Thursday, November 29, 2007

Compulsive revising

How do novelists stop themselves from endlessly revising the beginning pages of their novels? I gather this is a fairly common problem. By nature beginnings get more work since they're around the longest, and you see novels that seem better crafted in the beginning and more scattered as they go on. However if you aren't all the way through a first draft, as I am not, revising makes little sense. It's likely I will end up throwing out the beginning, or cutting off the diving board, as someone said at the Tin House workshop a few years ago. But how can I stop? Do I really need to open a new file every day, as I've tried in the past, so I can't look back at what I've written? Should I take what I have so far off the computer and store it on disk in the Nevada desert? Here's the thing: I still feel I need to understand what happens in the beginning before I can write what happens next. The rewriting is part of figuring out the characters' motivations. But maybe I can figure those out as I move forward, and revise the beginning later. Perhaps I don't trust that I will remember how things have changed, so I feel I have to go back right away. But then things change again, and the beginning gets messier and messier and covered with claw marks. So I am actually not even making the beginning better, let alone progressing.

I'm afraid of finishing. That's it! I'm afraid of finishing and finding out I have a disaster on my hands.

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