Have you ever seen one of those shows on any of the various home and garden channels where they tear apart and remodel a house? Or maybe they bring in a celebrity inspector to point out all of the various problems and then proceed to rip down walls, all the while in a frustrated huff, even though you know these guys will be able to do the very labor-intensive work required, and even enjoy doing it? My girlfriend, Jess, has turned me on to these shows being that she is quite the handywoman herself. But I find inspiration not from gaining knowledge on home improvement, but from the obvious metaphor, the idea that "constructing," or in my case, "reconstructing" a fourth draft of a novel is very much like going into a building, finding where the leaks are coming from, and then going to work to patch things up.
The good news is that rarely does a novel written in such a meticulous way as my third book was written see anything beyond a fourth draft. As I've stated earlier on this blog, the third draft was the one that I was going to build on, the foundation that will hold the structure together just long enough for the inspectors to come in and snoop around. This is where, in my case, the trustworthy beta reader came in, pointing out that certain parts needed to be developed, and that the piece could benefit from as little as a few more lines here and there.
I have made my construction plans via sticky notes (index cards are traditionally used here, but hey, I have a "Stickies" app on my computer) arranged like a storyboard with each chapter getting its own, color-coded note. The notes put on these sticky notes will be inserted into the manuscript via what I call "prompts" typed in bold, cueing me to start there and write those few lines, or whatever is needed to make that part work. This is where I am, and it's a good place, being that the beta reader admitted that it was the "cleanest" manuscript they'd received in a long time, and perhaps more importantly, that the novel was more than salvageable and "needs to be represented."
Which brings me to a decision I've made recently that you can read more about in the "A Brief Disclaimer" section of this blog, and it has to do with the previously self-published versions of my work. Basically, I've realized that nothing is going to happen with them in the form that they are in now, that is to say, stigmatized as self-published works. If I am to recognize the integrity of my past work for what it is and what it could be, I need to take it out of the market for now, knowing that they are simply not ready to be consumed. They are early works that tie into this third work-in-progress, one that is designed to stand on its own, and one that will still stand as my potential launching pad into the industry. But since I cannot un-publish those novels, the novels exist now in my mind only as manuscripts (self-publishing companies should make clear that you still own the rights to your book) and nothing more. As a result, these novels have been unlocked, giving me the freedom to go back and change minor punctuation and grammar, things that had previously fallen victim to both my inexperience as a writer, and the heavy hand of copy editors assigned to make my book more "marketable," and thus destroying any stylistic consistency. It is because of this, you will no longer hear me acknowledge these editions as even being in existence, and it is my wish that these editions no longer be included in my body of, as of now, un-published work.
These manuscripts have in fact already been altered, but only in matters of the above mentioned grammar and punctuation with the content remaining the same, and I've sat down to do this in wonderful new writing locations. As you know, I love finding new spaces to work, and I have recently discovered the University on Montevallo's Carmichael Library in Montevallo, Alabama as the place where I will more than likely write most of my next novel. It reminds me very much of the university libraries that I've worked in throughout the years as both a student and a post-graduate alumnus, sometimes choosing to immerse myself in its academic atmosphere of desks and cubicles and campus tranquility instead of drinking it up on a Saturday night. Nowadays, the drinking part isn't even a factor, but revisiting a college campus not only gives me the inspiration that I need in such a rural part of the country, but it allows me to tap into my natural wiring as an academic, working in the environment that at one point in my life, I'd planned to become a part of. It's good to know that these constants exist around me to mirror the constants of my artistic sensibility.
It's very much like when you hear of an artist's career in some retrospect documentary, where the artists themselves are talking about their work as if its relevance to them has never dissipated. They are able to pick apart and dissect their movies or songs or books as if they had just created them, and you realize that this is the case because the artist lives with the art that they create, and the places where they were created, and the reasons that they were created, for the rest of their lives.