REVISION | Old Thought, New Take


I’ve been working on the current revision in fits and starts since the fall, all the while doubting one aspect of the story, and all because long ago an agent rejected it with the comment that the romance was underdeveloped.

Fine, if I’d written a romance I’d have serious problems, but I didn’t write a romance. However, for years her comment followed me around, so I started to think it had merit in a way I didn’t yet understand.

The truth is, my protagonist does end up with one of the male characters. But the fact that she does isn’t the point of the novel. You know what I mean? If that were the point of the novel, it would be a romance.

But it’s not a romance.

Yet, since the agent rejection, I’ve pondered the love subplot, feeling vaguely uncomfortable. There is something off about it, isn’t there? I thought of adding scenes that showed the pair miscommunicating, coming to terms, falling out again, and so on.

But this would turn it into a romance, a completely different story altogether.

So here I am, right now, sitting with marked-up page 196, my breakfast/lunch, and an epiphany that arrived while I scrambled eggs with spinach. And what a bloody relief! Years, I mean years, this thing has been noodling at me every time I thought about this manuscript.

Ready? Ta-da: It’s not that I have to change the novel to fit the end. Rather, I need to alter the final chapters so the love aspect doesn’t read like it was the point of the novel.

Does this make sense?

It does to me. It’s so simple! And I’m sitting here quietly celebrating as if I’ve discovered the ultimate writing secret. Now, I’m gung-ho again. It’s like magic.

The real mystery is why it took me years to figure out this simple fix!

Hello, Other Manuscript

snowday3Today, still snowy, and I’m officially back to where I was before November 21st. Writing-wise, I mean. You may remember that during the first half of November I took myself off for a writing retreat to work on a manuscript. I’d planned to send the new project to my agent by the end of November. I was in a good mood, hopeful even.


That was before my agent flew the coop and became Erstwhile Agent (EA). That was before I fell further into a slump because of my dire financial situation (which hasn’t changed, by the way; I’m just used to it now).

Last week I sent Nice Agent (NA), the one who inherited me from EA, the manuscript I’d worked on with EA. I’d spent a few weeks going over said manuscript. Did I mention that I found out EA had no editorial experience? Did I mention that I’d made plenty of changes to said manuscript per EA’s suggestions?

Enough said. I’m happy that NA is willing to read said manuscript. I’m hoping NA likes my writing enough to want to work with me even if nothing can be done with said manuscript because of the rejections it has already racked up.

It’s been a downer three weeks and now I’m staring at the other manuscript, the one from before bummer-dom. I’m not as motivated to revise it, I suppose because part of me wants to wait on a reply from NA regarding said manuscript.

manuscriptHowever, bunk to that. I’m going to work on the other manuscript anyhow. See here? See all these notes I made on the pages while doing the quick-read last month? I’ve got work to do, agent or no!

Like I said, work-wise I’m back to where I was a month ago. Feels surreal, like I lost a chunk of my life. I’ve bobbed back to the surface to continue on like the trooper I am. But not like nothing’s happened, unfortunately. My energy level is definitely at low ebb.

But, just gotta keep working so that’s what I’m going to do. We’ve all been there, right?

I’ve still got that quote up on my wall, the one from Thomas Jefferson about creating luck through hard work.

Quick-Reading the Manuscript

Here’s my improvised workspace, and I’m not letting housekeeping in! I pulled out the sofa so I can watch and hear the Pacific. I like to spread my manuscript around, as you can see. You might also say that I’m playing a mind-game with myself, because if I’m reading in bed, then I’m not really working, am I?


This thing I’m doing with my manuscript — I realized today that it’s part of my official “process.” Not that I have an official process, but still, I find myself doing it with every project. (And I always go on retreat, too; otherwise it won’t get done.)

I don’t think I’ve said exactly what I’m doing. It’s simple really: Reading the hard copy in a few days. The quick, big-picture read. I find this incredibly helpful.

Why is this helpful? For example, I’ve already noted internal logic flaws and other inconsistencies that I didn’t notice during the slow-paced revisions. Let’s face it, we lose track of the big picture, right? I can track the rules of my fictional universe when I read fast. I’ve managed to cut many an extraneous yet beautifully written (hehe) passage because they don’t fit anymore.

Also, painfully obvious now: All the squinting of eyes, cocking of heads, and raising of eyebrows. I’ve got the twitchiest cast of characters around. I’ve prescribed fictional Prozac: cut cut cut!

