Tuesday, May 13, 2008

the delicious part of novel writing

Toni Morrison said about writing a novel that "The best part of all, the absolutely delicious part, is finishing it and then doing it over again."

In the midst of all the horse and donkey activity here, I quietly slid back into the deep end of my second novel edit and have been moving through it page by page every morning and often again later in the day. It feels very much like a satisfying swim, a dip into a deep pool in midsummer, and it does indeed feel delicious.

I decided, without thinking about it consciously, to shift the entire novel (not just one character's POV sections) into third person past, which was a surprise but feels right as I do it. Meanwhile, two major re-sequencing ideas came to me, and I've made notes so that when I get to those places I can fix them. It's always interesting how the busiest most hectic times in my life often yield the good writing stuff. It just leaks out without much effort.

Eudora Welty wrote, "It's strange how in revision you find some little unconsidered thing which is so essential that you not only keep it in but give it preeminence when you revise. Sometimes in the the dead of night, it will come to me. 'Well, that's what I should do, that's what I'm working toward!' It was there all the time."

This is my favorite part of editing, finding those gems that were there all the time, and uncovering them layer by layer. I have spent a fair amount of time driving myself toward publication, and I have learned but sometimes forget that putting the delicious part back front and center is critical in this novel writing work.

A week and a half ago I unplugged myself from Publishers Marketplace and have immersed myself in reading good novels, taking care of the horses, and sliding deep into the deliciousness of just being with my pages every day.

I'm having a few writers over for an upcoming weekend retreat here later this month, and planning a trip to Weymouth in midsummer. The prospect of spending big chunks of time with my characters (surrounded by the energy and good company of other writers) is making me very very happy.


mamie said...

Billie, since you're doing some reading, I highly, highly recommend Elizabeth Strout's new book Olive Kitteridge (did I mention this already?). It is a masterpiece.

billie said...

Mamie, that book is on my list due to your high recommendation. My reading pile is starting to look smallish, so I'll be adding new titles and that will be one of the first.

With mother's day gifts I've added Ellen Gilchrist's new novel A Dangerous Age, Linda Kohanov's Riding Between the Worlds, Ellen Gilchrist's memoir The Writing Life, Cormac McCarthy's Suttree, John Sarno's The Divided Mind, and Ted Andrews' Omens and Messages in Nature.

Grey Horse Matters said...

One of the reasons I like your blog so much is that you sound like such a happy person who is very satisfied with her life. Keep enjoying your animals,riding and your novel revisions and characters. I actually think it makes everyone feel good to read about your enthusiasm for life.

billie said...

Thank you, Arlene. I definitely have my moments of angst and upset, but I tend to focus on the good stuff as much as I can.

Many times the other moments simply disappear when I don't give them attention.

That said, I got a chill after lunch and took a very long nap. Not sure if something is brewing or I just needed to catch up on rest.

I hope your week is off to a fine start!

Janet Roper said...

Sounds like heaven! Have you ever shared your reading recommendations? Never can have enough books to read.

the7msn said...

The novel-writing side of you is fascinating. Thanks for sharing it.

billie said...

Janet, I'm halfway through Gil Adamson's The Outlander right now and am really enjoying it. She's combining an engaging story with beautiful writing.

I've also been re-reading my way through Cormac McCarthy's work, which I find amazing.

And the book I read (was it this year or last?) that I have been blown away by is Marianne Wiggins' Evidence of Things Unseen.

I also ready her earlier novel Almost Heaven not long ago and it was very good too.

I could go on and on.

billie said...

Linda, I feel pretty fortunate to have found some fellow bloggers and readers who love horses and books and writing! Thank you for visiting here AND for sharing all the great stories from the 7MSN!

Victoria Cummings said...

Billie - You help me persevere. I'm dragging myself through a difficult section of my novel, heading towards the homestretch. Reading about your joy as you fine tune gives me something to look forward to as I struggle through the bumpy part.

billie said...

Good luck with the work, Victoria - I hope it gets delicious very soon!

dorette said...

billie, hi there. checking in with you and loving your posts and to hear how the revisions are coming and what you're reading. it gives me comfort to know there is another writer hard at work at it! have you read much of margaret atwood? i just finished cat's eye, how fabulous. gripping and beautiful. simple yet stultifying. oryx and crake is next. seems there was a book you recommended when i was at november hill for the writing session. mysticism and horses? drat this brain! dorette

billie said...

Hi, Dorette - I'm so glad you're still hard at work on that wonderful novel of yours. I have selfish motives - I want to read it!

One of my favorite passages ever comes from Atwood's Cat's Eye. I'm sitting here trying to remember where it is I have that passage typed out. It's the one about women falling on men, skirts like bells in the descent, and the men sharp like rocks below.

I adore that passage and have always wished for a painting of the image it brings to my mind, with those words typed beside it.

I think the book I recommended was probably Linda Kohanov's The Tao of Equus. There's also an Alice Hoffman novel about a girl and horses that I was trying to remember myself the other day - it was a short novel, but so far I can't recall the title and haven't had a chance to look it up. When I was trying to remember it though, I thought of your book and wondered if you'd read it.

dorette said...


and i want to read yours!

i know exactly the pasasage in CE to which you are referring though i can't find it now.

taos of equus. it even sounds amazing.....sorry about mystic-lit, i enjoyed it while it was up..

just getting to my blog now. or then.

lets see what else am i reading..letters of vincent van gogh..memoirs of a geisha.. water and dreams by bachelard..LOVE HIM!!!

take care --- bread, dorette

billie said...

Dorette, I am going to look up Water and Dreams right now.

billie said...

Oh MY - I am so getting all of Bachelard's translations on the elements - apropos to writing and sandplay therapy and life in general! Thanks for the gem!

dorette said...


i have blog posted today for the first time in a while and am taking the tack that i can go in and let loose rather than have a plan as i had thunk i would...once upon a time.

hope yo enjoy bachelard! the other book of his that is so entralling is the flame of a candle..let me know how riding between the worlds is. literally and ....

:) dorette

billie said...


Will let you know about the riding between the worlds. :)