When I first looked at the list of all the things I needed to revise in this manuscript, I was daunted. The list of fixes loomed before me like an impenetrable barrier, a huge wall blocking my way forward.
Now that I’ve been chipping away at the revisions, it’s starting to feel a lot more doable. I’ve cut it down to size. Or gotten my head in the game. Not sure what metaphor fits here, but I don’t want to revise this paragraph again. I need to get back to the manuscript.
These guys are either thinking “Wow! Isn’t it cool we’ve come this far!” or Helllllllp!
One really great thing that I’ve found while doing these revisions is this: I’ve found my way back to the initial seed-idea that started me writing it, the thing that I found intriguing enough to start pounding the keyboard in the first place. I’m finding ways to layer that original idea back into the story. It had gotten buried in all the different character arcs.
Now that I’ve cleared out the undergrowth somewhat, I can see it again. (Yes, I know, another metaphor thrown into the soup.Maybe it’ll add flavor.)
It’s a lot of work, but it feels like I’m getting somewhere.
I follow several author blogs. One of these authors posted an update on the story she’s been working on for several years. Which was, basically, a report of no progress. She was stalled. She hadn’t written anything in months. But she made a list of things to do. Her list went something like this:
Chat with a friend about her plot
Write an outline of her story
Read books about the craft of writing
I am not criticizing this list. These are all good things to do.
At the end of the day, after doing all of those things, she still will not have added a single word to her manuscript. Outlines and craft books and chats with friends can be useful if you’re trying to motivate yourself to write, but they can also be a distraction from the fact that you are not actually doing any writing.
What really tipped me over the edge into irritation and provoked this whole rant was the part where she discussed finding a regular time to write. She just couldn’t find a time that worked for her, with all the other things she had to do in her life. Several writers she knew got up early and wrote before the day started, but she dismissed this notion because “she was not really a morning person.”
I am absolutely, positively, and in all ways not a morning person. I get up at 5 a.m. to write, but I do not do it because I like getting up at that hour. I do it because it’s the best time for me to get the words onto the page. First thing in the morning, my mind is a blank slate. By the end of the day, my brain is filled up with all the little worries and irritations and To Do lists of the day, and it’s much harder to clear my thoughts and get into the story I’m writing.
I think the brain can become accustomed to the habit of writing at any time of day, so long as you are consistent. It would be uphill work for me to write in the evening, but I could do it. But I would not accomplish any writing by outlining or chatting or reading something someone else wrote.
My point is that if you are not writing, and you want to write, you’ve got to face the blank page (or screen) and just start putting words down. Bad words. Inadequate words. Words that you’re going to rip up (or press delete, but that’s much less satisfying). It doesn’t matter. Write the best words you know at that point in time. Show them to someone whose opinion you trust. Rewrite the words. Keep doing this and you will end up with a finished manuscript in your hands. Know in your heart that when you turn this manuscript over to an editor or agent or beta reader, you’re probably going to have to rewrite whole sections of it.
WARNING: this blog post contains an inordinate amount of frivolous cat pictures. If you are allergic to cat pictures, proceed with caution.
I’m a dog person, all right? Let’s start out with getting that out in the open. I want to be honest about it.
I was honest with the kitten that showed up in my backyard one evening. Well, I was when I saw her. For the first week, I only heard her, usually under my bedroom window. Usually at five in the morning.
I made a deal with Unseen Kitty. I left food out for her, and she stopped crying. It worked, but I still didn’t see her for another week or so. Even then, it was just a glimpse before she hid in the bushes again. Based on what I know now, I’d say she was about four weeks old when she first started to live in my backyard.
It was months before she would let her get close to me. I did eventually get her to let me pick her up, but even that she would only tolerate for a few seconds before she started to squirm. But I made a point to tell her that she was Not My Cat. And she purred. That indicated agreement, right?
Not My Cat
I could not find anyone who’d lost a kitten. I do have a neighbor whose cat used to have kittens every year. All the kittens would frolic in my backyard for a few weeks, and then they’d all disappear. I suspect that NMC was a kitten who escaped the pogrom and took up refuge with me, but all I know for a fact is that no one would claim her. And the county people who take care of stray cats were unhelpful to the point of outright rudeness. They would not help with getting her spayed, even after she’d been in my yard for a month or two. They read me a lecture in not trying hard enough to find the original owner. It was Not Their Problem.
Fast forward a few months. I hadn’t had any luck persuading her to be an indoor cat, but she was happy enough in my backyard. I was saving up to pay for spaying NMC myself.The Cat Fostering groups had all pointed me back to the county people, and by this point I’d given up on them as well. Then I had to leave home for a couple weeks on a business trip. And of course, in the interim, NMC discovered Boys.
Which lead to NMK.
They were born outside, 2 calico females, 1 black-and-white male, 1 gray-and-white male. After a week of dealing with newborns and worrying about predators, NMC miraculously overcame her feelings against Indoor Cats. I was in my office working one day, and heard a tiny mew coming from the door. It wasn’t NMC making the noise, I discovered. She was holding the black-and-white male by the scruff of the neck, and he was making little cries. She dropped him at my feet and looked up with a pleading look on her face.
