Taking the Plunge into Revisions

Posted by September 14th, 2011

The Trials of an Editorial Role Reversal

“I hadn’t asked myself any of the ‘important’ questions. But now, I wasrevising; I couldn’t hide anymore.”

 jumping into lakeIt’s always been second nature to me to pinpoint the problem areas of a novel—or even of a newspaper article, brochure, or even a dinner menu. As a child, I would sit on the couch, red pen in hand, and read, noting comments in the margins and line editing sentences. I loved being able to take something good and make it great. Writing was harder for me, but I did it anyway–poems, plays, short stories, you name it. To this day I still have a strange bump on my right ring finger from gripping my pencil so tight and scribbling for hours.

Given my childhood proclivities, it felt appropriate for me to move into a career in editorial. Pointing authors in the right direction isn’t always an easy thing but it’s rewarding, empowering, and for whatever reason makes me happy. It also often inspires me to work on my own writing, a process I struggle with as the imagination and creativity required to sprout something from nothing is a horse of a completely different color than the skills necessary to be a thorough and helpful editor.

When Book Country was about to launch into private beta, though, I decided to give the “creation” thing a try again. But really, the “creation” I speak of was me taking the easy way out and writing down, line-by-line and scene-by-scene a dream I had a couple years ago. It was a great beginning to a paranormal romance or urban fantasy so why not take it right from my head to the page? But, of course, I don’t dream in print so character development, plot structure, motivation, etc. wasn’t a factor. After I posted my piece on the site and got hoards of feedback, I had a lot of work to do.

It wasn’t until this past month that I actually had time to sit down and consider a revision. Plus, the concept of actually doing the revising myself is semi-foreign to me—I’ve always been on the other side of the process!—and it was difficult to take the plunge. All of the feelings many of my authors had experienced over the years—the over-thinking, the sensitivity, the mind blocks, the insecurity—rushed at me at once and, terrified, I would step away from my computer every time I felt even a twinge of motivation. It was a tiny bit pathetic, I’ll admit, to be so afraid of something I’m so familiar with just because I’m coming at it from a new and different angle.

Then one day I did it. I printed out all the feedback from my fellow Book Country members and read it through again and again, highlighting the most useful points and suggestions, circling the recurring issues, jotting down a mini-outline of scenes. It took another several days for me to get up the courage to write it.

Pulling it apart was awkward and uncomfortable: What do I do with this sentence? I like the sentiment but it’s not working. And what about this character? Who is he really? Where is this story even going? What is this world? Gah! My brain felt like it was going to explode against the walls of my tiny New York City apartment.

None of these questions were ones I had asked myself previously. I had just written what I saw in my head during that one crazy night of sleep. But now, I was revising; I couldn’t hide anymore. I didn’t know how to even begin nailing down all the things I knew I needed to at least have a slight grasp on before I could improve the piece. The creative part was never up to me before—at least not when writing genre fiction, where there are conventions and expectations. And tossing in a paranormal element, something I’d never ever done in my writing? Oh man. Forget it. No idea where to start.

So, I took to a friend and fellow Book Country member, talking it over and throwing around ideas to get a sense of what I wanted and didn’t want to do. The encouragement and support he offered were invaluable and got me to start thinking outside of my past experience and wading into unknown waters. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. To me, the entire shape of the pages changed, even though I only added about 4,000 words. It was a different story, a stronger story, a story with a direction. It still needs work, of course, and I have to gather the courage to write a *gasp* brand new chapter to move it forward, but it’s now a morphed version of its original self.

The experience was an enlightening one for me. Scary, obviously, but enlightening. A lot of you are braver than I, revising on a regular basis while also powering through toward your story’s ending. But I have a feeling I’m not the only one who struggles with seeing your own work objectively so you can trim the fat and enhance the meat of the story. It is not an easy thing, even when you can do it no problem with someone else’s writing. I encourage you all to try though—or even just post that book you have marked as Private—you may surprise yourself.  I know I did.

Photo by balinto, uploaded by Mrszantogabor (http://www.flickr.com/photos/balinto/2602369033/) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


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