Tag Archives: revision

Setting the Statue Free

Today, I sit and work.

It’s been a strange week. Torn is out for copy-edits and proofreading, which leaves me in limbo. I can’t work on that until I know what I’m fixing. I could attack Book Three, but I’m just going to have to switch gears again when the edits on Torn come back, and I find that a tough adjustment if I get too deep into another project right now.

I don’t know how some people switch between multiple projects every day. I really don’t.

I have to work, though. Have to keep momentum up. So what I’m doing right now is just reading Book Three and taking notes. No changes. No deep digging and hard word-slinging. Just observing. Floating. Poking a little bit to see which parts are still wiggly and under-cooked.

And I’m lying in bed at night and having ideas.

Revision planning, baby.

Revision feels magical to me. Oh, it’s frustrating to read things through and realize how much work there is to be done.

But the potential there is so exciting. At this point, anything is possible. Maybe this time I will achieve the impossible, and have the words on the page reflect everything that’s in my mind. It’s all there. I just need to find it.

There’s a quotation I’ve seen attributed to Michelangelo:

 

michelangelo 1

 

 

Revisions feel a bit like that. The first draft was important. That was where I started with a big block of marble and started hammering away, creating the basic shape of the story.

And it’s a good shape. A solid shape. You can totally see what it’s supposed to be, and most of the details are visible. I wouldn’t want it to see the light of day at this point, but I wouldn’t die of embarrassment if it did.

But it could be so much more. The statue is still trapped in a layer of stone, and it’s my privilege to take a walk around the piece, observe it, mark my cuts and adjustments, and make it a thing of beauty.

At least, that’s the theory. In practice, I’m procrastinating, afraid to look at how much work there really is to be done. I can see my vision clearly… it’s just achieving it that’s the problem.

But I’ll never get there if I don’t start. So in the words of Michelangelo:

 

michelangelo2

 

Um… that would be a different Michelangelo. Still inspiring, though.

What are you all up to this week?

 

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Revision Time, Baby! *cracks knuckles*

Yessir, it’s time to get back to work on Book 3 of the Bound Trilogy.

Wait, you say. What about book two?

Well, that will be off to my editor soon. I hope. In any case, trying to do more to it right now would be a waste of time. It needs a new set of eyes on it. My time is better spent revising the next one, making big cuts and changes and adjustments and WHAT THE HECK HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO AGAIN.

It’s okay. This is always a scary time for me. For a lot of us, actually, so I thought it might be interesting for writer types to talk a bit about how we approach this. I don’t usually do “how I write” posts (because who cares, right?), but this is what’s happening right now, so here we go.

Let’s take a look at what I have here.

Um… It’s 126,000 words, for a start. And I need to add a few scenes, plus throw in some more description all over the place. It’s a fairly big book, is what I’m saying.* What else is it? Well, I think it’s a good story. It needs work. There are places where I didn’t quite have character motivations nailed down, where I missed out on crazy good opportunities for character or plot development, or where something just doesn’t quite fit yet.

But honestly, I think it’s my favourite story of the trilogy. I think Bound is a great story, and that Torn is better… but yeah, this might be my favourite. I pushed characters further and harder than ever before, and… well, no spoilers.

So how do I approach revising something like this? Like so:

1) Read through and take notes. Squee a little at the great moments, note what’s not working, and what can be cut. Make notes on lined paper. Good lined paper, because I’m spoiled. Mead Five-Star or bust.

2) Add these notes to the ones I made while I was drafting re: things to go back and change. I don’t revise while I’m drafting, for two reasons. One, it costs me momentum. Two, until the story is drafted, I can’t see how all of the pieces fit. I might go back and change something, and then need to change it again later. Big waste of time for me.

2) Make a plan. This consists of looking back over what I’ve read, making notes on character arcs, plot, subplots, character interactions and tensions, timelines, and anything else that I need to keep an eye on while revising. I make notes on what these things SHOULD look like so that I can easily see where they’re not working. This is still all on paper. I just brainstorm better that way.

3) Go through, scene by scene, and fix what’s broken. This pass is about the story and characters, not about making it pretty (though I can’t help fixing the writing sometimes). This is the stage I’m at now. I’ve re-written the opening, because as written in draft one it just picked up where Torn ends, and wasn’t particularly compelling. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s better. I will do this for every scene, using my notes. I will cut scenes and completely re-write if I have to. Scary, but worth it if it makes the story better.