Not to mention the babies that I’ve kept since the first draft, mainly because they’re so familiar I took their existence for granted. Have you done that, read through sections without being aware of them anymore? They’re just there, innocuous as dust in the corners, until you finally realize they’re throwing off your internal logic or character consistency.

cannonbeach7It’s fun, but the challenge is staying big. I’m behind schedule with the reading (and leaving tomorrow!) because I keep getting caught up in the details. I’ll find myself line-editing and obsessing and analyzing — trying to fix the flaws I come upon instead of noting them and moving on. 

I’ve come up with many convenient words to stop myself from getting bogged down. The manuscript is littered with notations like “fix” and “clarity” and “awk” (for awkward) and “sensical?” and “transition” and “needs more.”

Does anyone else do the quick-read? Do you find it helpful? How so?

I’ve been getting my dog-walks in though. Always try to get them in between rain spurts.

Back to work!

Free-For-All Friday (A Day Late)

(What is this? My very own meme, which could take the form of other Friday memes out there — random five or ‘fessing up — or non-Friday memes, or anything! Point being to have a little fun and get a little interactive. Feel free to snitch my logo at left and do your Friday thing!)


Trick or treat. On this Halloween weekend I’m thinking about tricks (having eaten too many treats). Specifically, the tricks we play on ourselves to get our writing done.

Sometimes my tricks come in the guise of treats, like the Oregon-coast trip I promised myself after I finish the current revision. Most of the time, however, my tricks are all-out mind games.

Like, for example, the cutting game. Give this one a try during revisions:

1. Upon sighting a paragraph that’s rotten to the core, decide: CHOP THAT PUPPY!

2. Decision made, now wonder if the paragraph is not rotten so much as misplaced, poor thing. Tell yourself that the prose isn’t half-bad, after all…

3. The moment you waffle tell yourself that you WILL delete it because you are a professional and you can handle it.

4. Cut rather than delete the paragraph and paste, yes, PASTE, the offending passage below THE END. Now, feel secure in knowing that a) you’re indeed a professional and b) the words are still officially within the document, ready to be salvaged at any time. The best of both worlds!

5. When finished with the revision, revisit these “cuts” and wow yourself with your writing prowess as you dismiss them as rotten to the core.

Or, this one, which I like to call the I’m-really-watching-television game.

This trick is for those of you who find yourselves too tired to work at night, yet work you must. This mind game is good for blog-writing and emailing too.

1. Change into your scroungiest lounge wear and turn on the television.

2. Place laptop on your lap, and remind yourself that what you’re really doing is relaxing with televised brain candy. Guilty-pleasure programs work the best. Like “Supernatural” because Jensen Eckles is too pretty. Or that new Tyra Banks show, “Stylista,” because it’s wrong in so many enjoyable ways.

3. Mute the television during a commercial and casually open a document or what-have-you. Start working. Remember, you’re really watching t.v. so you can un-mute as soon as the commercial ends.

4. Don’t fret if you forget that you’re really watching television. You may even go so far as to turn off the telly, but this is okay. You can always catch the brain candy in reruns.

What tricks do you play on yourself to get the work done?

Tippity Tap, What am I Doing Anyhow?

This is interesting: I don’t know what I’m doing.

It’s not that I don’t know what I’m doing with a writing project, or, that I don’t know what I’m doing with finding a publisher, or promoting myself, or developing the next novel or anything and everything to do with my writing life.

I’m so scattered thinking about all these things at once, that I, literally, don’t know what I’m doing. In some ways I’ve ground to a halt. Go here, go there, do this, do that…What next?

1. Revise the first novel, the practise novel, for my agent to peruse in hopes that she might want to sell it. In fact, I’m about 200 pages into this effort now, but, I don’t know. Can’t decide how I’m feeling about it — worth the continued effort or forever the practice novel?

2. Besides, I have the current novel, the one that I deem publishable, the one my agent declined to peddle to smaller publishers after 37 rejections from the big boys. So, it’s up to me: Submit to small presses. Do the research.

3. I’ve been so restless lately, maybe I should spend a little time researching and submitting applications to artists colonies and the like.

4. But then, there’s this other novel, one I haven’t mentioned on this blog. One that’s a hot mess. Perhaps this is the one to send to the agent next?

5. No, no, back to the completed novel. It takes place in Ireland. What about researching and submitting to U.K./Irish publishers? I’d need a U.K. agent for that, I suspect, and before I head in that direction I’d need to chat with my actual agent.

