Things I’m learning from my first foray into serial fiction.

I posted a little while ago about DinoLand, my sci-fi novel which will be serialized, starting this Sunday, over at Geek Eccentric.

photo credit: Scott Kinmartin via photopin cc

photo credit: Scott Kinmartin via photopin cc

Well, it’s almost dinosaur time and I’m as nervous as an attorney staring down a T-Rex in the rain. Since this is a brand new  process for me, I thought I’d write a little bit about what I’ve been learning so far.  Here are some of my first take-aways:

 Starting out with a lot of material doesn’t necessarily mean you have less work to do.

I started this project with more than 200 pages of DinoLand, written over a period of two or three National Novel Writing Months, including a ridiculous amount of backstory. When I started importing all that into Scrivener, I realized that unless I write a prequel, I’m not going to use all of this material. Also, the work that I am using needed several rounds of edits. So while I have six months of DinoLand written and outlined, months 3 through 6 still need edits and work. (Chapter 2, for April, is already edited and turned in to the artist.) Speaking of which…

Working with an artist is an incredible experience. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by that.

Working with Max Farinato has been my favorite part of the DinoLand project so far. It’s amazing to watch his sketches develop, and even more amazing is the way I’ve seen the world I invented taking shape in his art. Every time Max sends me a sketch, I gush uncontrollably about how much I love his work, which is true, but maybe not helpful to him.
There should be some sort of guideline for working with an illustrator, because I suspect that I haven’t been easy to work with. For example, I probably should have sent him rough ideas of what my principal characters look like so that the art and my prose will match. I forget that I haven’t described everyone on page one of chapter one. I should probably also ask more often what he needs from me to make his job easier.

Oh my god. The comment section. Oh my god, the comment section.

Despite the fact that I’ve been blogging for a long time, it has somehow just occurred to me that people will be able to comment directly after reading my chapter. It’s not like I haven’t gotten comments on fiction before — short pieces of mine have been published in journals with comment sections — but I think of novels as something that are put out to the public as a whole. If a novel receives criticism, it’s in the form of a review on another site, not in a comment section. So despite the fact that I consider myself a Big Damn Progressive Child of the Internet, I’ve still been thinking about fiction and novels in a very old-fashioned way.

And lastly, Does serial fiction work differently from a novel? I’m not sure.

While comment sections are relatively new, serial fiction is not. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last two years reading novels that were originally published as serial fiction: Anna Karenina, The Count of Montecristo, Bleak House, Great Expectations. I don’t know if anything was changed before they were compiled into novels, but it seems to me that there has to be some repetition if a novel is released serially. If you’re releasing a chapter every week or month, you need to remind your readers of certain things that they can’t just flip back and check if they’re holding the book in their hands. Of course, now we have links – I can just link chapter two to chapter one – it’s the one thing I can do that Dickens could not, Still, every chapter should be able to stand alone, right? That way, if someone stumbles on chapter three before reading one and two, the reader won’t be totally lost. How do comic writers do this? How do television writers do this? Am I overthinking this? I might be overthinking this.

Those are my thoughts so far, at least until Sunday, when the fictional dinosaurs stampede out of the gate at Geek Eccentric. I’m sure I’ll have more to say then.

Writing while pregnant

pregnancy, writing

That’s no moon.

At eight months pregnant, I’m a little nervous about my writing career. Mostly because writing while pregnant has not been easy for me. In fact, it’s been really difficult.

I’ve held off on writing this post because of the inevitable comments of those who will say things like “You think <insert activity> is hard now. What until you have <an infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager, etc.>” but then I realized that those one-uppers will always rear their heads, no matter how old my child is or what stage of life I’m in.

So screw it. I’m writing this now, because I wish I’d known it earlier and maybe someone else needs to read it: writing while pregnant has been a struggle for me. I truly hope that other writers don’t have as rough a time with it as I have, but just in case another pregnant writer is out there, reading this and beating herself up for her lack of productivity, let me say this to you: You’re not alone, lady.

I’ve always assumed I could write no matter what. In fact, I figured that if I ever did get pregnant, I’d go into literary nesting mode, write daily and finish churning out my novel and probably other projects as well. I thought I’d be super-creative.

That didn’t exactly happen. Every pregnancy is different, but a host of physical symptoms kept me from my desk: fatigue, nausea, pain, and now, in the last weeks of my pregnancy, an inability to get myself or my laptop comfortably positioned long enough to write a meaningful sentence. Seriously. I need a floaty Minority Report keyboard and maybe some anti-gravity for an hour or so a day.

