Revisions are a beast

Really, they are. But they’re a beast I love.

I’m 3.5 chapters away from finishing the bulk of these revisions for SOUL MOUNTAIN. They started simple enough–changing one of the POVs from 3rd to 1st person. And then my UCLA class happened and I reached a moment in my process where I just didn’t know which way was up. I put it on hold, worked on THROUGH THE WALLED CITY, and just kept brainstorming. Because something wasn’t working. I knew it, I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

After much soul-searching and agonizing and tears (oh yeah, there was some of that), I had a glorious moment of clarity: I needed to rewrite this book. About 70% is new material. Other parts have been shifted. Characters strengthened, redefined. The ending is completely new. Most importantly, I worked on making sure the reader connects with the characters emotionally. I knew I was on the right track, when my instructor’s feedback went something along the lines of, You nailed it! (I imagine Haymitch from The Hunger Games saying it, like “Now that’s what I’m talking about, Sweetheart!) Talk about feeling the breakthrough! With the help of a newly redesigned book map and outline, I was well under way.

But let me tell you. It’s very, very scary, to look at your 65,000-word manuscript and open up a new, blank document, and say, we’re having a do-over. Holy crap it’s scary.

But I did it. I’m less than 4 chapters away from the end. It’s been a fascinating process, slow and steady, full of layers. Every day that I work on it, it goes something like this: read and revise previous chapter, then write new chapter. It’s a write/revise, write/revise pattern. And it works. Sometimes, I go back two chapters or three before I write the new one. But I’m moving forward and I’m excited about the end product.

And each new chapter I take to my critique group, who’ve been fabulous and awesome in their feedback and support.

The true test will be once I submit this revision.

So here’s something else I learned during this part of the process. My layers work (roughly) as such:

  1. Action/dialogue: I start writing a scene as I see and hear it happen. I know what’s going on, who says what, etc.
  2. Add emotional depth: After the first layer, most likely on a different day or after I’ve let some time pass (today it was a few hours), I add what the character is thinking/feeling. How what’s happening and what’s being said affects him/her. What’s at stake.
  3. Pretty up the words: Once I feel better about the action/reaction at play, I look at the language. I revise for my tics (too many coordinating conjunctions, for example). I make sure I’m doing mostly showing. I read aloud for the “flow” and the “rhythm” of the words on the page.

And then I move on to the next scene/chapter. I also update my book map/outline. Where I catch inconsistencies, or if I notice I’ve forgotten a thread, I make a note of it on the outline. Once I reach the new end (with the above layers), I’ll be doing another read-through, slipping in whatever I may have missed.

At this rate, I expect to submit the revised draft by the end of the month. Let the nail-biting begin!

This thing called revision

I know many people hate the dreaded “r” word. Revision. For some, it’s enough to send them into panic mode, complete with shivers, palpitations, and sweaty palms. I think most of my students feel this way about revision, and if I’m honest with myself, I used to dread revisions, too–not to the above extreme, but I didn’t like them. I was impatient. I wanted to be “done” with whatever project I was writing.

If there’s something I’ve learned during the process of writing a book-length manuscript is that there are no shortcuts. And this includes revision. Patience, in the words of the age-old adage, is a virtue. I failed to see that before, rushing through because I wanted to get work out. Not anymore. Whenever I get the itch that I just want to send this out already, I remind myself, it’s not ready yet. Almost, but not quite. I know this. And I want it to be ready when I send it out.

But here’s the thing. I’ve gone from dreading revisions to actually loving them! Sure, I still get impatient, but the wonder at seeing how each revision adds a layer to my story, my characters so that they stop being rough caricatures keeps me grounded. I recently emailed a former instructor about how I felt like a kid discovering Disney during this process, and how I hope it never gets old.

It’s that sense of wonder and discovery that now makes me yell out to whomever will listen, including my students, I LOVE REVISIONS! 🙂

If I’m a little quiet on here…

it’s because I’m working hard! 🙂

This is the last week of summer term, so final portfolios and research papers are coming in.

I’m also working on revisions for my novel. I’m counting my blessing for my wonderful beta readers and critique partners who are giving me some amazing feedback! My novel is printed, tabbed, and it’s starting to bleed purple (I refuse to revise OR grade in red ink…) I’m happy with where it’s going, and I’m marveling every moment in this process. I feel like a kid who’s discovering Disney World for the first time. Seriously! I’ve added the first chapter to the SOUL MOUNTAIN page above, or you can see it here.

Sprinkle in the things life throws in, just to make it interesting, as well as the class I’m taking at UCLA’s Writer’s Extension, a hiccup with health, and family life, and, well, you can deduce the rest.

But I’ll be back soon!

First Draft DONE!

Okay, so this is actually two-days-old-news: Tuesday I put that last period of my first draft. Total word count? 59,600. Twenty-four chapters. That’s after I cut out 3 chapters/8,000 words. A mixture of emotions flooded through me. I was excited at really being done (with the first draft anyway). I was surprised that I ended where I did (in my “outline” I ended somewhere else, but as I wrote this last chapter, it just clicked. THIS is where I had to end.) I was eager to start revising. I felt the immensity of the task of revision, but I’m ready to embrace it. Bring on the layers!

But first I had to grade some papers.