6. Chat with my agent. Yep. Gotta do it. What about her agency’s subsidiary agents over there? If I begged, would she consider submitting to a few small presses that require agented submissions?

7. But then, there’s my latest novel, the first draft I finished in July. What to do about it? It follows on the completed novel in many ways, so since that got rejected…Revise it so stands alone or go on faith that the completed novel will sell at some point?

8. I might have to go back to Italy (previous post) to think about all this.

9. But, how could I forget the two ideas percolating at the moment, both of them equally vague and unlikely? Maybe I should forget all of the above and start with a new idea and use all I’ve learned to write a novel that will truly get me published. Story development and first draft to equal the next year of my life.

10. Maybe I should pipe down and wait for the anthology story to be published in April, 2009. Maybe I’ll get feedback or a positive mention somewhere (I can hope!) that will inspire a good strategy decision.

11. Maybe I should look for a job.

(Yee gads, not that — forget I mentioned it.)

12. And what about short stories? Haven’t I been aching to get a grip on that form?

13. Read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People?

Fancy This, I’ve Learned a Few Things

Today I revised 11 pages for most of the day. I love the revision process, but this felt like an excessive amount of time to spend on prose that I had previously honed and polished and edited and revised and fine-tuned to “perfection.”

I decided to take a look at my first novel — formerly known as “the practice novel” — after I received the Dear John letter from my agent about Novel #2, the project she hadn’t succeeded in selling. Why not revise Novel #1? I asked myself. Maybe my agent will dig it…Worth a try, right?

I’m amazed at how much I’ve grown as a writer since I set this novel aside six years ago. I have a few skills under my belt now! In particular, four flaws are obvious that eluded me previously:

1. I refined the prose so well that it lacks verve, voice, life. Flat-city. The story features a first-person narrator, and I find myself adding words to strengthen her voice.

LESSON: There is such a thing as polishing the life out of my prose.

2. The plot flows, yet it also reads muddled – and for a very simple reason: Faulty scene and chapter breaks. I didn’t have a concept of this at the time, but scenes/chapters require arcs. Instead, I’ve got overly long chapters in which the significant plot points and character moments get lost.

LESSON: White space is a good thing.

3. This is a corollary to item #1: In my attempt to cut every excess word, I inadvertently created ambiguities. It’s not always obvious what’s going on — especially with character motivation — because I made the mistake of, for example, assuming readers would remember some little thing I’d mentioned many pages previously or connect the dots themselves. The key words for me are “seamless flow.”

LESSON: Repetition and explanation are allowed to keep the readers happily oriented.

4. I’ve also noted spots where I dilute suspense by revealing information sooner than necessary, usually through blah-di-blah dialogue. Apparently, I only understood suspense in theory, not in practice.

LESSON: Premature revelation is so anticlimactic.

For all I pared, there’s excess yet to cut; for all I developed and explained, there’s holes yet to be filled. Between the cutting and the adding, I predict I’ll end up with about the same word count. Funny how that works.


There’s nothing like writing “THE END” (must be all caps, for me at least) on a first draft, and I wrote just that this morning! Yippee!

Of course, there’s still much to accomplish during revisions, but I have my story, verbose as it may be. I overwrite my first drafts — too much description, too much repetition, too much explanation of what I’ve effectively shown — but I don’t mind. I have tons of material with which to work: a comfort.

Some novelists underwrite their first drafts — so lean they gotta pig out on words during revisions to add complications and subplots and descriptions and character development.

Either way, right? As long as we have that first draft in hand!

Now, I’ll enjoy a summer vacation (woo hoo) — for a few weeks at least — if I can possibly stand the hiatus. I’m going to…what am I going to do with myself while my first draft cools off?

Oh my, oodles of open-endedness. My mind just went blank…

I’ve been working on this thing for a year. I’m so relieved I feel like melting. I am melting. I am, in fact, already melted. Melted feels delicious.

Okay, Ready to Finish This Puppy

After an unusually hot weekend that included toenails painted fresh for the season, my favorite sandals, and Australian Chardonnay served at an outdoor wine bar, I’m ready to kick myself into high gear: Finish this first draft!


You may recall from this post that I was stymied. After taking a break, reading the printed manuscript (hard copy seems to help), and completing initial revisions, I think, I hope, I pray, that I’m un-stymied.

So, with coffee rather than vino, I’m off!