The strangest side-effect for me as a writer was probably this: my brain hasn’t worked in quite the same way for the past 30-something weeks.

Let me try to explain what I mean by this: I can do my paid job without a problem. I can edit and revise, and I can outline and organize my projects, and I can even write articles. The problem is creativity:  sitting down to make art became all of a sudden, extremely difficult. (They don’t list that under symptoms in What to Expect When You’re Expecting.)

This is new to me, because I’ve never had trouble being creative. I was the kid who spent second grade staring outside the window daydreaming, and I’ve been the writer who can’t always knuckle down because she’s always distracted by new ideas. My new lack of creativity was a big, unpleasant surprise. Creativity became work, and I started to beat myself up about it: What’s wrong with me that I can’t produce 500 words a day? Why is everything I write awful?

Now that I’ve been living with this change for a while, I do wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself about it — I imagine that any person who undergoes any major physical shift, like injury or illness or chronic pain or a huge lifestyle shift — must go through similar issues. Our brain chemistry is delicate; any change can cause a shift in how we experience life.

It took me months to figure out how to work around the issue effectively, but eventually, (and later in my pregnancy than I like) I started to repeat something I’d heard from Nalini Jones, an MFA teacher I once had a workshop with: “If you can’t create, you can work.”

So now I’m editing a backlog of old work, both for my novel and for my new serial fiction project. I’m also forcing myself to write a little bit of a flash-fiction every week, because I’ve discovered that I can still be creative — it’s just hard now, the way that math was hard for me in grade school. I need to build that muscle just in case things don’t immediately improve when the baby is born.

And I take naps when my schedule allows. I still feel guilty about it, but I do it anyhow.

The Eagle & The Arrow comes out next Tuesday (this year’s launch is waaay different than last year’s.)

Deep breaths. I’m gearing up for The Eagle & The Arrow‘s release next Tuesday.

The build-up to The Eagle & The Arrow’s release date has been so different from last year’s release of Beware the Hawk. I guess that makes sense. I had some time to prepare this year. I knew what worked well last time and what didn’t work so well.

Last year I promoted intensely on this blog and within my MFA community. I emailed a lot of reviewers who didn’t respond to me. I concentrated on a blog tour. There are worse things than doing a book tour in one’s pajamas, but I got the feeling that I was playing it too safe with Beware the Hawk.

This year, I decided to get out of my comfort zone a little. I tried some things I didn’t do last year. In some cases it’s meant reaching out to people and asking them for something. In some cases it’s meant putting money into promo. And in some it’s meant opening myself up for what could be a metric buttload of criticism. At this stage in the game, it’s hard to know what’s working and what’s not, but I am pretty certain that these items are going onto A.J.’s Standard Book Promotion Plan from now on:

  • I reached out on Goodreads by giving away copies of Beware the Hawk. That turned out to be incredible because bonus: a lot of people added my book. I’ve gotten pretty good at international postage in the past three weeks. I’ve sent copies to Serbia, Canada and Bulgaria. Next week, I plan to give away some copies of the Eagle & The Arrow.
  • I asked two authors I know and respect for blurbs for this book. I don’t like bugging people for blurbs but these blurbs helped a lot – I can use them on my promo materials and it’s always awesome when someone you respect writes something nice about your book, especially during a point in the publication process when I tend to doubt myself.
  • I’ve planned a book release party for the end of June, and sent invites to all the people I think might be interested, or who were supportive of the last book. (Ahem – if you’re interested send me a note or comment and I will send you details.) I also sent it out to local media. (Not the media I used to work for – other media that does not know me.) Can’t hurt.
  • I sent out books to reviewers I’ve worked with before and then asked for new reviewers who might be interested in doing reviews to contact me. I got a few answers and met one really cool new reviewer.
  • Lastly, I sent advance reader copies of my e-book to a small group of readers who were supportive of Beware the Hawk. These people were really good to me and my first book, so I figured it was only fair for them to get the first look at the sequel.

This book promo plan is obviously still in process. I want to try some new things. I’ve gotten a couple of interesting suggestions from friends. I belong to two author groups (Sisters in Crime & The New England Horror Writers) and I want to get more active with them. I want to go to Thrillerfest. I want to book some readings at places I have not read before. (I’m also open to any crazy suggestions anyone has for me.)

Mostly, I just want to meet readers. I had some success with that last year and it’s like a drug to meet someone who is excited about your work.

