Tags: revision

The Emotional Stages of Revision

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: October 20, 2015
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As I’m revising my middle grade novel, I feel distracted. I feel alone. I feel like no one has ever felt this lousy and distracted and unproductive while revising a novel ever before in the history of literature.

So what do I do? I google my problem. I type in “revising a novel sucks.” I think I want to tell someone (the google search box?) how much it sucks. And I think maybe someone has blogged about it and I can read it so I won’t feel so alone. (Also, this googling mean I’m not working on revising my novel for the moment, which is good cause REVISING SUCKS.)

Anyway, I found this: The Ten Emotional Stages of Revising a Novel, by Farrah Penn on Bustle.com.

I have been in all of these stages! Resentment. Second guessing. Fear. Distraction. Maybe not always in this order but I have BEEN IN ALL OF THEM!

And I’ve come out on the other side before. So maybe I will again.

And maybe if you’re stuck in one of these stages, you will too.

Feel free to tell me all about. Turns out we are not alone…

Elizabeth Rusch

How to Deal with a Huge Pile of Comments

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: August 20, 2015
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Have you ever felt buried under a pile of manuscripts comments? My two critique groups generously agreed to read my whole middle-grade novel April Fool. So I had 10 copies printed and mailed them off.

All 10 members read them, poured their hearts, souls and intellects into reading and commenting. And now I face this:

Pile of April Fool manuscripts

(Wow, it looks so much more intimidating on my desk…believe me, its a huge pile.)

When I met with the two groups, the members gave me oral comments and I took notes furiously. But I don’t want to miss anything they may have written in addition, so I have to go through this huge pile. Did I mention that it is huge.?Or at least feels huge…

So how do I take a pile of marked up manuscripts and turn it into a plan? I start by pulling the first manuscript off the pile. I begin to read the comments. In Word I start two files: One is a list of notes on comments that I know I want to address. These comments and suggestions resonate with me, and I have a hunch that by making these suggested changes the manuscript will not only be better but will also be closer to what I want the book to be. The second Word doc is a list of notes on suggestions that I think are interesting but that I’m not sure I want do.

The first list becomes my master TO DO list for revision. The second list I will consider again after I have finished those revisions. After working with the manuscript on the first set of notes, I usually have a better idea of whether these suggestions will take me in the direction I want to go.

There is one more step to this manuscript mountain climbing process. The height of the pile is partially my own fault. Instead of printing the manuscripts double-sided to save paper, I print single-sided. That way I can flip through a manuscript, taking out all the pages that have no comments or that have comments or edits that I don’t want to do. This leaves me with a much smaller pile of the pages that have important comments or line edits that I want to input. Ahh, a smaller mountain.

This reviewing and sorting and weeding process helps me both ponder comments at my own pace and sets me up with a clear list of revisions I know I want to make.

And when I’m done with all these revisions and I’m ready to print out my new improved manuscript, I’ll have lots of recycled paper to print it on 🙂

Happy revising.

Elizabeth Rusch

Present to Past Tense

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: July 20, 2015
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Ah, the tense tango continues. You may remember in an earlier post how I rewrote my nonfiction picture book manuscript called THE MUSIC OF LIFE: BARTOLOMEO CRISTOFORI AND THE INVENTION OF THE PIANO from past tense to present tense. That rewrite breathed life into the manuscript. Writing about late Renaissance history as if it were unfolding made the story so much more lively.

tenseWell switcho-changeo, now I’m rewriting a middle grade novel from present tense into past. The novel, APRIL FOOL, about a serious kid with practical jokester parents, is something I’ve been working on for more than a decade. And for more than a decade people have been saying: “I’m not sure about the present tense. It feels awkward — a bit self-conscious.”  And for about a decade, I ignored these comments.

Then at a recent meeting of my other critique group, where we read pages out loud, the member seemed unanimous in their desire to see the chapter I read in past tense. So I rewrote a chapter. And lo and behold, once again, my critiquers were correct. The original tense I had chosen (and clung on to for dear life) was not the best tense for the story. The past tense actually added a measure of mystery to the story that keeps you reading.

So the last few days have seemed like one long grammar lesson as I have plowed through changing present tense to past. Will this exercise help me get the tense right the first time around? I don’t think so. But it does remind me, once again, that in writing not to get too tense about tense. Change it up and see what happens.

The Problem with “Butt in the Chair”

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: May 20, 2015
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I’ve heard at least dozen writers talking about overcoming writers’ block with one simple rule: Sit your butt in the chair.

I have two problems with this advice. First of all, I don’t really get writers’ block, I get writers’ inertia. Writers’ block is when you don’t know what to write…you don’t have any ideas or any direction. Writers’ Inertia is MUCH worse. You  have ideas, you know what you want to do, you know the direction you want to take…but you just can’t get started during a given writing day or session. Putting my butt in the chair does not solve my Writers’ Inertia.

