By Clare Langley-Hawthorne
I’ve spent the whole weekend knee deep in revisions for my latest manuscript and I believe me, this aspect of writing is as challenging as writing the first full draft. Granted I forced my husband to be on twin duty the whole time, so he’s probably still recovering too, but it made me realize how much the writing process really is just that – a long and detailed (often arduous) process.
Writing historical fiction means that I have to incorporate a sense of time and place that is backed up by significant amounts of research. It also means that at every point in the revision process I find myself second-guessing historical accuracy. Not just the big stuff like making sure my characters aren’t jumping aboard the Concorde in 1912 but the little stuff, like the nuances of speech, use of slang, and the way people perceived the world around them. Sometimes I have to confess, if I don’t know and can’t find the answer I just go with my gut and make it up. Hey, this is fiction after all.
I view revising as adding the second and third coats of paint to a project – each layer adds a subtly and a depth to the characters, to the setting, and to the themes that swirl around the plot. What I find the biggest challenge is avoiding what I call ‘tinkering’ – changing my mind over a minute plot point only to find it has rolling ramifications and then (in total disgust) I find I have to go all the way back and return it all to the way it was. I guess this is what people call a ‘learning process’ but I seem to be a bit ‘learning challenged’ when it comes to this – and still find myself adding complexity where NO MORE is needed! ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ is a motto I need to have branded to my forehead.
Those who want to see the writing process in action can find me sitting in my writing studio, a converted garage in the back of our house, bleary eyed at one o’clock in the morning, determined to finish the next chapter as I’m ‘on a roll’. I might be on the internet checking on a historical reference, looking up the architecture for a historic home or searching The Times database for an event the latest fashions for that year. I might even be using the delete key to liberal advantage as part of the revision process involves getting rid of all the extraneous stuff that I find stops the flow of the narrative (sometimes bringing tears to my eyes if it was a point of historical research I spent hours on!)
Yesterday I deleted a whole chapter – painful but necessary. I then merged two minor characters to streamline the plot. I decided one scene moved like molasses and I got bogged down in worrying whether the house should have gothic archways or not…Time passed. It was one am…Time to call it quits till the red pen, the axe and the delete key were brought back out to do it all again.
Ah the joys of revision. You just got to be brave…