Writing is (re) Writing
Updated: Mar 4
My work-in-progress report #3
If you search “how long does it take to write a novel?” you’ll find plenty of chirpy, encouraging websites that will tell you how first time authors need 6 to 12 months to write their books. How does one arrive at such a number? Well, apparently, if you type 50 words a minute, and a novel is 60,000 - 100,000 words… you can do the math.
I didn’t realize that writing is simply a by-product of typing!
I’ve been writing my first comic book for six months now. Graphic novels have a lot fewer words than the traditional novels (maybe 10,000 - 15,000?) but there are lots of pictures to fill up the rest of the page. There’s the rub, the writing involves words AND pictures.
In my experience as a comics creator, I can only write so many words before I need to do some drawing. And only so much drawing before I have to go back to writing. Sometimes adding words to pictures results in drawing more PICTURES. Which require more —or different— WORDS. And so on.
All of this is to report that I’m pleased with my progress to date. A couple of weeks ago, I sat down for the first time to read my entire rough draft, four months and 260 pages worth. That draft captured the entire plot of the story, if not the essence. It didn’t completely suck, so I read it again, making notes of potential changes and revisions.
I am now halfway through a major rewrite. There have been at least a dozen instances where I read a page and thought, why am I rushing through the story? This moment deserves more time and attention. Or maybe I saw that the events were on the page, but the feeling was missing. So I added panels, which means adding pages. I haven’t had the guts to cut anything yet, but that day will come.
(Cuts are inevitable, but as the saying goes, I'm not ready to kill my darlings. Yet.)
The most rewarding experience in writing this draft has been moving from the outside of my characters to the inside. In the rough draft, someone makes a choice and consequences follow (because that’s what happened in real life). But now I am asking my characters “why did you do that?” And how does that make you feel? Any regrets? Observations? How do the other characters deal with it? Is there a proper set-up and payoff? Uh-oh, I think we need more panels.
This story is a memoir, based on actual events that I experienced first hand (more or less). In this draft, I’m adding a great deal of narration in the form of short captions at the top of each page or panel. But I’m reluctant to write that narration in the first person. It’s not that I’m afraid to implicate myself in the story. Anyone who knows me will have a pretty good idea which character is yours truly.
But I’m afraid that taking possession of the narration will give one character too much power, too much agency. The narrator speaks from a position of knowing, and I want my characters to be surprised by what’s happening as they go, without revealing or foreshadowing the events. I certainly don’t want to engage in mere reminiscence. As Tony Soprano once said, the lowest form of conversation starts with “Remember when…?”
Regardless, I am deep in the process of rewriting, and loving it. There seems to be a stigma to the concept of “rewriting.” Some folks believe rewriting implies failure, that something is fundamentally wrong with your previous drafts. Others talk about a painful struggle with the words in order to find perfection.
I prefer to think of rewriting as a natural part of the process, like the scribbles I make in blue pencil to block out a drawing (see the illustration above). Eventually I’ll look at that tangle of lines and choose the best ones to immortalize with ink, and erase the rest.
It’s magical to read something you’ve written and just “know” if it works or not. To believe in what you’re saying, why you need to say it, why it’s worth someone else’s time to read. An author either has to believe in their work on some level, or put it out of their mind. How else can you get the work done without paralysis setting in?
In my case, I just keep rewriting until it feels… right.
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