Yesterday I started with the first part of my revision process: reading the whole damn thing from start to finish, looking for things I missed, filling in scenes, changing my “usual suspects” of writing tics, working with word flow and language, adding in character and plot elements that I now know because of the ending, catching things I might have missed before . I’m three chapters in.

I’m not new to revision, but I am new to revising a work of this length. (Does revising my MA thesis count? I realize I have written a book-length manuscript before… but it was academic.) However, thanks to some amazing instructors and workshops (and thanks to some Tweets by authors on this process), I think I’m ready to go.

My game plan:

  1. Read through of entire MS from beginning to end, revising as I go.
  2. When that’s done, print the sucker out, with large margins, and have it spiral bound.
  3. Take out all my notes about revision and strategies and exercises to check the character and plot arcs.
  4. Read the MS again, looking at each chapter individually and as part of the whole, marking up the text.
  5. Incorporate changes into the document.
  6. Send out to beta readers and critique partners.
  7. Wait….and wait.
  8. Review feedback and make necessary changes.
  9. And then one last look from beginning to end. In between I’ll also be reading my chapters aloud at my critique group.

Does that sound like a good plan? I hope so! I’m curious to see how long this takes me. I don’t want to rush, but I’m determined to focus on this and finish before the new semester begins! My son’s in camp until the 10th. Summer classes end on the 5th. Fire is under my behind.

I. Will. Get. This. Done.

Anyone care to share your revision plans?

Write to the Finish Line

I’m on a writing marathon. My son’s in camp, so between 9:30 AM and 3:00 PM, I am writing (or grading… I do still have to do that until the first week of August). The great thing is that with those 5.5 hours, I am getting a TON of writing and revising done! I’m writing 3 days a week (grading the other two) for the full 5ish hours. I’m averaging 3K-5K words on those days, and that includes new material and revising old material.

Basically, I start in the previous chapter, revise, and move onto the next chapter. If it’s a blank chapter (which means I have a rough/sketch outline for it, but I haven’t actually written out the scenes yet), I sit and write it out from start to finish, then go back and re-read it, revising as I go. If it’s a chapter where I already have something written, full or not, I revise as I read through it. Five hours let me work on roughly 2-2.5 chapters per day.

I do this every time I sit down to write. (Check out my post on what I’ve learned about my writing process.)

Today, after I finished writing, I did a quick run down of what I have left: 4 chapters to write, 3 to revise. And then I’m officially done with the first draft. I’m at 58,436 words.

I want to jump up and down! I know I still have the BIG revisions left afterwards, but I’m ready and anxious to tackle them. I have my game plan in place, and I’m confident that, with my son in camp, I’ll be able to finish the revisions by the end of summer. THAT, my friends, is my goal. And as of now, I’m right on track. 🙂

I’ve added my pitch here on this blog, which you can find on the side bar, and soon, I’ll be adding the first few pages. I hope you enjoy it!

My Writing Process

If there’s one fact about writing that I make sure to stress to my students, it’s that writing is a process. There’s no way around it, and the sooner they embrace this reality, the easier their time in writing classes will be (and, hopefully, the better their work will be!) This basic tenet of writing holds true in academic and creative writing alike (heck, it holds true in any area of writing!), though for each I approach it slightly different.

But knowing this and putting it into practice are two completely different things.

When I was working on my MA thesis, I had detailed outlines, lots (and lots and lots) of 3×5 index cards, books strewn on my dining room table (where I did most of my writing), notes and scribbles from my notebooks, copies of relevant essays I’d written throughout my graduate career, and my laptop. It was a straightforward research process, but one that involved prewriting, writing and rewriting nonetheless.

Writing this novel, though, has taught me a completely different process. This one is more organic and chaotic; instead of a linear process, it’s one that’s cyclical. I’ll write a few scenes, revise them, rewrite them, organize them, separate them, write a few more scenes. Back and forth, back and forth, until I see the story moving forward. In between, I do research as needed, I write and re-write character sketches, and I look for images for inspiration. I have a writing “playlist” on my computer/phone (consisting mostly of Adele and one or two other songs) and they have come to embody my world, my story. I’ve created a creative space in one of the rooms upstairs. In that small, orange room (the walls are painted orange), I have a dry-erase board and some cork-boards containing lists of plot points, ideas, scribbles of important tidbits of my characters/world, and any other pertinent notes and inspiration. These are all over a small writing desk, which is mostly bare except for my laptop, a couple of books, and more notes. Oh yeah, and my Cricut machine from when I tried scrapbooking and such (still love that stuff, just don’t have time! Writing trumps scrapbooking any day.)

But my process doesn’t end with the written. Every day, on my commute to and from work, in between classes, in the bathroom–in other words, everywhere–I’m thinking of my characters. I’m thinking of the story and where it’s going. I’m thinking of the world I’m developing. I’m asking myself, what if? What if this happens? What if that goes down? And I’m coming up with more ideas. Or, I’ll write down notes in my phone (love that app!) and when I get home, to my writing space, I’ll sketch out those ideas some more.

And then, after I’ve written and rewritten my scenes, I share them. In my UCLA extension classes. With my critique groups. With select friends and family. And I take their suggestions and questions, and I revise some more. I used to hate revision; now, I actually like it. It’s what allows the skeleton to fill out and transform into something beautiful.

It’s a never-ending process. It’s not linear. It’s chaotic. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.