Monday, December 21, 2009

Random Rhythms?

I've tried to fool myself by saving my novel under a different file name, but I can no longer deny that I'm on draft 53 of Rooster. Which isn't really that big a deal. I probably save more drafts than most writers; it doesn't necessarily mean that I'm making more changes.

But, what it does mean is that I've written and rewritten some passages of this book hundreds of times. And, what I realize frequently is that I'll revise a paragraph to make the rhythms of the sentences more pleasing to me one day, only to change them back to the original rhythms the next day.

My internal rhythm keeps changing. A sentence that sounds rhythmic in one reading suddenly doesn't at another reading. So, I wonder: Are these rhythms random? If that internal beat keeps changing, how can I decide which rhythm is the right one?


  1. I think the problem is not all that uncommon. I, too, have about 100 drafts, in Word, in longhand, in floppy, in disc, of Masquerade my finished novel. It basically sucks to think that we can't find the words to convey, precisely, what we think. It sucks even more when we doubt our own abilities as writers. Like you say, what can be fantastic one day, tears us up the next. I think that is what editors are for.

  2. I attempt to look at big picture rhythms more than individual paragraphs. By this I mean those at the scene level rather than down in the trenches that far.

    Otherwise I run into the same problem you and Piedmont talk about, Davin.

  3. I think this is where the letting go comes in.

    Once you find that something works for you, leave it alone. Of course not necessarily just after one read through, but perhaps try a couple of time. Otherwise there would be no end of editing.

    There are a lot of different ways of saying something, and some ways are just as good as another, so you would always find alternatives.

  4. Do you ever try reading passages aloud to a trusted set of ears? Maybe you do this all the time, I don't know, but I have run into the same problem, and this usually helps me. They don't even have to say anything. Sometimes a sentence flows beautifully when I read it in my head, but when I read it aloud, it doesn't roll off the tongue the same. Reading aloud is nerve-wracking, but it always helps me with sentence rhythm.

  5. I know I'm going to get crushed for saying this, but I think there does reach a point when you have to say "good enough."

    If you don't, I think you're always going to second guess yourself and think a passage, a sentence or whatever can be tweaked. And you're right, it can. That doesn't mean it should be, however. There is no such thing as perfect writing.

    You have to determine where that "good enough" point is for you; it may be different for different projects, etc.

    I wonder, too, if you're not suffering from what a golfer might call the yips. As in, if I just get this passage right, if I just say this a little better, then I'll get published. If that's the case, I think you're putting undue pressure on yourself.

    Write the way you write, Davin. I suspect that it's pretty darn good. Trust your own voice!

  6. I agree with Genie. Reading aloud is the key to unlock the most suitable rhythm for your sentence. This is especially true with dialogue. If your tongue is unable to speak the words you've created, then it's fair to say the reader will have the same difficulty.

  7. Draft 53?! I think you need to step away from the manuscript. Especially if you are just revising paragraphs based on your changing rhythms.
    You can keep revising till the end of time. There comes a point where you just have to say, "I'm done with this." At least for now, anyway.

  8. Piedmont Writer, Can you find a good editor for me then? Just kidding. But, I am definitely a self-doubter. Michelle can tell you that. I don't think I'm alone, though.

    Matthew, that's interesting. Thanks. I tend to stumble on rhythms as I'm reading out loud, so I guess it does go down to the sentence level for me. But, maybe by looking more at the big picture, like maybe the pacing, I wouldn't get so caught up.

    Lost Wanderer, I think that's what I'm figuring out. There are lots of ways to say the same thing. It makes total sense, and yet I can feel myself fighting it because I want the perfect solution. Maybe that doesn't exist.

    Genie, I do try to read most of my writing out loud. I usually do it for myself, though, but I agree it is a great way to find the clunkers. This is good advice. Thanks!

    Scott, thanks a lot for the encouragement. I have accepted that I'm the type of person that will always find something I can fix in my writing. I think that right now I'm making important changes, but it's in between those important changes where I'm making the pointless changes. I need to stop fiddling with those parts! I think "good enough" works for certain people and not for others. I'm always critical on myself, so "good enough" is an important phrase for me. People who always love their own writing might not find that as helpful.

    Angel, thanks. That's a good point about the dialog. I've worked hard on dialog because it was something I got caught up on a lot. I was finding a lot of writers who were doing it better than I was, and I tried to learn from them.

    Annie, thanks for your thoughts! Earlier this year, I did think that my book was done, which I think is a good sign that I can (eventually) let go of things. But I am revising again, based on comments from some recent readers, including Michelle and Scott. I made good progress last night, actually. I'm hoping to be finished again today if all goes well.

  9. I've had this happen time and time again. And Davin it gets confusing, to me anyway.

    On Seventy Two Hours I finally said, "The End." I quit worrying about it. I mean you can revise a story to death. Changing paragraphs here and reworking scenes there. And like you said, then go back and change it to the way it was 40 (my words)drafts ago.

