Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
It’s starting to look like I’ll have a new novel on offer this fall. Indie, of course, since I seem to be persona non grata in the world of literary agents. C’est la vie.
I have another project I’m going to query agents on later in the year, but that’s probably my last shot at the Big Time, I’m afraid. I’ve thrown my best stuff at them and they ain’t biting. A bloke gets weary you know, and a bloke gets cranky too, so I doubt that I’ll have the emotional wherewithal to go the agent route for future work after that one.
But this forthcoming indie book is perfect for self-publishing because it’s timely, it’s political, it’s unorthodox (in some ways at least), and it probably wouldn’t stand a chance in New York. I’ve already designed a cover for it, and I’m diving into what I hope will be the final revision right now.
This process of revision, which I’ve never enjoyed very much, has me thinking about ways to approach it that aren’t so aggravating. For one thing, I really hate rewriting. Especially when it requires reimagining whole pieces of a book. My method, if you can call it that, makes the first draft pretty close to what I want the thing to be, so when a beta reader or editor (say, my wife) has thoughts that are going to require both reimagining and rewriting, I get cranky. (This notwithstanding the fact that my wife is usually right.)
Lately I’ve been working on two new songs as well, and the editing/revising process on those makes me wish that writing was a little more like music.
In recording music, your basic tracks (bass, drums, rhythm guitar, lead guitar, percussion) are comparable to the first draft of a book. You’ve blocked out the structure, you’ve done the best you can with a few takes, you’ve added some things as you go along and deleted some things that didn’t sound quite the way you hoped. But it’s in decent shape overall, and aside from a few lyric changes and maybe another crack at that solo, you’re ready to edit the sumbitch.
In music it’s called mixing and mastering, and this is the part I wish I could somehow apply to revising a novel. Why? Because in recording it’s actually fun. If I could think of revising my novel as fun, I’d be all over that thing instead of feeling around the edges and procrastinating.
You know how it is. After the first draft of a novel you pretty much have to force yourself through the thing looking for errors in logic, inconsistencies, unsuccessful scenes, coincidences, plot holes—in other words failures. In music, you almost welcome the problems (or at least I do) because you get to come up with creative ways to fix them.
For instance, here’s one fun thing I do in mixing all the time. Maybe I’ve played a guitar solo almost perfectly. Almost. There’s one tiny error right in the middle of it cause by a clunky pick attack or something, and it’s noticeable. To redo the solo (yet again) will probably introduce other errors, and to silence the error out will probably cause an audible gap in the track that will sound like a mistake. Instead of messing around with that stuff, I can always add a sound. A cymbal clash? A vibraslap? A couple of voices going “oooooh”? It’s easy to try them and see what works.
Or you can play with the panning so that the artifact gets washed out in the mix. Or you can go to the EQ panel and find the frequency of the problem sound and reduce it.
When I’m revising a novel, though, I usually have a deep crease in the middle of my forehead from all the un-fun thinking I have to do. Say a protagonist has made a false move that undermines her whole persona, yet that move is crucial to the plot. What to do about it?
If only I could insert a vibraslap right there and distract the reader long enough to get away with it …
Here’s one more trick in music production that I wish we could use as writers. When the recording is done and you’ve mixed the project to your liking, it’s time to master the whole thing, which you do by adding a series of filters to the stereo output. I use reverb, EQ, compression, a limiter, a multipressor, and sometimes a stereo-field effect. With the touch of just a few buttons, the song gains dimension, detail, and presence, and boom, it’s finished.
Imagine if you could take your .doc file, press a couple of buttons, and polish that puppy to a gleaming gem.
I’ll say it again: If only revising a novel were more like mixing and mastering a song.