How to force inspiration, kind of. (And how I learned that my shower is NOT actually the Magic Idea Box)

writing in the shower, inspiration

My diving slates.

UPDATE, 2/27/13: I’ve gotten more comments about creativity from readers on my Facebook page, so I’ve added more comments to the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

A few years ago, Wally Lamb spoke at my MFA program. One of the things Lamb mentioned in his keynote was that he got the idea for She’s Come Undone in the shower. If I’m remembering this correctly, it wasn’t an everyday shower; one of his children had just been born and he’d run home to clean up. Shortly after getting into the shower, inspiration sent him running down the hall for pen and paper.

I was so excited to hear this; recently I’d been noticing that my best ideas were emerging in the shower, exactly the time when I was unable to grab a pen and paper to write them down. I’d thought that I was the only one. And so, weird and creepy as it may be to randomly go up to a guy who is a complete stranger and talk about your showering habits, I just couldn’t help myself. I walked up to Lamb after the reading and said “Ohmygod I get my ideas when I’m showering too!” And he gave me the uncomfortable look that pretty much anyone would in the circumstances.

I’ve been thinking of the shower as the Magic Idea Box for a few years now. I never get ideas during morning showers (all they do is wake me up) but I know that if I’m stuck on something, I can take a shower in the middle of the day and the solution will appear within 30 seconds of the water being turned on. I keep diving slates in there so I can scribble the ideas down. I always figured it was the water, or the drumming of the shower on my spine that drew the ideas out. And until Lamb spoke, I thought it was just me.

This is apparently a thing. After reading a recent blog post by another favorite author, Mary Doria Russell, and seeing that she also gets ideas in the shower, I did a quick search for “inspiration in the shower.” It’s more common than I thought it would be. In 2006, Time published an interview with psychologist R. Keith Sawyer, author of Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation. Here’s a quote from that piece:

In creativity research, we refer to the three Bs—for the bathtub, the bed and the bus—places where ideas have famously and suddenly emerged. When we take time off from working on a problem, we change what we’re doing and our context, and that can activate different areas of our brain.

The bathtub, the bed and the bus. That makes sense. Everyone knows the story of the Greek mathematician Archimedes. The principle of the displacement of water came to him in the public bath and then went running out into the streets of Syracuse butt naked, screaming “Eureka!”
This blows a hole through my Magic Idea Box theory; Sawyer goes on to say that the “aha” moment is not a flash of inspiration. It is the end of a process that’s been happening for some time. Your brain has been working on the problem; the mental downtime of a shower or bath, or bus ride or the moments before sleep just kicks your brain into a different gear and that helps your mind solve the problem. But there are, apparently, other ways to force an “aha.”

Collaboration with people in or outside of your field is supposed to help. Here is Felicia Ryan, who commented on my Facebook page when I asked people how they get inspired:

My business partner (who is a visual artist by training) and myself (my training is in Communications) exchange ideas constantly, songs, artwork, books, resources….our exchange is a creative “call and response” conversation. Each of us adds to what the other has said and help to interpret it in a different way. We email, text and call each other and try to follow each creative thread to a conclusion or the next idea. It is like a on ongoing Ping-pong match.

Any kind of mental downtime. According to a recent NPR piece, people who can let their minds wander during breaks from a task are more likely to solve the problem when they return to that problem. As writer Tina DeMarco says, “Mostly [inspiration] comes when I’m busy doing something else!” Here is writer Krista Richards Mann:

I get inspired when it’s quiet. I like to go on a walk or a hike. But, inspiration has been known to nudge me while changing a load of laundry, baking a cake or sweeping the floor as well.

And here is writer Donna Orazio:

For me…it is when I silence the loop of conversation in my head and just listen to the sounds around me. What else is there to hear if I really listen? A new conversation often begins which leads me to unexpected places if I am open to it.

Writing in a blue room. I don’t get this one. Nor do I have a blue room, so I can’t test this theory. But NPR says it’s true, so like a good listener, I believe.

Speaking of NPR. Here’s social media marketer Kate Hutchinson’s strategy for getting ideas:

NPR. I love to listen to it in the car, and half the time I’ll listen to a story about communications between rebel groups in Syria and outside aid groups and suddenly I’ll realize there’s something I can apply to my social media strategy, so I’ll make a voice memo on my iPhone.

Driving/Walking to work. This falls, for me, into mental downtime (unless you’re driving in LA, across the George Washington Bridge or on I-95 in Connecticut) but enough people, like Hutchinson, mentioned getting ideas in the car that I felt it deserved its own category.

