Revising Leah

August 23, 2008

Magazines and Mountains

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:18 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m not really a magazine reader, but yesterday, a well-known magazine fell into my lap by chance, and as I flipped through it I found that it included a long excerpt from a recently published novel. As I read a little bit of the excerpt, my editing instincts kicked in and everywhere I looked I found things that, if I were the author, I would want to rewrite. The dialogue was uninteresting and uninspired, some sentences were convoluted, and the author had apparently fallen in love with her thesaurus because she tended to choose the weirdest, most inappropriate adjectives possible.

I don’t want to trash the author’s writing too much (I seem to recall something about rocks and glass houses), so suffice it to say I didn’t think the writing was very good. It’s not the first time I’ve been disappointed with popular fiction. Most of what I read for fun is classic literature (English major stuff) so when I read popular fiction — or even my own work — I’m frequently disappointed because it doesn’t live up to what I read in, say, Kafka or Woolf or Beckett.

But in the case of the excerpt from this magazine, it made me feel a little better about my own writing, because while there are still a lot of problems in Leah that I need to fix, I can at least say that my writing is better than this author’s work that I was reading. If that story could get published and find an audience, why can’t mine?

I’ve needed to feel better about my writing because lately I’ve been disappointed. The problem, as best I can describe it, is that I have a lot of really good scenes (like what I’ve written about in the “Things I Like” posts) surrounded by stretches of not-so-good narration. These scenes that I’m proud of are like mountaintops, but in order to get from one mountain to the next, I have to descend and pass through these valleys of unimpressive writing. I’ve been stuggling with these valleys since I began this revising project. A lot of cutting and deleting that I did in the first cycle of revision was an attempt to clear away some of this material, but much remains that I can’t cut because it contributes to the plot. My task is to try to improve this material as much as I can. In this cycle of revision, I’ve found a lot of these valleys remain in the text, so I have a lot of work still ahead of me.

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