4) Go through each POV character’s scenes individually to check for consistency of voice and characterization. Make sure they’re not acting in chapter 2 the way they should be in chapter 22. Now is also the time to make the writing shine a little brighter, add descriptions that I missed before, chase down character observations/feelings/etc. that really get us into their heads.

5) Send to beta readers. Pray they don’t think it sucks and needs to be completely re-written. Hasn’t happened yet, but it’s always a fear.

6) Fix based on their notes.

And after this, it’s all editing, not big revisions. Or at least that’s the hope. I might have to make big changes and re-write scenes post-editing, but hopefully won’t have to change the story.

Is it more work than some writers do? You bet. But every pass gets me deeper into the story and the characters and shows me things I missed before. For me, it’s totally worth the extra work because this is how I make my stories the best they can be. Others have their own methods, and that’s great. In fact, I want to hear about them.

So… yeah. We’ll see how it goes. I’m trying to get through revisions quickly for reasons we’ll talk about in another post. For now, I guess I’d better get back at it.

Pictured: Revision fuel

Pictured: Revision fuel

So tell me, writerfolk: What’s your revision process like? How do you know what works and what doesn’t? What’s the hardest part for you, and your favourite?

 

 

 

*For perspective, Bound was about 118K, making this one a little less than 10% longer. Not so bad, when you look at it that way.


WHAT’S TAKING SO LONG?!

There are authors who can put out a book in a month.

Spoiler alert: I’m not one of them.

I know that a lot of people are waiting for Torn to come out, some rather impatiently. There’s nothing wrong with that–it’s wonderful to know that people enjoyed Bound enough that they’re excited to read more of the story. Amazing. A little shocking, as there are more of them than I expected, but wonderful.

I thought it would be a good time to explain why I don’t get a book out a month, why it takes a while for me to do this, and why it’s best I don’t rush things.

But first: In case anyone missed the note before, the release date for Torn will probably be late March/early April, with February pre-orders, not December 2015. I know, “Winter 2015” could have meant either, but I really couldn’t be more specific than that when I released Bound. But hey, sooner is better than later, right? Yaaaaaay.

But still, this is 8-9 months after Bound came out. What gives, WRITER PERSON?

A few things.

I started Bound in November 2010 (yes, it’s a NaNoWriMo novel. Officially). That means it took me 3.5 years to get it ready for publication, most of it spent finding the story, improving it, and developing the characters that many people seem to be somewhat fond of. I was also learning about the craft of writing. This wasn’t my first story (I’ve been writing for years), but it was my first completed novel.

A big part of the reason all of this took so long is that writing is not my full-time job. During 2.5 of those years, I had a kid at home full-time and one in school during the day. Last year the younger guy went to school half days, and I finally got time to work. A whole hour or two a day! WOOHOO! But still, writing was a hobby. I couldn’t devote a lot of time to it without ticking the family off.

The point is, I’ve had to fit writing in around my family’s schedule, because they’re kind of my main job. My husband works shifts and is on-call a lot, so that factors into it, too. I can’t spent six, or eight, or twelve hours a day cranking out books, as some indie authors say they do. I hope I’ll get at least a few solid hours in a day now that the kids are both in school full-time (though home for lunch), but until now it’s been hit-or-miss.

Second thing: I do a lot of revisions. I know some people say not to do that, but I do. Why? Because the story, the characters, and the world get better with every draft and every scene re-write. If I had released Bound when it was “good enough,” it would have looked nothing like it does today, and I’d be wishing for a do-over now. It takes time for my ideas to evolve, for the puzzle pieces to fall into place, for little details to appear that make the story richer. My first drafts aren’t the worst in the world, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. If I waited for perfection I’d never release anything, and there comes a time when I have to let go. But when there are still big issues, I can’t. You all deserve better (and so do my beta readers).

So I do two drafts before anything goes to my first readers (three in the case of Bound and Torn, because they just weren’t ready after two). I have to let the stories rest for at least a month between drafts so I can gain some perspective, so that adds time, though I am working on other things while those are festering. Then beta readers get time with them, and I revise again based on their critique. Then I have to wait until my editor is ready, and he gets the book for about two weeks, and then… yes, scene rewrites, edits, all that fun stuff.

And then someone has to read it again.