From Brian Hendrickson, creator of the web comic Call of Cthulu: The Musical:

From Karen P. Schuh:

I often get ideas when driving or when observing people interacting that causes my creative mind to react and imagine a story.

And from Talking to Walls frontman Brian Kelly:

I find that I write most of my songs at the least convenient times. The best happen when I’m driving or in the shower. If I “sit down to write” it almost never happens. But usually when I can’t get to a guitar or, in the case of a shower, paper, that’s when the muse hits. (I think she just likes watching me in the shower. Kinda creepy…)

Which brings us back to the shower. Here’s a comment from Stephen Schmidt, who has the same problem as Brian:

In the shower of all places – I guess the hot water gets my brain going. A whole new meaning for “go soak your head”. It’s hard to write stuff down though.

Diving slates, Stephen and Brian. Trust me.

How do you get your ideas? Does the blue room thing even work? Comment here or on my Facebook page and I may update with your input.

As for me, I’m headed over to the Magic Idea Box to see if I can harvest some ideas for the next chapter I have to write. Apparently I’m over the weirdness of publicly discussing showers, although I don’t think I’m quite at the Archimedes level of weirdness quite yet.*

*Archimedes was a bit on the odd side. He was killed during the invasion of Syracuse. He was working on an equation at the time. A Roman soldier came to take him prisoner and Archimedes was all “no thank you, kinda busy right now,” and the soldier got mad and killed him. (I imagine things didn’t end all that well for that centurion when his general realized that the greatest genius of their time was murdered in the middle of something brilliant by some kid with an anger management problem.)

I’m on the The Fairfield Writer’s Blog today!

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Alex McNab, a novelist and journalist who writes for the Fairfield Writer’s Blog, to talk about revision and drink caffeinated beverages. McNab began reading The Garret a year and a half ago when I began revising my novel, and – since he’s revising his own novel – he was interested in knowing more about my process.

His post about our chat went up this morning. I am so excited about it, and I hope you check it out.

We talked about re-typing work, when to look at notes from writing workshop during the revision process, strengthening prose, and returning to written work after a long time.

I should disclaim here: This is just my process of revision, and it’s an ever-evolving mishmash of ideas and tips I’ve picked up from members of writing groups, books I’ve read and professors I’ve had.

Writing like crazy. And when I say “crazy,” I mean it.

If I haven’t posted here much in the last two weeks, it’s because I’ve been writing, and when I’m writing every day, I’m barely fit for human company outside of my writing groups and my paid work. In fact, writing and teaching is all I have energy for.

I don’t call. I don’t write. I spend all my time upstairs in my office, pacing or typing. Laundry piles up. If we have food in the house, I snack constantly. If we don’t, I live on tea and iTunes playlists. I don’t vacuum until I’m regularly having asthma attacks. If I do get dragged to a social event, I’m a bore, because I’m likely to talk about people who don’t exist and things that never happened. I forget to wish people a happy birthday on Facebook.  It all goes straight to hell.

Despite the fact that writing turns me into the modern-day equivalent of Jane Eyre‘s Mad Bertha, I really like this state. If I’m writing 500-1000 words a day and teaching well, I feel like I’m doing my job.

I have this fictionalized idea of myself writing 1000 words a day, teaching, but also updating the blog regularly and doing things like laundry. That person doesn’t exist. Maybe someday she will, but not now.

That said, I do have some things I want to post on the blog sooner rather than later. I have to update the store with a new tee shirt, which I am working on, and I also read from Beware the Hawk at last Friday’s Fairfield University MFA reading at the Fairfield U. bookstore (thank you, Phil Lemos, for your reading slot.) I recorded myself reading the first few pages of the book. If the recording is any good, I will edit it together and post the link… if I’m not typing and talking to myself, that is. No promises.

“Dig, Don’t Fix”: Notes on revision from Robert McGuire

Last week, I sat down with one of my  writers’ groups to discuss the novel I’ve been working on.

Stack of edited copies of my novel.

Marked-up first drafts of the novel. I have a lot of work to do.

I’ve posted ad nauseum about my troubles revising this project, which served as my creative thesis when I graduated from the Fairfield MFA program. I tried retyping the novel. I read chapters in craft books. I made timelines. I set goals. I wrote new scenes. Nothing seemed to work. I didn’t feel like I was making the structure of the plot any cleaner or stronger. I felt like I was cluttering it.