    I save a lot, but I never save first drafts. They just don't do anything for me. :0)

    I pluggged back in to wish you a beautiful Christmas. Looking forward to 2010. Thanks for everything my wonderful friend. I'll be sending you an email this week. Be safe and here's to you Davin. Cheers :)

  10. Okay! The comment from Cameron is actually from Robyn. My kid was on the computer checking his google mail. TEENAGERS! AUGH!

  11. I have this same exact problem. ugh. I'm dealing with it right now on draft 18.

  12. What I've noticed happening in my own work is that after a while, the writing seems sort of stale because I'm overly familiar with it. I begin to fuss with it and make things different just so they seem new and interesting again, and that's always a sign that I need to Step Away From The Manuscript. Whatever passages I've written most recently always seem the best ones to me, but that's got nothing to do with the actual quality of the writing, I think. Davin, I think you are simply pushing words around at this point and you should do your targeted revisions and leave the rest of the damned thing alone. Go work on something else, why don't you?

  13. Anything not in iambic pentameter
    Should really be done in dactylic hexameter

    ... or not. But that's why I often leave well enough alone in my work after seven or eight rounds of edits. I find I start to second-guess myself too much, and it's probably just time to move on.

    You, good sir, have either the patience of a saint, or the endurance of a decathlete, or both.

  14. Rhythm, meter, beats... Are you priming us for a limerick contest? :)

  15. Change just for the sake of changes in a novel is a bad thing, Davin. Your novel sounds complete. Tie that thing up with a query and synopsis and send it out.

    And don't touch it again until an agent tells you to!

    I've had to take that advice myself recently, b/c I too spend lots of energy changing my mind about certain scenes. But really, I'm not making them better, just different.

    Good luck with your self restraint. I'm sure you have other projects just itching for your obsessive attention.


  16. Robyn, thanks for your nice note. I was wondering who Cameron was! That's really interesting that you don't save first drafts. I always do, because it fascinates me to see how much stories change. My novel Rooster originally started out with a time traveler, and now it's a very realistic story.

    B. J., it sounds like people are telling us not to get too caught up in this sort of thing. Hopefully we aren't revising forever.

    Scott, I think you're right that I should just work on the targeted revisions. I just end up changing things when I revise for flow after adding those new sections. Anyway, moving on to new stories will be good. My nephew's novella was very fun to write, and the deadline made it fun to complete too.

    Simon, I think I have the fickleness of a ficklemonster, that's what I have, good sir! The second-guessing is the culprit. I don't think I'll ever be able to read anything I actually publish.

    Charlie, no limericks, at least as far as I'm concerned. Michelle and Scott can be unpredictable sometimes.

    Donna, thanks! Different not better is the problem, I agree. I need to be more careful about realizing when I'm doing that so that I can STOP.

  17. Davin, to piggyback off some other comments, it's always important to have a good writing reason for these kind of revisions. Sometimes, if you have a hang-up, you need a second-tier question for yourself.

    Why am I fixing this?

    Poor grammar. (check)
    Confusing details. (check)
    Typos. (check)
    Rhythm. (well then...)

    What do I want to happen by changing the rhythm?

    A - Increase pacing.
    B - Improve flow of the passage.
    C - Implement parallelism for emphasis.
    D - Make it better.

    Option D is probably too abstract to base a change on.

    My own hang-up is often cutting out detail. I have to ask myself why I'm cutting it because too often my answer a simple, "to make it better." My personal distate for clutter doesn't always make for better writing, and I need to grapple with that.

  18. If you can find an answer to that, let me know. I do the same thing.

  19. Once, I had a best short story.
    I toted it to every workshop
    Trying to get it just right,
    So the world would see it too.
    The readers found flaw.
    But they knew how to make it
    And I knew how to make it
    And so it was better,
    Each and every time.
    But never was it finished.

  20. I'm obsessed with rhythm. There's something about the way sentences flow that keeps me changing them. I find that when I set a ms aside and come back to it after a month or so, it feels more "set." Sentences I once messed with endlessly no longer need changing. Either they're right or they're not. Distance (and hearing my words read aloud) are my cure-alls.

  21. Davin, this is a good question, and one I've suffered trying to answer myself - since I began writing years ago.

    I'm a poet at heart, so rhythm is a huge, huge thing for me. When you-know-who got back to me and said that the rhythm in some of my paragraphs wasn't matching the rest of the story, I kind of died inside. I thought I had gotten it right - then I realized that what he'd pointed out were the paragraphs that I'd fiddled with a billion times. The rhythm, yes, did get lost. I often find that the best rhythm gets lost if I revise and rework too much.

    Honestly, I think you've reached a point where you can stop and try to publish the book now. If there are rhythm problems an editor will point them out and you can change them at that point. If you decide to self-publish, then some expert readers (or a hired editor, if you choose) will point them out.

    Like Scott says, there comes a point where you just need to move on. F.P. said it well it, too - if it ain't broken, don't fix it. Many times we think things are broken when they're actually not. I really need to listen to my own advice.

  22. I know it's right when I read it out loud. It's the true test!

    Have a very Merry Christmas!!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.