat to trim.

I also posted once about the perfect novel that I had in my head. I don't know if what I have written is quite what I had imagined I would, but that is not surprising really -- things get lost in translation from brain to page, and we are limited by our own abilities.

My friend and fellow writer-blogger Marianne drew my attention to this fabulous article by Ann Patchett. It was written years go, and I'm astounded that I've never seen it before. Go and read it: it's funny and apt for anyone working on their first, second or tenth novel. As if in direct response to my 'perfect novel' post, Patchett has this to say:

"Somewhere around Page 80 I will accept that I am neither smart enough nor talented enough to put all the light and movement and beauty I had hoped for onto paper, and so I will have to settle for what I am capable of pulling off."

With my finished novel I have settled for what I am capable of pulling off, but I hope that it is better than that sounds! Check out what she says about wanting to plagiarise your own novels...

10 comments:

Jim Murdoch said...

I think that was the one thing in her whole essay that struck me - "I will have to settle for what I am capable of pulling off."

I have been fretting away over a book for about four years now. I should be doing a final polish about now (I'm not a fast writer) and yet I'm stuck with a gap in the middle and no idea how to get from one side to the other. I've been working on other things in the meantime but I'm seriously thinking of putting this one away for a few years and starting something new. And then maybe in ten or twenty years I'll know what to do with it.

Oh, and for the record, I'm a putter-in. All I want to do at first is get to the end of the first draft as quickly as possible. Then the real fun is in the grafting on, paragraphs first then sentences and finally words.

showyourworkings said...

That link is great. I find it also translates to poetry. I have perfect poems in my head and then somewhere between head and paper the pen turns it into crap until I spend days or weeeks or years beating it with a rubber hose. Also my poetry MS has stayed about the same size for weeks now even though things are going in and out.

Marianne said...

And I console myself with the thought that if I were not able to at least imagine that perfect story - in all its light and movement and beauty - then I wouldn't have a chance of writing even the best story I can pull off.

I know you are capable of pulling off something beautiful, powerful and compelling so I'm very much looking forward to reading this novel.

Rachel Fenton said...

Well done for getting it done, considering...

I'm definitely a sparse starter and a prolific adder onner (not real english I lknow, but we can be creative!) Anyway, this is precicely what's been preoccupying me lately, so it's good to read it from another writer's perspective.

Jim, sounds like it needs a nap, good luck.

Gondal-girl said...

I like that 'settling for what one is capable of', it makes it tangible and real, where the 'novel in the head' is often just out of ones grasp...reminds me of that quote, " a thing is complete when one can let it be". So true, don't you think?

like your new pic too, i was hoping they were butterflies in your hair...

green ink said...

Well done Rachael!

I really love that quote from Ann Patchett. It makes me feel a lot better about my novel sometimes not being exactly what I was hoping for. I'm going to put those words somewhere where I can refer to them often!

:)

a cat of impossible colour said...

What a great article!

And is that a new profile picture? It's just beautiful!

whitihereaka said...

Hah! That's exactly how I'm feeling right now about my novel - I'm glad it's universal.

I too am a "hokey kokey" writer - I put things in and then I take them out, put them back in and shake it all about...

Maggie May said...

oh thank you for the Patchett link

this is part of why it's taken me four years to finish half my novel,
the constant re-workings of each beautiful sentence to move closer toward capturing the essence of human life on the page

Mary McCallum said...

I'm a puter-inner - which sounds like something you'd use playing golf - and an over-polisher - which sounds like something a female weta has for laying eggs. Getting to the point where I knew I couldn't go any further and simply had to stop was difficult but critical for me with book one. Thanks for the post and the link, Rachael.