It is a long process, but I’m committed to only releasing the best-quality books I’m capable of. That takes a lot of help, and a bit of time.

Maybe now that I have time during the day, I’ll get on a roll and be able to produce a 30,000 word novella in six months. But with rewrites, off-times, and waits for editing, I can’t see a big story taking much less than a year, at least in the near future. (For reference, Bound was 118,000 words, and Torn is almost as long.) Maybe as I become more comfortable with crafting longer and more complex stories, those puzzle pieces will start falling into place in earlier drafts. That would be fantastic, and they did for my unreleased Urban Fantasy novella. But at this point I’m not going to sacrifice quality for speed.

Good thing I started Torn in November 2012, right? Did the first draft through December that year, and did the second draft last year. And that’s how it goes: It’s a long process, but I try to have several things on the go at once so you all don’t have to wait so long.

So there you go. Reasonable best-case scenario (as of right now) for a long book: 3 months for draft one, 1 month to settle, 2 months for draft 2, another quiet month, another run-through before beta readers see it (probably at least 1 month), 1 month for them to read, 1 month (conservative) to fix that, 2 weeks with the editor (if I can get him at that time; scheduling can be an issue), 2+ more months to make things shine. Then proofreading, formatting, advance copies, etc., and LAUNCH.

And through that there are birthday parties, Christmas, summer vacation (two months when things slow to a crawl), a dog to walk, dentist appointments, teacher meetings, and those oh-so-irritating and frequent migraine days when it’s all I can do to keep the household running, never mind stringing a sentence together. I know, other parents manage to work at home just fine, and some writers with full-time jobs crank out a book a week.

I’m not them. My point is, it takes me some time, but I promise you’re not going to get anything less than my best. I respect readers enough to offer only that, even if it means a semi-frustrating wait between books. I wish I was one of those amazing writers who can offer both (and some of those fast writers really do), but right now I have to choose between more books and better books.

I choose better.

 


The Writer’s Garden

Confession: I have a brown thumb. I admire people who can make plants grow and thrive, who have an instinct for nurturing them and whose gardens burst with blooms and edible bounty. I’m not one of those people. I feel guilty buying plants or starting seeds, because it seems unfair to them when they could have a fighting chance with someone else.

But this… this is MY YEAR!

Maybe. The tulips we planted in the fall are pushing out of the ground (much to my surprise). The pansies in the front garden have somehow managed to keep their blooms all winter, which is both amazing and somehow disturbing in a sci-fi kind of way.

And we’re working on a vegetable garden.

Not a fancy one, of course. Easy things like beans and zucchini, and the kids wanted to try pumpkins and corn and carrots. I’ve got salad mix started, because why not? It’ll work or it won’t, and we’re having fun along the way. It’s actually going well so far. The plants we chose to start indoors (because the seed packets said to) have done well in their brief lives, and last week Captain America helped me move the seedlings from their wee soil pellets to roomier accomodations.

Such a versatile hero!

Such a versatile hero!

So there we were with our tiny jungle of seedlings that we’d started as instructed: 2 or 3 seeds in each pellet. Oh, the bounty!

Ain't that purdy?

Ain’t that purdy?

Now, on to the pots! One problem. It said to keep only the strongest seedling in each pellet.

WHAT? The injustice of it had me fuming. How unfair! Why shouldn’t the smaller seedlings have a chance to live and grow, to enjoy the fresh air and the sunshine, to take their chances in the “will the cats decide that this garden is a litter box” lottery? Yes, I like a good underdog story, and the smaller seedlings were just sitting there like wee green Mighty Ducks, begging for me to be their Emilio Estevez.

PLANTS, I WILL BE YOUR EMILIO.

I’m not unreasonable. The non-starters went, as did the ones that couldn’t be bothered to lift their lazy heads out of the dirt until the previous day. But a strong-looking plant that just happened to be smaller than its soil-mate? Up yours, Jiffy Pots, they get to grow on, too.

IMG_2204

They look less impressive all spaced out, don’t they?

You may be wondering why I’m rambling on about these plants when Tuesday posts are usually reserved for writing. Well, here you go:

I’m allowed to do this with plants. We’re in no danger of running out of garden space; if the smaller seedlings don’t yield anything, we’ve lost nothing but a cheap paper pot.  The same can’t be said for many aspects of stories. When it comes down to the edits, of course the weeds have to go: the passive phrases and “was” clusters, the “how the heck did present tense sneak in there?” moments,  the unnecessary adverbs, the excessive shrugging. It’s tedious, but fairly painless. But the weak seedlings have to go, too.

