I shall now tell you an embarrassing story about myself.
Once I had this person in my life who was a hole-puncher. When it came to ideas and decisions (big and small alike), they could tell you exactly why it didn’t work or why you shouldn’t do it. They could see the problem with something a mile ahead. This is actually a helpful skill to have. It’s strategic. Sometimes it’s good to know people like this. They can see what you can’t. But sometimes hole punchers stop just at the no. Sometimes they tell you why you can’t do something, rather than how to make it possible to do it. And that’s when you need to check and see if you have the right kind of hole-puncher in your life.
Most of the time I ignored them and did what I wanted anyway. I’m a grown human being and I’m responsible for my own choices. A lot of times in my life I lead with my heart and desires first, trusting that things will work out in the end if I want something bad enough or if my instincts are telling me it’s the right move. Sometimes it blows up in my face. I’m OK with that, though. I accept that about myself. Because the thought of standing still and not doing something, not trying at least, drives me mad. So I carried on in my existence, and took the risks I wanted, even when this person didn’t approve.
But for some reason I listened to them about this one really simple, stupid thing. I stopped short at their no.
I wanted to paint my bathroom yellow, and they told me not to do it. They said it would make my already small bathroom feel even smaller. (It is indeed small.) They said it convincingly. Almost tiredly. Everyone knows you should paint small bathrooms white, they said. Basic facts, they said. So for a few years I thought longingly of painting my bathroom yellow and watched as my white paint faded into something dingy and grim.
You know what makes a bathroom feel really small? Old paint.
There is no surprise ending here. I no longer know this person, and last week I painted my bathroom yellow and it looks lovely and glowing and alive and also still small because that bathroom is going to be small no matter what so I might as well paint it goddamn yellow. Why did I let that person get into my head on that one detail when I ignored them on so many others?Why did it take me years to figure out I could just do it anyway and then if I hated it I could just paint it white again? Why did it take me so long to try this thing I really just wanted to try? What the fuck are we ever waiting for?
Since I last wrote you, three people read my novel draft. They all really liked it a lot, and responded with great and helpful enthusiasm. Truly, their feedback filled me with cheer this past week. That these smart and generous people actually enjoyed reading my book (instead of grudgingly trudging through it) meant a lot to me. I just want to write a book that people will have a good time reading.
I feel optimistic about this next round of edits, a kind of paint job of its own. I have some detailed changes that I want to make. For example: a few shifts in when I dispense information about characters to set the reader up for the bigger reveals later in the game. Extending a scene or two. One reader pointed out that I need to explore the relationship between two characters a bit more, so I’ll spend some time chewing on that next month.
But what I really want to do is some fun stuff, some risky stuff. Where I spend my time approaching the book from different angles that have more to do with aesthetics rather than nuts and bolts.
Reading lots of poetry every day for a week, for example, and then diving in and looking at my language and word choice throughout the book. Also just spending pure research days listening to music from the different eras I’m writing in and just closing my eyes and picturing my characters sitting somewhere listening to it, too. I just want to do a ton of daydreaming. And I have nineteen chapters set in different years in this novel, and I plan on reading a short story published each of those years. One new story, for nineteen days in a row.
I’ve never done this before but I think it would be interesting to do a revision just for the dialogue. Perhaps write a few extra lines for each conversation, let it go a little longer just to see what happens, see if it changes anything plot-wise throughout the book, or allows me to say something new about the characters themselves.
Revising can be a slog but if you invent different strategies, little treats you can give yourself alongside the heavy lifting part of it, the whole experience can be a bit more like playtime. And maybe this is when some real magic can happen.
So this is my month of December. I’m carving out time to potentially add some interesting layers to this book. One month is actually a risky amount of time when you’re on a tight deadline but it feels important I do this. It might not change a thing, but I’ll always be wondering what this book would have been like if I don’t at least try these strategies.
I’m leaving the comments open today so the rest of you can share fun ways to approach revisions. I hope you’re all feeling strong as we head into the close of the year.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to @transanta and Ogden Museum of Southern Art.
I mean, the answer is probably: the patriarchy. But that’s another story entirely.
INCREDIBLE typo in this newsletter. Sorry everyone.
Jami, your ideas for adding more layers etc. to your draft are amazing. PLEASE include them in your craft book. Instead of dreading a deep revision, your methods will make it fun and exciting.
Good luck with your next step. I cannot wait to read your novel.