Friday 18 January 2013

Revising a Novel Has Nothing to Do With Courage

By Candy Gourlay

Last week I made this poster for guest blogger Emma Greenwood’s post Keep Calm It’s Only Novel Panic.

But Emma pointed out very nicely that saying ‘it’s only a novel’ diminished the ENORMITY of the task.

On reflection, what was I thinking! A novel is not an impulsive decision, not for the faint-hearted - it takes a LONG time and once committed, you've got to keep going till the bitter end.

I should know, it's taken three years to finish my current manuscript. In those three years, I wrote 'The End'  four times, pressed 'send' three times, and started from scratch twice.

(It is at this point that I usually recommend Libba Bray's blog post Why Writing a Novel is Like Falling in Love ... but oh no, the link has been taken down!)

Whenever I told friends that I was starting again, the usual reaction was, 'Oh you're so brave!'

Brave? I was petrified!

It wasn't courage but FEAR that made me start again.

Once the book is published, once it's out, it's OUT. There's no taking it back for a tweak, no more chances at revision, no 'Oh! I've got a better way to play that scene'.

And think of all those STRANGERS reading it, strangers who don't care about your feelings (unlike your friends and family who will always find the kindest, nicest, way of telling you that your writing sucks). Think of them discussing your book over too much wine at their reading groups, think of them casually posting reviews on GoodReads or Amazon.

Think of them sneering at your purple prose.

Well ... maybe it's better if you don't.

It's enough to make you give up writing entirely.

But you won't will you? People who write novels can't help themselves. It's practically a disease.

 (Do read this heartfelt post by my friend Nick Cross What If You Never Got Published?)

I finish one draft and I'm happy. Then I read it again and I'm in despair. Then I write it again. Then I read it again. Then I write it again. And so it goes.

Right now, since you ask, I'm happy.

From FunnyDogsLOL

But I haven't heard back from my publisher yet.

(Read my prematurely celebratory post the first time I pressed 'send': What I Learned From Writing My Second Novel)

Through every long bloody process, I ask myself, but how do you know if it's going well? How do you really KNOW that when you get to the end it's going to be good? Is there a feeling? Is there a glow that you get? Is there a slow blossoming of confidence? Is there JOY?

Even though I've written several novels now (only one of which has made it to the bookstores), every book-writing experience has been so different, I have no answer.

I guess the only way to find out is to keep writing.


  1. I didn't realise that you were still waiting for an answer, hope it goes well Candy. In the meantime I am enjoying your photography over on Facebook - you really are multi-talented.

    1. Thank you! I am enjoying it too!

    2. It's good to have another creative outlet for writing downtime. I'm liking the photography too! Good luck, Candy.

    3. Thanks, Horror. (Heh I really wanted to say that! )

  2. Very best of luck with the latest version, Candy. For those of us still battling with book one, dispatches from the far country of Published Author are invaluable reminders that life is a continuum. Perhaps that's why we like stories that start: It was the day that changed her life ...'

    1. Thanks, Rowena. I hope it reminds you that the continuum is just as valuable as the final objective. In the struggle it's easy to forget what a privilege it is to have this passion.

  3. Typos before, let's try again-

    Emma's right, Candy.

    That said, I can understand your initial point of putting it in perspective, sometimes writers do think too drastically dire and one-note (The self-publishing debate is a prime example, but let's not go there today)...

    Okay, writing a novel's not on the level of surviving high school or college, fighting a debilitating disease, birthing a child, paying off student loan debt, etc.

    But let me tell you, writing my last MG novel TOOK SOME "COURAGE."

    It took courage not just to write the dang book, but to-

    -Rewrite the dang book FOUR TIMES (Before the true version of it showed up) Than rewrite that some more...

    -Subject myself to YEARS of critiques that gave me feedback I either couldn't use, really wasn't applicable to the book in question, and was harder to execute than my critique partners often made it sound.

    -Dealing with all the issues unique to children's books (i.e. The reason(s) why the right word isn't appropriate for the age group for whatever reason, and age-appropriate words are sometimes too vague for what you're talking about....)

