Monday, 15 September 2008

Are we there yet?

The ducklings have a fabulous picture book called Are We There Yet? by Alison Lester, about a family that goes on a road trip around Australia. It’s one of those rare books that manages to be beautiful and a lot of fun as well as educational. Every second page, after lots of detailed illustrations and interesting info about the family’s current stop, the refrain goes: “And Billy said, ‘Are we there yet?’”
Anyone with kids is all too familiar with that particular chorus. I’m starting to feel like Billy myself as I work through this revision. Are we there yet?

The problem is that I’m having to put a lot of new material into the first part of the novel. This is a good thing, since it needed it, but also a bad thing because it makes me feel that I’m not making any progress. I’m writing and writing and writing yet I never move on through the pages of the first draft cause I keep thinking up more stuff that I need to add before I can continue.

The other problem is that I’ve had to redo some of these new scenes because I don’t think sufficiently about them before I write them. Just when I think they’re done and I can move on, some humiliatingly obvious thing occurs to me and I think, well der! why didn’t you write it like that instead? So back on the little mousey wheel I go, running and a-running. Are we there yet?

Jen Hubbard had a great post a couple of weeks ago on the stages of writing. Some of the stages of rewriting had me laughing even as I winced, like “Oh, that's perfect! No, wait, it doesn't fit”. Or “We're on the right track now! We're off the right track. We are in the fields beyond the track.”

When you read a good book, one thing flows from another in such a way that it seems inevitable. Yes, of course that character did X when Y happened. Naturally they broke up at the end – it was the only possible outcome after what happened at the party. And so on. Everything fits together so well it looks easy. I guess I never really believed it truly was easy, but I’m discovering exactly how hard it is now, and I’m here to tell you it ain’t pretty. Think jelly wrestling with crocodiles.

If I want to produce that seamless inevitability, I’ve got to do some more planning, sit down and really pinpoint what the focus of each scene is. Otherwise I’ll be re-re-re-re-re-rewriting these suckers till I go grey. Oh, wait, that already happened. Well, till I become that demented woman yelling at her computer, “Are we there YET???”


  1. My writing is something like 5-10% writing, 90-95% rewriting.

    Jenn H.

  2. At current rate of progress, then, I should be finished sometime around 2038!