So last Wednesday, when I sat down with the members of a writing group who had read the whole first draft of my book, I was a little apprehensive. I’d read it myself and noticed lots of holes where I thought there were none. I noticed lots of mistakes. I was certain that my three colleagues – Daisy Abreu, Robert McGuire, and Ioanna Opidee (who starts her own revisions today) –  would pull the thing apart.

Except  they didn’t.They gave me lots of good advice and three marked-up copies, and this will sound cheesy, but they also gave me hope for a story I’ve been falling out of love with.

And here’s another thing a member of that writing group gave me: notes on revisions for this blog post.

A few weeks back, I asked my readers for revision advice. Robert McGuire, who interviewed me earlier this year for his blog, Working on a Novel, wrote these notes on revision after I chided him for not commenting on that post. I’ve edited out some of the specific references to my novel, but I want to share his advice with all the writers who happen upon this blog.

Robert’s advice is really on point. He teaches writing at the college level and is very disciplined when it comes to his own craft, and his advice is worth reading. Also, his blog, Working on a Novel, is an electronic journal inspired by John Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel, the diary/letters/journal that Steinbeck kept while writing East of Eden. I’m reading that now (Robert has kindly loaned me his copy) and I’ve begun journaling in the morning before work, as Steinbeck did. I don’t know if this journaling will last, but right now, it’s helpful. I realized that one of the things I lack now is someone to talk to about my work. When I was in my MFA program, I was constantly talking about my novel. I talked to my mentors and teachers about the work I was doing. I talked to other students. I was immersed in the story and in the lives of the characters. Now there’s not nearly as much chatter about the work I’m doing and if I want to stay immersed, I have to talk to myself. I find that so far, it’s been helpful.

But enough from me. Here’s Robert:

Wheww. Congratulations on writing a complete draft of a complete novel. One foot in front of the other. It’s a big achievement.

First, let me give my response to your blog post about how to revise.

Craft books, of course! No, actually, when I have been at this stage with my books, I discovered that it’s really hard to find good practical advice about the revision process. Drafting, yes. Editing and proofreading, yes. But not RE-vising. The big messy muddle in the middle doesn’t seem to get as much attention.

Nevertheless, a couple sources spring to mind. I really like the Jane Smiley book, Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Novel, and in it she has two chapters especially about writing, the second of them being about how to look at your draft and look at it critically. I also benefited from some focus/prompt questions I found in one chapter of an otherwise unremarkable book by Jesse Lee Kercheval called Building Fiction.

One technique I remember picking up somewhere was to think of the plot in terms of questions that were posed by the book and that the reader was asked to care about. The idea being that you want to provoke questions in the reader’s mind – plot-wise, character-development-wise and thematically – and ultimately satisfy those questions. I had a little diagram, totally unique to my book, that had surface-level plot questions and more implicit thematic questions, some that pulled the narrative along for only a section (i.e. the “acts” in your book) and some that were overarching for the whole book. Then I would go through and ask how each scene interacted with those questions. Was the scene relevant to the focus questions? Keep the reader caring about the questions? Complicating things without digressing? That was a big help in figuring out what each scene needed to make it work as part of the whole.

Another way of thinking about the revision process is to think in terms of SAYS vs. DOES. (I take this from first-year composition texts.) This scene/book/graf/whatever SAYS ____. This scene DOES _____. I suppose it’s another way of thinking about the difference between what’s explicit and what’s implicit. And I suppose it helps connect a given scene to the whole. Because a scene can say something very well within its own boundaries but to do anything effectively, it has to be in communication with the rest of the book. At an early stage of revision, I would worry less about what a scene says than what it does. Ask yourself what the scene is doing to move the story forward, escalate tension, establish character, etc. When the answer isn’t clear, then you know you’ve got work to do. I suppose the follow up question is to ask yourself what the scene should do.

You and I have probably have opposite styles on the issue of “overwriting.” For the sake of getting another POV on the table, I’ll argue for not worrying too much about your father’s warning against overworking the book if for no other reason than it’s easier for writers to erase than for painters. Kidding myself about how good my work is a clear and present danger, and overworking it is only a theoretical possibility.

One of the main principles that make sense to me is the idea that revision is re-envisioning the book. Seeing it again. Seeing what it is and what it needs and what it could be. Seeing it differently. It’s really easy to get lost in line edits and feel like progress is being made when what’s really needed is a bigger picture re-evaluation. Of course, there aren’t bright lines between these stages, and it probably happens sometimes that struggling with a line edit reveals the larger structure of the book.

