Just about a week ago, I realized, via feedback from one of the agents to which I had submitted my partial, that my novel, On the Edge of Someplace Else, was in need of a serious revision. The agent, who will remain nameless though I am grateful for her comments and suggestions, said the story was interesting but the book itself moved too slow. After licking my wounds for a couple of days, I took another look at my book with her comments in mind, and lo and behold, she was completely right! My first thought was to just chuck the project and continue with my second book (word on the publishing street is that most "first" novels never see the light of a bookstore anyway). But in all honesty, I couldn't send it to its grave. It had been a part of me for too many years and I know the story is interesting and has something to "say", that I couldn't not do all I could to get it right.
So, I went back in. Just as I was wrestling with the rewrite, someone (the wonderful Sarah Cypher, as a matter of fact) offered an amazing bit of advice that she learned/heard from the author, Tom Spanbauer, he of the "dangerous writing" school of writing, which includes such notables as Amy Hempel and Chuck Palahniuk, and espouses the act of writing "dangerously": "writing what personally scares or embarrasses you in order to explore and artistically express those fears honestly."
Now, what Tom Spanbauer said, via Sarah Cypher, is "we should write as if we're telling our story to a person on his deathbed." At first I balked at this bit of "writerly" advice. Yes, actually balked! But then, when the revision I was working on was still churning out huge buckets of boring, I thought I might as well give it a try.
I sat down next to this dying person (in my head he's old and frail, not so much on his immediate death bed, but he's not getting up any time soon) and started telling him the story. It didn't take long to realize that it wasn't me speaking, but Brian, one of my main characters. He is the one that had to tell the story (he always was the one, but I had forgotten that after too many years of reapproaches and revisions). And he is the only one who could tell the story, because he's the one that lived it, not me. So, I let him talk and, my God, he's a good storyteller! His is the voice I've been hearing all this time but kept filtering it through me (with the safety on). His voice is so much clearer and stronger and braver than mine ever was, so I'm letting him tell what he needs to tell. And he's doing an amazing job. I'm grateful to hand over the reins.
And the revision is going well. Better than well, it's going great. I'm excited and energized and so is the story again. I get up each day looking forward to re-entering the world of my novel to find out what I'm going to learn next, and that's a great feeling.
So I thank that nameless agent. I thank Sarah. I thank Tom. But most of all, I thank Brian. Keep telling your tale and they will follow.