    All that took 10 long years on my part. Just knowing it's "Part of the process" didn't erase the frustration, the self-doubt or painful journey I had to go on, and this was for just ONE book.

    That doesn't even count the query letter that book needs, which is a whole other topic, IMHO.

    I'm working on my next book, and while I REALLY hope it won't take a decade, just from a practical standpoint, it's going to be another journey, and any journey requires some courage, regardless if it's life-threatening or not.

    All that said, there were good things about the journey of my last book, of course, I was just making my points regarding the post above.

  4. Candy, thanks for your honesty and for the link. I agree that every writer has a different process and every book too, for that matter. I really do think that state of mind has a huge effect on how we feel about a book, but that often seems impossible to control, especially when we are being buffeted this way and that by everyday life.

    By the way, I didn't think you were brave to start the book again, I thought you were crazy! But it's your book and only you can know what is right for it. Let's hope it's pretty much there now.

    1. Crazy? That too!

      Yes I hope it's there now. What's important I guess is that I really like it now.

  5. Oh Candy, I empathise! With the current MS I've gone from Draft One (2008) to Draft Five, to Rewrite One - Drafts One to Three, to Rewrite Two (2013) which is going to involve and epic amount of rewriting, restructuring and new storytelling... (much of it inspired by your excellent feedback a year ago!)
    The reality is I don't think we're ever done learning to write - though, honestly, I do hope it gets easier with time!

  6. Hi Candy,
    thanks for your honesty. As a pre published (!) author I find it a real learning curve to see that publication doesn't take away the angst or the hard work or even have any affect the amount of rewriting to be done!
    Hoping all goes well for you this time:)
    Lorraine x

  7. I can say nothing. I am a quivering wreck of waiting. Again. And I just accidentally peeped at The Script That's Gone and it needs more work, how did I not know it needed more work? Surely an idiot could see it needed more work. I'll shut up now. Is it too early for gin?

    1. Gin doesn't help. We seem to do a lot of waiting in this business. Waiting for inspiration. Waiting for someone to say yes. Waiting for the right idea to sparkle.

  8. Maybe you think it needs more work because you were looking to check to see if it needed more work? I've just put to Destiny or Death away because I can't get Prince Bob's voice right. There's such a lot of funny in that book but until I nail his voice it won't be the book it should be. Memo to self, never have a frog hero who can't speak.

    1. I think it needed all the time I put into it, Maureen. Hey, my heroine and your frog have something in common. But I'll tell you more later.

  9. I disagree, Candy. As someone who has been with you through the whole process (3 times!), I still think it takes courage to start again. Especially when you have a perfectly good story --accepted by both your English and American publishers! Yes, you are the one who has to live with it in the end (for them it is only sells or doesn't) but I think it takes courage to stick to your vision, however much extra work it involves.

    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I don't think my publisher wanted to publish my earlier drafts either.
      My publisher has been wonderful about giving me the time to find my story. I hope they like it this time.

  10. I did the whole startting all over from scratch thing with my middle grade novel that's out in May. Saying it was hard does not express it.

    1. Yup! Yup! But wow, it's out in May! Congrats, Paula.

  11. Starting again takes courage but sometimes it what needs to happen if you've written yourself into a corner. I reckon you know it's okay if you still like it after you've left it for a while. If you don't like it, you can hardly expect anyone else to.

    1. Now that's feet on the ground common sense. Thanks, Diana!

  12. I know I'm late to the party here - but so glad i'm reading this this morning. Was looking for inspiration to get me started and here it is. Thanks for posting, Candy!
    And keep on keeping on. xx

  13. Just one thing... being petrified doesn't mean you aren't being brave, it means you *are*. There is no bravery involved if the task you are tackling isn't scary. Bravery is overcoming fear :-)


Comments are the heart and soul of the Slushpile community, thank you! We may periodically turn on comments approval when trolls appear.

Share buttons bottom