Last bit of experience: When I was drafting my first book, I noticed that I kept myself motivated by a kind of unconscious mantra. Just add sentences. No matter what, keep moving forward. Don’t worry about how good it is. Then when I was bogged down during the revision stage I figured out I needed another regular, simple reminder of what the work was. I finally settled on one. Dig. Don’t fix. Whenever I was tempted to fix something, it turned out I was avoiding something more essential. I needed to get down in the mud and make some more mud pies first.

There’s some of this POV that I think applies to your draft, and I’ll share that when our writing group gets together to discuss it. Good luck!

Writing and Internet avoidance

This is just a brief post, which I’m submitting from my phone as kind of an experiment.
First of all, I’m posting from my phone to see how well blogging-on-the-go works.
Secondly, I want to show you my writing set-up for the day, because it’s ridiculous.

20120330-124306.jpg
This is what I’ve been reduced to in order to avoid the perils of being distracted by the Internet: working on an old laptop with no Internet connection, hand-writing, while referring to things I’ve already written on my regular laptop.
And my Internet-avoidance is not even working, because I’m posting a blog entry from my phone.

Ah well. At least words are being written today.

Writers, do you have tips for revising a novel or memoir?

Last night, I blogged about my horror of revising something as sprawling as a novel. Revising Beware the Hawk wasn’t so bad – it’s a novella. But a 300 page novel? That’s a project.

Now I want to ask the writing community: How do you go about your revisions?

Do you revise chapter by chapter? Do you look at the whole story? Do you print it out? Do you graph it?

I’m thinking of putting revision advice together for a future post. I would love it if you’d share your own tips. You can do that in two ways: Either leave a comment or emailing me at annjoconnell(at)gmail(dot) com. If I get a lot of good advice I will put all the tips up in an upcoming blog post, with attributions (so if you have a blog, also send me the url so I can link to you.)

I know that I might be blogging to an empty room here, since many of my writer friends are headed to the AWP conference in Chicago to chill with Margaret Atwood for the weekend. They are not checking their blog readers. They are running wild though tables of MFA programs and lit mags, tweeting writing advice gleaned from panels as they stuff swag into AWP tote bags.

But why should our AWP-bound buddies be the only ones to have a little knowledge dropped on them this weekend? There are plenty of us who are not in Chicago and who have wisdom to share. So let’s have our own online writers’ panel. How do you revise a long piece of work? Let me know.

Revisions scare me.

Right now I’ve got a knot in my stomach because the manuscript for my novel is out to one of my writers’ groups. I gave it to them last month, and recently, two of the writers emailed to admit that they hadn’t yet read it. And I replied with something like: “Aw shucks, that’s fine, take your time.” But what I meant was: “I’m sort of hoping that all three of you have lost your copies to three separate freak manuscript flash fires, which will mean that we can’t have our meeting to discuss my work next month.”

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com.

I dread making revisions to this novel. I don’t know why. No, I do know why. I just hate to admit it, because it seems silly when I say it aloud blog about it. I dread revisions because I worked hard on this novel all last year and although I know it is still lacking, I’m afraid to ruin what’s already been written by meddling with it.

This has always been my fear about revisions; that I’ll work on something so much that I will destroy it.

I was introduced to this concept young; my father is a visual artist and he often gave classes to the kids in our community, both privately and through the local parks and recreation department. My brother and I ended up in a lot of these classes, partially to teach us art, but mostly to give my mom a morning off from us.

My dad used to tell his students that one of the biggest challenges in art is not the art itself, but knowing when a piece is done. You might create a lovely line drawing and ruin it with too much shading. You might get so into a painting that you mar it by concentrating too much on the details.  When you’re painting or drawing, each stroke is potentially fatal.*

Recently, I realized that I’ve been applying this visual art lesson to my writing. I’m afraid that I will overwrite, or over-edit my novel and ruin it. In fact, I’m always under-writing things for just this reason.

I know that this isn’t logical – working in Microsoft Word is not the same as working in charcoal. Still, I fear tampering with something so much that it’s no longer as good as the original idea.

Also, the idea of revising something as large as a novel scares me. How can I stand back and look at the shape of a story that’s nearly 300 pages long?

If you have any answers for that, let me know. Because as soon as my readers get back to me, I’ll have no choice. It will be time to revise.

*My father never said that exactly.  I doubt a class of seven year-olds would have responded well to “each stroke is potentially fatal.”