 

 

That’s because when I get my butt in the chair with my computer on and ready to go in front of me, I can do SOOOO many things other than write or revise!  I can:

Check my email.

Check facebook.

Check twitter.

Post on facebook and twitter.

Research lodging, flights, car rentals, and things to do for upcoming schedule trips OR trips I would like to take some day…

Answer some emails.

Check to see if an article of clothing I want has gone off-season and on-sale yet.

Clear out my email.

Check the weather.

Check the hourly forecast.

Check the forecast in someplace I’m visiting in the future or hope to visit in the future.

And now, look!, I found another one! I can write a Scriva post!

Writing this post kind of counts as writing — and it serves another purpose, too. For me the only way to overcome writers’ block or writers’ inertia is to write.

Thanks for the warm up. I’m going back to what I SHOULD be doing, which is revising my novel. Chapter 11 is next.

Elizabeth Rusch

 

REVISING SCENES

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: April 20, 2015
Comments: 1 Comment

While revising my middle-grade novel April Fool, I have found Donald Maass’ THE FIRE IN FICTION to be enormously helpful. The whole book is terrific, but I’ve been focused on Chapter 3: Scenes that Can’t Be Cut. I have heard many times that a character should want something in every scene and that something should change for the character in every scene, but I haven’t always been sure about how to accomplish that. Using exercises Maass offers at the end of this chapter, I have created a scene worksheet that I have found helpful. Pick a scene, answer the following questions, and then revise the scene with your answers in mind.  I hope you find it as powerful as I do! The questions from my worksheet, adapted from The Fire of Fiction, follow below:

The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great

WHAT DOES YOUR CHARACTER WANT IN SCENE?

3 HINTS THAT HE/SHE MIGHT GET IT:

3 HINTS THAT HE/SHE WON’T:

NEW STRONG FIRST LINE:

NEW STRONG LAST LINE:

WHAT IS THE TURNING POINT, WHEN THINGS CHANGE?

HOW DOES THE CHARACTER SEE HIMSELF/HERSELF BEFORE TURNING POINT?

AFTER?

THREE SENSORY DETAILS DURING THE TURNING POINT:

FIVE SETTING DETAILS:

I hope you find this exercise as powerful as I do!

Elizabeth Rusch

Rest, Reflect, and Wait Now. Revise Later.

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: January 4, 2015
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Heron-crop1As the Scriva who is the first to offer a post here for 2015, I suppose it would make sense to talk about new beginnings and resolutions. If you’re looking for that, here’s a link to a thoughtful post by Addie several years back. Thanks, Addie.

This post of mine, however, is about ending a project on January 1st, namely the first complete draft of my next book. A writer’s calendar is what it is, so now instead of gearing up to revise 70,000 words, in keeping with that New Year’s urge, I’m giving the muse a rest.

Am I exhausted? No, not really, In fact, my first thought is to go back to chapter one and start everything all over again right away. If I were on a tight deadline, that’s what I’d have to do, and that’s what I know other Scrivas are facing. But I’m lucky this year. I can afford to give myself a vacation from my manuscript, an emptying out of preconceived notions about characters and narrative. I will rest in still waters. Time away from text provides the distance that can bring a fresh perspective. I will wait to let the story “breathe.”

Revision, I remind myself, traces its origins to the Latin verb revidere, to see again, or to look at anew. It’s the “anew” part I’m aiming for as I rest, reflect, and wait. In the meanwhile, I wish you a year of your best writing ever!

When the ice is thin…

by Amber Keyser
Published on: November 12, 2014
Comments: 1 Comment
Frozen lake in Algonquin Park (Photo by Voyageur Quest)

Frozen lake in Algonquin Park (Photo by Voyageur Quest)

Currently I am in the very final revisions of a contemporary YA novel called THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN, which will be published in Fall 2015 by Carolrhoda Lab. At this stage in the process, I have moved from my usual methodical application of hardwork and craft to something more uncommon and harder to understand even for me.

As I work my way through the manuscript, I come upon passages that to my eyes and to my mind seem okay. The writing is tight. The descriptions are vivid. The dialogue feels real. But my gut says that something is off. It’s as if I am on a frozen lake and suddenly a subtle sense of danger grows. The ice is too thin here. It will support neither me or the story.

I sit and stare at the screen, imploring the page to reveal what is missing. I pace my office, wondering what is off-kilter about the emotion and sentiment in the paragraph. I imagine myself as each character, plumbing the depths of their inmost selves.

Eventually I will feel the way before me. I will caress the words. I will shape them into struts and support. They will become as thick as reality itself. It is both mystical and terrifying. I wonder if I will lose myself to the depths.

Credit where Credit is Due

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: October 20, 2014
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COVER FINAL FEB 2014My newest book The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans just published.  Hurrah!

