The last few weeks I’ve been working hard on the revision work for Perceval’s Shadow. The work has progressed like a snail moving to the other side of the yard. Why? That’s been bugging me. Why is it so slow? Then I received the January 2019 issue of The Writer, and I found an article inside entitled “Go long & cut, or write short & add?” Aha! This article sparked some serious thinking about my approach to this first draft vs. the way I wrote the first draft of Perceval’s Secret.
I wrote the first draft of Perceval’s Secret by throwing down on paper every thought, idea, description, and scene that came into my head. I remember during the revision process I also discovered that I’d repeated myself often, and cut every repetition I found. I also had a fondness for certain words that I used over and over. They were all cut as well. The point: I wrote that novel so long I ended up cutting thousands of words. That was before I did a line edit where I tightened up the writing, cutting thousands more words.
Perceval’s Secret was my first novel. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. I wrote my way into it and then sculpted the story out of the gigantic first draft I’d created. It took many drafts and revisions before I got to a point where I thought maybe I finally had the novel that was really there. If you haven’t been through this process, it’s difficult to imagine the months upon months of work or the sense of uncertainty and inadequacy it produces in a person. I remember thinking when I finished that I really didn’t want to experience that again.
So, when I wrote the first draft of Perceval’s Shadow, I wanted first and foremost to get the story down with all the important plot points. So, I left out description, transitions, and in some sections, whole scenes. I even left out at least one chapter. I wrote copious notes about what I was thinking at the time, and also ideas of what would need to be added in order to flesh out the story and characters. I wrote that first draft short with the intention of adding during the revision process. That decision is the reason my progress with this first revision progresses at such a snail’s pace.
The uncertainty and sense of inadequacy I felt working on the first draft of Perceval’s Secret pales in comparison to the frustration I feel working on the first draft of Perceval’s Shadow. I wish I had written this first draft much, much longer. I’ve discovered that I prefer to cut rather than to add. For one thing, despite all the notes I left myself, I’m not at all certain that I’m filling in the gaps in the same way I would have when I wrote the draft originally. On the other hand, I’ve gained knowledge and snippets of wisdom in the time since I wrote that first draft, and I’m bringing a more mature perspective to the characters and their motivations.
Where I write
Conclusion: I’ve learned that I’d rather cut than add during the revision process. By experiencing both ways of writing a first draft, I’ve gained valuable knowledge about myself as a writer and my approach to revision work. I’ve written half of the first draft of Perceval in Love. I think when I return to finish that draft, I’m going to be filling in the gaps in the first half and adding everything I can think of for that story as I finish it. In the meantime, I continue to slog on with the revision work for Perceval’s Shadow.
P. S. My goal was to finish the first 12 chapters of Perceval’s Shadow, or half the novel, by December 31, 2018. As it stands now, I’ll come very close, but still won’t achieve that goal. Not that I’m going to throw up my hands and give up as a result. I love revision work too much….