The thing is that I don’t think I’d be able to revise this novel — or any novel — if I hadn’t spent the past year learning how to solve problems at the piano.
I’d always had a top-level problem when it came to novel-revision, and it’s that I did the majority of the “work” before I ever started writing any of the story. I’m the kind of writer who will create a very detailed chapter breakdown and a character breakdown before starting the first draft, which is to say that I write the book before I write the book, which means that if you were to tell me “I think you need to rework Chapter 2,” I would say “you mean I need to rework the entire manuscript, because every individual element in Chapter 2 is there for a reason and is connected to everything that comes before and after it.”
There is very little waste, in my prose.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems.
The problems, in this current draft, are similar to the problems I’m experiencing in the third movement of Mozart K332. It’s not the problem of getting words on the page; that’s the problem I’m dealing with right now as I learn the Bach Ricercar a 6 (“getting words on the page” being roughly equivalent to “getting notes in fingers”). It’s the problem of having many, many good words on the page and several words that are just good enough.
Which, if you heard me play K332 right now, you might say “good job.”
But if you heard me play that Chopin Nocturne that I’ve been working on for twice as long, you might say “wow, you had absolute command of your performance and were making specific, distinct choices throughout the entire piece.”
I mean, you probably wouldn’t say that. L would, because he’s a piano teacher. You might just say “wow.”
The difference between good job and wow comes down to problem-solving.
And the thing is — and this is what I didn’t understand, before this year — is that you can actually solve every problem in a piece of piano music, as long as you are willing to put in the time and the effort and don’t have an external deadline (like a recital) pressuring you to cut a few corners.
I always assumed that there would be a few measures in each piece that would always be clunky or awkward or nerve-wracking, simply because the music was “hard” or I had “small hands” or whatever.
This has not turned out to be the case. L and I have come up with a solution for every problem we’ve found in Mozart K332, whether it’s changing the fingering or making sure the fourth finger doesn’t collapse at the first knuckle or shaping the phrase towards its final note.
Which means that I can also come up with a solution for every problem I have in my current draft, whether it’s a clunky sentence or an awkward transition, without having to rework the entire plot from scratch.
I mean, we don’t rewrite Mozart just because we can’t play one of the passages.
And I don’t have to rewrite my entire book just because one of its passages isn’t as solid as it could be.
I just have to figure out what the problem is — not a general “this doesn’t work,” but a specific reason why it isn’t working, just like I do at the piano — and then fix it.
Which I can do, because I’ve spent the past year learning how to do it. ❤️
p.s. in case you’re having trouble deciphering that header image, it reads “truth in a novel is the same as accuracy at the piano,” and the reason I crossed it out is because that’s my way of identifying that I’ve taken an idea out of my notebook and put it somewhere else.