Sometimes it’s not so hard. That subplot that has nothing to do with anything and never went anywhere? Sure, that can go, it’s just dragging everything down. That cameo by the main character’s boss, who’s never going to show up again*? Cut. Wasn’t attached to her, anyway. A scene walking in the woods with the guy who’s not going to be around for long? Eh, there was important information there, but things will be tighter if it’s worked in elsewhere, and he’s had his moment (and he’ll have more in the future, so I don’t feel at all sorry for him).

But that’s never enough.

Next we come to the bits that start to hurt. A touching scene between the main character and a sibling that tells us so much about that character and her family and works in a good amount of worldbuilding, but that doesn’t really move the story forward? That hurts. Re-working things so that this person never shows up in-story and is only referred to when necessary? Also kind of ouch (and cutting her obnoxious, loud kid actually hurt a lot more; I found that situation amusing).

And never mind characters and scenes; what about entire concepts that have been part of your world since you started farting around with it way back when… what happens when they’re important, but are taking up too much page space when you explain them? If they can’t be cut, maybe they can be pushed to the background until they’re needed…

That one bled a little, but it keeps the first 5 chapters flowing more smoothly and quickly.

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? It would be amazing if we had unlimited “garden space” in our stories, room for all of our beloved characters, story elements, scenes and subplots to live and grow, even when they’re not adding anything productive to the work.

Well, there is a place for them. But it’s  not in the stories we expect the general public to enjoy.

If our work is going to bear fruit, we have to make tough decisions, identify the weak elements, and do what it takes to make the end result focused, readable, interesting, and well-paced. Pull the weeds, toss the weak sprouts, prune the dead branches.

Do we always succeed? I haven’t read many perfect books, have you? But we do our best, no matter how it hurts, because our garderns– er, stories– deserve no less.

Let’s have it in the comments: when’s the last time you cut something that really hurt? Have you ever felt like you took too much? Any great success stories? And what are you growing in your garden this year?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an underdog team of zucchini seedlings to coach and lead to a hockey championship.**

*very early draft, don’t judge me.

**Metaphors may not be my strong suit…


Back to the Drawing Board?

Not quite. But I’m doing something I said I was done with.

Revisions on Bound.

Not editing. Not perking up scenes that aren’t quite there yet. I mean actually ignoring everything that’s already there, going back to square one and figuring out the best way to tell this story, and THEN seeing whether anything can be salvaged from the original.

This is terrifying. I thought I was done with that. I thought I had my story, that it was just clean-up from this point on. After all, people have liked it, right? Some have even loved it. So it’s good enough.

The thing is, good enough isn’t good enough. I can do better. No matter how it hurts, I’m going to make this thing the best it can be. If that means “killing my darlings,” ripping out scenes that I’ve spent so much time and effort on but that don’t contribute to the best work I can do, then so be it. If it means that I don’t feel ready for this thing to see the light of day for another 6 months… well, that will hurt a lot, too. But I’m not doing this to get published (even though, hello, that’s a huge dream of mine). I’m doing it to tell a story, and what’s the point of putting it out there if it’s only good enough?

It can be tighter. It can be sharper. The stakes can be higher. Everything can mean more to my characters, and therefore to my readers.

I’ve complained before about my perfectionist tendencies, but I think that right now my old frenemy Perfectionism is doing me a favour. As long as she’s not making me feel terrible for not getting it “right” the first time (which she totally will, but I’m used to that), she might actually help me do something better. If she’s telling me that I can do more, that to not at least try would be settling for less than what I can achieve, I can accept that. I still want to punch her in her smug, stupid face, but for once, I don’t think she’s wrong.

Am I rambling yet? Because I just decided this, and I’m still a bit freaked out.

So here’s what I’m going to do, for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing: I know my story inside and out (and inside-out, for that matter). I know my characters better than I know most of my friends. I’m going to print out the full current manuscript and lock it away for a while, and I’m going to start over. I’m going to find a stronger starting point, I’m going to raise the stakes, I’m going to make things harder on everyone involved. I’m probably going to cut characters. I’m going to keep the story tighter, and I hope get down to the 90,000 word range. When all of that planning is done I’ll see what I can salvage from before, but this isn’t a conservation project. Much as it will hurt to lose the lovely dialogue I worked so hard on, the scenes I’ve set that mean so much to me, it’ll be worth the sacrifice if it makes a stronger story.

