Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When Kelly Barnhill is RIGHT....

Some time last year, I took part in a panel discussion at the Minnesota Historical Society about writing science fiction/fantasy. It was me and "the two Kellys," Kelly McCullough and Kelly Barnhill (and moderated by the always-fabulous Jody Wurl). Jody did her best to tease out more than the usual topics despite the rather broad subject of the panel and we were having a jolly old time talking about all aspects of writing. Then, someone from the audience asked about the revision process, to which Kelly Barnhill admitted that her strategy went like this:

"I open up my novel and hit, 'Select-All, Delete.'"

Kelly McCullough and I laughed nervously, and then did a classic double-take, "Wait, what? SERIOUSLY????"

Yes.

It turns out Kelly Barnhill's method for revision is to completely delete her novel (yes, she means all of it, all 80,000 words) and rewrite it FROM SCRATCH.

The other Kelly and I sputtered incoherently for several minutes, and number of writers in the audience had a complete heart attack at this thought. I mean, from the bloodless look on his face, I'm not sure Michael Mirriam will ever quite recover from the shock.

But today, I get it.

I've been banging my head against the keyboard for a week trying to tease out a plot for this military science fiction proposal I'm trying to write, and it's time.

It's time to hit 'Select-All, Delete.'

Okay, so I'm nowhere near as brave as Ms. Barnhill. I think I will probably secretly save what I've written in under a different name and stash it in the far-corners of my proposals file. I also am losing less than 2,000 words. But, the principle is the same. This is not working. I need a complete do-over. I'm dumping the whole thing and trying again.

So, yeah, there are times when Kelly Barnhill is RIGHT.

7 comments:

Jon said...

Time-wise alone, there's no way I could delete the WHOLE thing, but even if I did, and rewrote the whole thing, would it really be a 2nd draft? OR just a recast 1st? This is full length novel I'm talking about of course, a two thousand word pitch is a different story, but either way, a lot of times I don't realize a majority of the issues I have going on in the WIP until I go back and actually look at it. If you just rewrote the whole thing from scratch, wouldn't you be just rewriting (generally) the same mistakes?

kellybarnhill said...

Here's why I do this: I had an experience a while back, while writing a novel - that I had not backed up, mind you - and the laptop burst into flames. On my lap. Poof! And after the initial panic (FIRE BAD!) there was the numbing realization that I had lost 52,421 words. And I liked those words. Now, after a day of the weeping and the gnashing of the teeth, I made a realization: I knew my characters backward and forward, and I loved them; I knew the world inside and out, and I loved it; and I knew what happened in all the parts that I had lost. So how hard could it be? What I discovered was that the new version was more deeply realized. All the problems that I knew were there in the first version, but I didn't have the guts to go back and fix, well, I fixed them. And then - THEN - I discovered, while cleaning out drawers, that I had actually printed out the first forty thousand words or so. And completely forgot about it, because, whatever, I'm the most forgetful person ever when it comes to things that happen in real life. So I actually had a chance to compare the two versions. No comparison. The pacing, the humor, the nuance of character, the inter-chapter harmonics? So much better. So now that's what I do.

Now, obviously, I still have to do the third and fourth and fifth rounds of revisions, as do we all. But if I have a section that's not landing right? If I have a short story that starts awesome and turns in to a goddamned mess, but I KNOW that the genesis is good? I erase that baby and make it new. It's like cutting your scraggly lilacs down to the root in the fall, and coming back next spring and finding blossoms and blossoms and blossoms everywhere.

Okay, fine, it's nothing like that. But you get what I mean.

Michael Merriam said...

I still wake up in a cold sweat from nightmares where Kelly Barnhill comes over to read my work-in-progress and convinces me to hit "Select-All, Delete."

Kristen Wixted said...

I've done that. Really, I have. I thought I was crazy.

While I still can't rule out being crazy, at least I know I am not the only one.

It's more like cutting down a rhododendron, I'd say.

Kelly McCullough said...

I'm still with Michael.

tate hallaway said...

For the most part, me too, Kelly. Me too.

However, I had success this time.

Lucy DeCoded said...

Aren't there famous painters who used to do this? They would white-wash over their painting and start over? It seems to me that it takes a certain kind of self-confidence to be able to pull it off. A knowledge that, yes, I can re-do this and next time it will be even better.