I brought all the kittens inside and settled them in the laundry room, with a cave-like cat bed, a box filled with straw, and a tray filled with kitty litter. NMC kept moving the incontinent kittens from this room, with its nice linoleum, to my office, with its pristine wall-to-wall carpeting. Because it was nicer? No. Because there’s where I was, and she wanted me to deal with her kids. She went back outside for much of the time.
I went out once, after she’d been out for a couple hours. She was lying on the grass, sunning herself for all the world like a woman reading a light beach novel by the pool. She looked up at me (metaphorically pushing down her sunglasses without lowering the novel) as if to say “What? I’m relaxing, here.” I pointed out that kittens needed to be fed regularly. When that didn’t work, I carried her in and parked her in the laundry room until they got fed. One of us Googled how to raise kittens, one went by instinct.
As soon as the kittens were old enough, NMC went to the vet for That Important Visit. The vet did ask me to keep her indoors for a couple days, but that did not work. As soon as the drugs wore off, she started asking to be let out. Then demanding to be let out. Then insisting at a loud voice. I brought her into the office with me, brought the kittens in there too, tried to hold her, calm her down, no luck. It got to the point where she was leaping up, three feet in the air, trying to get at the doorknob. I figured she was going to do something bad to the stitches if she stayed inside, so I let her out. I don’t know what people with fully feral cats do in this situation.
When Not My Kittens were a few weeks old, I started taking them out to meet the neighborhood kids. These kittens were not going to be half-wild. I was also hoping my devious plan would result in them getting adopted once they were old enough, but the kids had stern parents, unfortunately.
I had hoped to keep one or both of the boys, to keep NMC company, but she had other ideas. Once they were old enough not to need her, she wanted them Gone. She would have driven them out of the yard if I hadn’t found them somewhere else to live.
The two girls ended up going to a home together, to the son of an old co-worker. Sadly, the boys went to separate homes. The blessed kind people at the Oregon Humane Society take in kittens, give them their shots and neuter them, then charge about $80 for each kitten. I figure someone willing to put up that much money up front is probably someone willing to take care of the kittens. (Incidentally, OHS takes donations. I have found a new charity to support.)
NMC owns my backyard now. She comes inside to eat food, but the rest of the time she stays outside. Her new mission is to train me to live outside with her. While it’s true that she’s Not My Cat, I suppose you could make an argument that I am Her Human.
Cats. Don’t believe that innocent look they give you when they’re kittens. They’re on a mission.
“There is no problem so big that it cannot be run away from.” – Snoopy
Nye Beach, Oregon (from the library of the Sylvia Beach hotel)
There is a limit to how many nights I can sleep in a bedroom that’s over 80 degrees, so I fled to the coast.
If you find yourself in Oregon, check out the Sylvia Beach hotel in Newport. Set on a bluff overlooking the ocean, it’s a hotel especially designed for readers and writers. There’s no television, no radio, no wifi, no elevator. But there are lots of books. The library, on the third floor, looks like this:
Most of the books are in the loft above or in the bedrooms. Each room is dedicated to a specific writer, designed to look like the writer’s world and with bookshelves of their works. For example, I stayed in the J.K. Rowling room:
It was blissfully cool, and I fell asleep to the sound of the waves on the beach.
The next day, I sat down in the library and just wrote. With no wifi, no email, no sound at all except the surf on the beach below, and the occasional cry of a seagull. Finished chapter 2 and got serious work down on some other chapters.
Revising a manuscript feels rather like trying on swimsuits, except I can do it in the privacy of my own home. I keep discarding old ideas and trying on new ones. They’re pretty ideas, but when I try them out on my story, all I can see are the physical flaws.
On the other hand, putting this novel on a diet (i.e. throwing out much of chapter 1) yielded some unexpected discoveries. Suddenly, I understand why my hero was being snappish in Chapter 2. I knew he was irritable and defensive in that scene, but I had no idea why. NOW it makes perfect sense.
Chapters 1 and 2 are revised. I might go back and tweak a sentence here or there to make things flow better, but for now I’m calling them Done and moving on. Only 12 more chapters to go.
“You didn’t really want to use this laptop, did you?”
Sometimes, it’s hard to convince those around you that writing is more important than playing with them. I am trying a compromise. Five minutes play time, twenty-five minutes staring at the computer muttering under my breath and deleting content.
Link du jour: Harlequin Forums. There are some interesting discussions on writing, with tips on how to write for Harlequin and information on their latest writing contests.
This morning, I was listening to a YouTube interview with a woman who purports to make a living writing romances. She originally wrote science fiction and fantasy novels, and she frankly admitted that she started writing romance because that’s where the largest reading audience was. It wasn’t that interesting an interview, but I kept it going in the background because I was working on something tedious and I wanted a distraction. And then…
Interviewer: So how do you handle writing “those” scenes?
Author: Oh, you know, “those” scenes are really repetitive, but you have to include them. Romance readers like the repetition, they really do. Of course, I don’t read romances myself, so I always try to include a bit of mystery or science fiction in my stories so that it’s interesting to me personally. But I’m telling you, the readers like the repetition.
This irks me.
