Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Art-Ache of Revision

By Laura Spinella

Since I am currently bleeding revision, it seems like an appropriate topic for my GBC post. So hang on a sec while I clamp off an artery, pump in some plasma, and we’ll write a blog. I’m at the halfway point on a lengthy, cumbersome revision to book three—but whose revision isn’t lengthy and cumbersome? Part of my plight is that I’m a miserable multitasker. Revision, in particular, leaves me so knotted and burrowed that brushing my teeth seems like one challenge too many. Point of fact, I’ve barely had time for friends and family, while PERFECT TIMING promotion has gone the way of shoulda, coulda, woulda. And damn, I’ve hardly had a chance to marvel over my Facebook scrapbook, compliments of Mr. Zuckerberg.
            When I turned in this manuscript, it was met with singular enthusiasm. From there, briefly, I had this obtuse and vain notion that my book was ready to fly—following a civil and forthcoming edit, naturally.  Ha! Yeah, the bruises are still healing from that fall off the turnip truck. Realistically, I knew better. Enthusiasm also came with a three-page footnote, suggestions for my “wonderful and promising” novel. Say what?  But that’s the way it goes, right? And if you’re fortunate to play a part in traditional book publishing, it’s wise to view that glass as half full. I believe the opposite reaction would have resulted in a blog about the short-lived life of book three. (Well, book seven if you light up my flashdrives, but who's counting) This brings me to what I might contribute here, in the midst of my all-consuming, often maddening revision. It’s a universal experience that leaves writers’ wishing they wrote pop-up books or, better still, obscure pamphlets on improving dry soil regions.  
Here is what I have learned.
Come Prepared:
Before I began, I stepped away. I spent a couple weeks not looking at any of it, then a few more weeks studying the suggested revisions. I argued some in my head and saw the “how dumb am I…?" sense in others. I considered what existed versus what could be. When I was finally ready to sit, I cleaned up my office space and even Windexed my computer screen. I figured I was in for the long haul.
Pace Yourself:
The amount of time it takes my washing machine to cycle through a large load setting. That was my dream schedule. Realistically, by the time I finish this rewrite washing machines may be obsolete, replaced by Rosie the Robot. In truth, no good writing comes out of rushing. I can’t speak for anyone else’s process, but I’m a do-it-in-sections kind of girl. I won’t move forward until it feels right. If that means revising Chapter Twelve until the significant difference between using “She” versus “Aubrey” to begin paragraph four is something more than atom splitting, so be it.
Speaking of feeling:
Go with your gut. I’ve embraced the bulk of my proposed revisions. Why not? Someone more successful than me put them on paper. It did take downtime to digest the scope of the undertaking, but I get it. I really do. However, there was one POV note that had me banging my head and wringing my hands. I wrote and rewrote to the suggested tune, but things only got worse. The story was bad, the rhythm was off.  Try as I might, I could not see a certain portion of this novel from a certain character’s POV. When I decided to go with my gut, I had no regret about passing on this particular revision. End of story.
Ignore your audience:
While we all seek an audience for our work, this is a long rehearsal.  It’s not show time. Conversely, this work in progress is not a draft, the kind of writing that would otherwise benefit from a roundtable discussion.  Said editor or agent has presented a specific vision for the finished product. If someone offers input, make sure that person can view the work from that same ten-thousand foot view. It’s too easy to be steered off course by the well-meaning. On the other hand, if you’re lucky enough to have somebody who knows you, your book, and your revisions… Well, thoughts of holding that person hostage in a linen closet (just until it’s over) have crossed my mind.
Ignore other writers:
Ah, this one’s hard to maintain, kind of like healthy eating or a single glass of wine. In the regular realm of writing there’s always someone who’s got it better. They’re selling more books, drowning in terrific reviews, and flabbergasted into sharing humble Facebook posts about their unexpected success. Yeah, well, we all did something great at least once, whether it’s in our mother’s eyes or our publisher. If you’re spending time monitoring the competition you may lack the energy, and often manufactured eagerness, required to tackle 410 pages of your own brilliant mess.  
And the best revision advice:
That doesn’t come from me. It comes from the one and only Elmore Leonard, who offered enough writing pearls of wisdom to strand a double set.  While all are to be heeded, there are two snippets I keep at the forefront of this revision: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Blunt works for me and this is a gem that resonates.  Am I bored?  Are the characters bored? Will the reader be bored?  Will anyone really give a flying fig about the poetic prose used to describe the color of the sky? If the answer is yes… or no, then out it goes. This leaves my other cherished Elmore idiom: rewrite the parts that sound like writing… Equally clear and vague, I think you really have to know your own story to answer that one. I also see it as the map for the vicious circle that is revision, because once you can recognize the parts that sounds like writing, you’re more than halfway home.   

Laura Spinella is the award winning author of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, a RITA finalist, and the newly released PERFECT TIMING. Visit her at lauraspinella.net

17 comments:

  1. First of all - I love that towel! Secondly - I'm so there with you Laura! And it's no different now that I'm indie pubbed than when I was trad pubbed - still a nailbiter. Good luck with your revisions!

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    1. Thanks, Leslie! It's a miserable beast all around!

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  2. You definitely nailed it (and in a highly entertaining way). This too shall pass :) It's funny, every time I write a novel, I think it will get easier. Maybe one day. Great post! XO

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    1. So, Ms. Gillespie, would you like to see the inside my linen closet?? ;-)

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    1. I'm glad you thought so, Barbara! And now I know what to send for your birthday! ;-)

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  4. Love this, Laura! I always step away for a bit after getting a revision letter. Gotta let things marinate for a bit!

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    1. You know, Brenda, I think the stepping away is probably the most important and underrated part of any revision! Thanks for popping by!

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  5. Lovely post. I wish I'd taken this advice way back when I started my revision process...

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    1. I hear you, Sheila! I wish someone had force fed it to me years ago! Live & learn, right?

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  6. Good advice and great towel.
    I hope you get it all done before washing machines are obsolete. Take your time.

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    1. If not the washing machine, some other appliance for sure! Thanks, Ariella!

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  7. Great post, Laura! I think writers do themselves a huge favor when they start to see revision not as an onerous duty but rather as a grand opportunity.

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    1. Yes, opportunity. Very well said, Lauren!

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  8. Printing out. Pinning to wall. I'm only on my OWN revisions right now. Editor's still to come. Hopefully I shall be more inspired by hers than mine!

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    1. I am flattered that you would print & pin, Lucy! I hope your editor has it all in hand with great ideas!

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