Thanks to wonderful Scriva critiques, it is a Junior Library Guild selection and has gotten a starred review from Kirkus, which called it “timely” and “important.”  As I read the review, I thought about comments Scrivas had given me on early drafts and how they were responsible for much of the praise in the review. Here are some snippets from the review that I can thank the Scrivas for:

“well-written…” thanks to comments that pointed out each part that was not as well-written as it could be…comments like “you could condense this,” “tighten?” and all the copyedits that fixed awkward constructions and grammar problems.

“She draws in young readers…” thanks to comments that highlighted the adult-speak in early drafts and that pointed out the most kid-friendly parts and suggested I do more like that.

“clear explanations,” thanks to comments that pointed out sections that were confusing.

“appropriately focused and interesting…” thanks to comments that highlighted sections that went off topic or “could perhaps be presented in a more interesting way” (read: BORING!).

Without the excellent critiques I get, I believe my books would be rather mediocre. Critique groups help you do your very best work.  So Scrivas, WE got a great review! Thanks for all your help with the book!

Scriva Liz

Revising The Way You See The Story

by Amber Keyser
Published on: September 12, 2014
Categories: Craft
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Pygmy hedgehog unrelated to revision but very cute

Pygmy hedgehog unrelated to revision but very cute

I’m working on a still-not-yet-announced series project with a collaborator. The two of us created the concept and fleshed out setting, characters, themes, and backstory together. We plan to alternate writing the books in the series, all the while acting as each other’s first and most important critique partner. In this way, we can maintain a cohesive feel from book to book. Plus it’s fun!

Recently this process offered me an important insight into the revision process. I start books with loose character sketches, bullet point outlines, and often a feeling or tone that I am going for. I have a tenuous grasp on the themes I’m exploring (because, of course, I’m still exploring).

As the book proceeds, the characters become fully-fleshed, real and breathing. The plot demands unforeseen twists and turns. The themes clarify as the feeling/tone pervades everything. Things change. Often (Always?) the original framework no longer describes what I have written. The narrative is becoming real, but the author (ME!) is still clinging to what I thought would happen or who I thought the character was.

The necessary revision is NOT making the narrative fit what my original vision was but instead taking the time to re-envision the whole concept with what I now know to be true about the various elements of the story.

From now on after the first draft, I will always make a conscious effort to ask myself how what I thought I was doing relates to what I actually did and use this information to redo character sketches, summary, outline, and logline.

NEVER Give Up on a Book You Believe In

Don’t give upWhen I was pregnant with my second child, who is now 10 years old, I started writing a picture book called Squeaks, Stumps, and Surprises: A Big Brother’s Guide to Life with a New Baby. I was trying to see my second pregnancy and the appearance of a new baby in the family through my first child’s eyes. I asked him and his friends what they thought about pregnancy and new babies, especially new siblings. And I learned that little kids don’t see things the way we adults do.

In the book, I tried to capture the voice of a slightly older, wiser kid giving insider advice about what life with a new baby would really be like. I loved writing it, I loved revising it, and when I submitted it to publishers, I got nice notes back about the writing and the concept. But all agreed it wouldn’t stand out in the crowded New Baby market.

So I went back to it, revising it again, making the voice stronger, fresher, funnier. This went on for several years (I had a new baby at home after all) before I submitted again. This time I found a few editors who liked it, too. It went to acquisitions several times, but alas, no one bought it.

I got busy with other projects, busy with my two kids, and forgot about the manuscript for a while, perhaps years. If I happened to think of it, I would open the most recent version and read it. I’d think: “I still really like this book.” Sometimes I’d play around with it again. I changed the boy to a girl. I broke the book into sections. I added more dialogue, more funny lists, more punch lines. I cut it radically. I added more material. I cut again. I went from one narrator to two: a boy and a girl.

I started working with a wonderful agent who sold some of my manuscripts. When I first showed her this one, she said something to the effect of: “I’m not sure this would stand out in the crowded New Baby market.” Sound familiar? So I put it away again.

In the meantime, I started writing a graphic novel. (MUDDY MAX, coming this August!) Sometime while working on the graphic novel, I took yet another peek at the new baby book. I thought: “I still really like this book.” And I had an idea. What if the book was a picture book/graphic novel hybrid with some main narrative text and some funny scenes in comic form? I carved out some time to try this, got great feedback from my critique groups, revised again and showed my agent. This time she said: “All right, let’s give it a try.”

And I am happy, ecstatic, thrilled to report, that TEN YEARS after first writing the book, we got an offer on it. I am still in shock that it actually happened. Look for The Big Kids’ Guide to Life with a New Baby sometime in 2016!

And don’t EVER give up on a book project you believe in.

Elizabeth Rusch

P.S. In case it’s not obvious from the story above, it is OK to put a manuscript aside for a while (months or even years), play around with it a lot, try some radical revisions, get feedback, put it away again, revisit it again. But if you like it, if you believe in it, if there is something in there you think is special, don’t give up, don’t ever give up.

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