I had never heard of this author before this interview, but I have to wonder how good her books are. If she’s bored by what she’s writing, and thinks her readers love repetition, then why does she bother? Get a job as a plumber or a secretary or chicken farmer.
Writing takes a lot of time and effort. Writing a novel that bores you for people you don’t think much of because you think you’ll make lots of money doing it… no. Just no. Chicken farmer.
Neither the interviewer nor the author defined what they meant by “those” scenes. They both smirked, so I imagine that they are thinking of some kind of scene that would be considered as a graphic love scene. But I don’t even think it matters how you define the term.
Romance novels are about the emotional connection formed between two people. Whether a love scene is graphic or not — even if the author is writing about a couple just holding hands, as I am — the author is, or should be, writing about the emotions involved. The characters in the book are unique. The scenes in which they express their feelings should be unique. A scene cannot be believable if you could replace it with a scene from another book.
“Writing is rewriting… If you fall in love with the vision you want of your work and not your words, the rewriting will become easier.”
– Nora DeLoach
When I first finished this manuscript, I felt like a runner, one of those people that you see on television just making it across the finish line before they collapse in a heap. I really was not looking forward to the prospect of revising it. That would mean looking at it again, and that was the last thing I wanted to do.
Looking at the whole manuscript at once was… disheartening. But I didn’t write the original version all at once, and no one but me was expecting me to revise the whole thing at once, so I decided to focus on one chapter at a time.
As I go through the chapters, ruthlessly cutting my tender words of genius and brutally hacking out whole scenes, I feel like an explorer wielding her machete through an impenetrable jungle. But it’s changing how I see the manuscript. The more I cut, the more I am starting to feel as if I am coming back to the original idea that inspired me to write the story in the first place.
These are some links that I looked up while procrastinating found useful.
“… revisions, editorial feedback, are there to make us the best writers we can be, which is really what we should want. It’s not just about getting a pat on the back and an ‘oh, good job, it’s fine’ It’s about taking it to the next level.” – Maisey Yates, “Revisions! (the musical)”
Everyone talks about what getting The Call feels like. You don’t hear so much about what happens next.
In my case, I got a list of things to revise.
Each yellow sticky flag is a revision note.
I cringed every time I saw a comment pointing out some perfectly obvious error in continuity that I should have caught before I sent it. I know it’s inevitable to miss something, but even so… argh!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you write a book, you want to see it published.
We want our words read, want the reader to weep or laugh at the right places, want someone to put down the last page and be glad they took the time to travel through a world we created.
“Would I scribble in my room if no one would see my words except me and maybe a cat? I don’t think so… I like to be read.” – Julia Quinn, RWA 15
I have always written, but I have not always finished what I started. Once I started to finish the novels, the itch of curiosity needed to be scratched. Was this story any good? Would someone like it if they read it? I started sending the first chapters out to contests hoping for impartial feedback. Contests are a great way to learn how to take criticism, but they are also a source of confusion.
“This is fabulous! Publish this NOW!” – Contest Judge #1
“It’s going to take a lot of work to whip this puppy into shape.” – Contest Judge #2 (exact same story)
Once my stories started to final in contests, I got feedback from agents and editors. While their feedback was helpful, it was very high level. They told me the stories needed work, but not where the problems were exactly.
“I liked this story, apart from the hero, heroine, and the plot.” -NY editor
Obviously, I needed to find some way to improve, but how could I get better if I did not know what I was doing wrong exactly?
So when I heard about Harlequin’s Manuscript Matchmaker contest for the Love Inspired Historical line of books, and learned that the editors were offering personalized feedback, I decided this was exactly what I needed. I sent in the first three chapters of a story, with a synopsis, and a kind editor wrote back pointing out the strengths and the weaknesses of the manuscript.
Um, wait. You want to read the rest of it as well?
Okay, so I would get feedback on a full manuscript. That would be even better. I wrote every morning before work, while my inner editor was still asleep. And I managed to finish a 70,000 word novel in 4-1/2 months. By the time I finished, I could not judge whether it was good or whether it was complete, absolute, and utter tripe. But it was done, so I patted myself on the back and went to work on the next novel. I decided the best way to deal with waiting for feedback was to concentrate on the Bright Shiny Idea that had come to visit me while I was struggling with finishing this story.
I need the structure and terror of deadlines. – Mary Jo Putney, RWA 15
I gave myself until August 15th to finish the first draft of my new story, figuring that the editors would probably start sending out feedback on the full manuscripts by that time. I knew that getting a rejection would probably damage my self-esteem enough to throw me out of the writing groove for a day or two, so I was aiming to get the ms. to a stopping place before then.
Except… last week, I got a call. Oh, a New York number. Must be another recruiter wanting me to apply for a temp job at Intel.
But it wasn’t a recruiter. Instead, it was kind Shana Asaro, from Harlequin, saying that she liked my story. And wanted to publish it.
That was a surreal moment. It still doesn’t seem quite real. I think I babbled something urbane and sophisticated, like “Oh wow!” but I’m not quite sure.
It’s funny. I had planned out exactly how to handle rejection. I had never planned how to handle acceptance. I had thought that good news could take care of itself.