Rewriting a novel is like sitting on the edge of a pool. The water’s cold. You can dive right in, get the discomfort over with, splash around to warm up, and then lose yourself in the steady stroke of limbs through water.
Or, like me, you can hang out on the edge while the sun bakes your skin and your feet turn into prunes.
Welcome to week five of my novel rewrite.
This is how rewriting my novel looked:
I attended an outdoor concert with a Meetup group from The Sierra Club. The club turned out to be a bunch of lively women, ages sixty and up, and a grizzled guy who may have been a sea captain. Another guy, wearing a goofy beach hat, stood around grinning like babies do when they have gas. I sat in my low-slung chair behind a woman in a sleeveless blouse who shaded her eyes with one hand, cutting off my view of the stage with her underarm flab. Occasionally, she dropped her arm, so my view became a vision of Michael Jackson–if Michael Jackson was middle-aged and fifty pounds overweight and stuffed into black leather pants–strutting and doing that pelvic bump, while a four-man horn section dipped and pivoted like the backup for The Temptations.
After three songs, I folded up my chair and left.
The next day, I went swimming. The pool was packed. I swam laps in the shallow end. The woman sharing my lane trudged back and forth in hiking boots, talking on her cell phone the entire time. One hundred dollar hiking boots. In chlorinated water. And a cell phone.
Some days, I stood in the middle of my room, thinking.
Had I stumbled once again onto Resistance Highway? Or was this non-writing activity actually accomplishing something?
Well, a little of both.
I was noodling loglines.
It’s part of my action plan for rewriting a novel. I had arrived at:
Write a logline.
What’s a logline?
It’s a sentence that describes the novel, and answers the questions:
Who is the protagonist?
What does the protagonist want?
What’s at stake?
Ya gotta know the who, what, and why-bother, otherwise, how can you rewrite the dang thing?
So, I contemplated. I gnawed on ideas. I engaged in other activities. And then I took a hike with my niece, who was on a whirlwind visit through town.
We talked writing. She wanted to know what my novel was about. I launched into a lengthy description and ended with an exasperated, “I just wish I knew what’s driving my protagonist!”
And my niece said, “It’s funny, we wonder what our characters want, but we’re the ones making it all up.”
We’re the ones making it all up!
D’uh. Head slap.
All I needed to do was pick something, and go with it.
Write ten possible loglines. Twenty. Twenty-five. Whatever. Then PICK ONE.
Jump in the pool.
Stuck? Or Avoiding?
Sometimes, we get stuck in our writing, and need to occupy ourselves elsewhere so the idea we’re searching for can swim into our consciousness. But there’s a fine line between taking time away, and staying away because the water’s too cold.
That’s where those vows come in handy. You know, the ones that start: I promise to show up for my writing every day, no matter what.
So, how do you know what side of the line you’re on?
Look for signs of resistance.
I know I’m in resistance when I start doing what comes easy, rather than what comes hard, like rewriting. “I’ll just answer a few emails. Shuffle papers. Blog.”
I know I’m in resistance when I force myself to write, and I lose track of time.
But If I force myself to write, and resent it, I know I need to go back to noodling. Nothing wrong with that.
At least this time, I recognized the highway, and hitched a ride out. I was digging through some boxes of books in storage, looking for some good reads to bring on my vacation, and found a copy of Sell Your Story in a Single Sentence, by Lane Shefter Bishop. A whole book about how to write a logline! Had my intuition guided me to that box? Could be.
I read the first few chapters. Jotted down a rough idea. Refined it. Refined it again and again and again, eliminating excess words, homing in on the want, the stakes, until…Bingo! I had my logline.
Is it the perfect logline? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s something I can work with.
Onward, to Step Five!