It’s all a learning experience, right?

EDIT: I wrote this last Thursday. I’ve thought about it, I’ve planned it out. A lot can change, but I’m actually surprised how much of the original structure really works, with some changes needed to accomplish the aforementioned tightening, sharpening, and general shitting on characters’ heads to make things more interesting. I’m re-doing the first few chapters.

Aren’s my biggest problem, as expected. Asshole.

Still doing a complete rewrite, but I’m really happy to say that the last version really just needs plastic surgery, not a transplant into some kind of android body… or whatever. Science Fiction’s not my thing, I don’t know how that works.


The Five stages of Critique

I’ve been blessed with a critique partner. A good one, too. I have no real idea who she is, but she’s beyond helpful. She’s finding little problems I hadn’t even thought to think of before (like asking how many people a single duck will actually feed), passages where I might be trying to fit just a wee bit too much backstory into a scene, and typos that I somehow missed on my first dozen read-throughs.

She gives me positive comments, too- kind of the sugar that helps that bitter, bitter medicine go down. Those I can take. They make me feel happy and warm and fuzzy and kittens and butterflies and rainbows and unicorn farts.

The negative “helpful” ones, though… I might not react so well to those.

This is normal, right? Surely I’m not the only one who reads a comment and goes through the five stages of Critique:

1. Denial

“No. What the hell is she even talking about? Did she READ what was on the page? There’s nothing wrong with that passage.”

“Nope, nope, nope.”

*major WTF facial expressions*

2. Anger

*snarling, bared teeth, increased heart rate*

“Who does she think she is? How dare she attack my precious work like this?”

“Wrong, wrong, WRONG. This is all her, she’s being too nit-picky. This was a BAD IDEA.”

*more snarling and growling and gnashing of teeth*

3. Bargaining

*trembling and/or deep breaths*

“OK. Well, it wouldn’t be so much of a problem if she’d just read what happens 5 chapters from now… maybe if I send that next part she’ll see it differently.”

“It can’t be that big a problem. No, if I just shift around three or four words over here, maybe that will fix this glaring plot hole that she claims to have found.”

*reaching for alcohol and beaucoup de emo music*

4. Depression

“Oh my god I SUUUUCK! I’m the worst writer in all of the history of all of the things! I can’t fix this.”

“I’m going to have to give up. Look at all those notes… I bet all of them are negative. I can’t fix this.”

“I’m a failure. I’ll never get this right. I’m not good enough to fix this. This whole thing was a mistake. I can’t handle this.”

“In case I didn’t say this quite loudly enough before… I SUUUUUUUCK!!!”

5. Acceptance

“Ugh. Let me look at that again. Huh. Well, maybe that does repeat something I said earlier, just a little. And I guess using the word ‘generally’ does weaken that sentence. I’m gonna politely disagree and leave this one alone, but maaaaybe she has a point about these pronouns being confusing…”

*deep breaths*

“One thing at a time…”

*go back to first note*

“Eh, this isn’t so bad. I can do this. It’s going to be so much better when I’m done.”

Maaaaybe I don’t go through all of these over every comment I read. That would be crazy, right? Yeah. But as a whole, reading over whatever chunk of writing just went in front of the judge… well, I may have exaggerated just a wee bit, but this happens.

Tell me it gets better. It must; I can already feel my skin getting thicker. And what I take away from this whole thing is this:

The “I can do this”

The “this isn’t as big a deal as I thought it was. She’s only finding minor issues, here. This is not the end of the world”

The “you know what? This story friggin’ rocks. But I can still make it better in a lot of tiny ways.

And I come away with a massive dose of gratitude, and a new-found appreciation for a critique partner who should be very thankful that she’s a complete stranger who doesn’t actually have to witness the horrible faces I just made at my computer screen.

EDIT: You know, I really should be happy. Not one of my readers has actually mentioned a glaring plot hole (yet), or hated any characters they’re not supposed to hate. People even enjoy reading this. I can only assume that my partner will find bigger things to point out some time, but I can honestly say that I think this book is good. And I should be proud of that.

But I’m still terrified of sending the next chapters. :/


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