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.

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.”

Return to real life, and my novel.

Wow, last week’s release for Beware the Hawk was crazy in a I-tricked-myself-into-thinking-I’m-a-celebrity kind of way.

novel

This is what my novel looked like when I was working on it last year.

I received emails  and messages and comments from all sorts of people about my book, I mailed out signed Post-Its to people who wanted “signed” copies of the e-book, I hosted a giveaway and did the first four dates of my book tour, including a review. In short, I felt like a proper author. My family even threw me a little celebration with flowers and an ice cream cake. I would love to have been in Carvel when my mom handed the clerk the pink cake and asked her to please write “Beware the Hawk” on it in icing.

Then this week started and I came crashing back to Earth, where Real Life was waiting for me with its arms crossed and an unamused look on its face. I’m teaching my first week of spring classes, there are deadlines for my newspaper, and most importantly, it’s time to get cracking on revisions to my novel.

Oh dear. The novel. I haven’t posted about my novel in a long time, mostly because I’ve been dragging my feet.

It’s nothing like Beware the Hawk. It’s a literary fiction piece that currently clocks in at 272 pages, and that’s only the first draft. I’ll be honest. I’ve been avoiding it, submitting it piece-meal to my writing groups and wincing at the critiques. I have all of those comments and critiques in neatly labeled manila envelopes in my office upstairs.

I did sit down a few times this past fall and attempt to start a second draft. I also did some research, but for some reason,the task of actually revising the novel has seemed intimidating. There is so much feedback and I don’t know where to start.

But one of my 2012 goals is getting the novel revised by April. It’s ambitious, but I need I fire lit under me and I’d like to stop worrying about  my project and start working on it. One of my writers’ groups gave me an opportunity to get moving on the revisions in January when they suggested that I give them the entire first draft to read.

I think I might have broken out into a cold sweat when one of the people in the group said “Maybe it’s time for us to see the whole thing,” but it is a good idea, because I need to read it – from front to back – as well. I’ve only really read it in pieces, partly because I can’t read it without getting bogged down in a scene I think needs fixing, and partly because I’m afraid I will read it and decide that the whole thing is terrible and can’t be fixed and I’ve wasted a year of my life on it.

I know that last fear is adolescent, melodramatic and irrational (I graduated  from my MFA program with this book as my thesis, so it can’t be that bad) but that’s what I think every time I open the file to start revisions.

So I’m not opening a file this time. This morning I ordered five printed copies of the draft from Lulu. Three are for my writing group. One is a spare. Most importantly, one is for me. When it comes in the mail, I will sit down and read the whole thing from cover to cover. And then, I’m willing to bet, I will no longer be afraid to revise.

Making time for work, or, This novella ain’t gonna revise itself.

Today, I’ve spent a lot of time dodging people, and trying to make the time to write and revise. It’s imperative that I make the time work today, because I have a half-revised novella on my hands, and I’m due to send it out next week. The prose ain’t gonna polish itself, amirite?

But for some reason today has not been a day of quiet, thoughtful work. It’s been an obstacle course. My phone is ringing. The dog is needy. My neighbor would like to talk to me, right now. Another neighbor has decided to start mowing his lawn with the loudest lawnmower ever invented. My husband, busy with his own job, needs me to run an errand. On that errand, I run into people who want to speak with me and ask me how my summer has been and what plans I have for fall. When I come back, my cat has decided to impress me by attempting to eat a Nintendo DS charger. Sweet lord.

I understand that none of these (except for the charger-eating cat) are unreasonable things. Running an errand while my husband is busy is no big deal, it’s good that my dog is affectionate, and most people actually like to make small talk. It’s polite. They’re being nice. I’m the unreasonable one.

None of the people I met this morning know that I’ve been revising in my head since I woke up. None of them know that while they are talking about their plans for the rest of August, I’m thinking Do I just cut out the first two pages? But then how can I make the opium den believable? And do I really have to lose the part about the chickens on the Fung-Wah bus? I mean, come on. Everyone likes chickens.

No. The people I met this morning just think I’m a rude, distracted-looking woman who hasn’t showered today, and was late for my errand thanks to two wrong turns and a near accident. It’s probable they think I have a decreased mental capacity, or that I’m insane and need to be confined.

Evidently I think I need to be confined as well. Right now I’m holed up in my office, hunched over my laptop. I’ve seen myself in the mirror. I look like a crazy person. Maybe we should pad the walls in here.

Why am I writing this instead of revising? Two reasons.

First, because I need to vent. I’m afraid that if I don’t vent, I’ll burst into tears and shriek Leave me alone, I’m thinking about chickens and whisper videos, dammit! at the next person who asks me how I’m doing today.

Second, because I think it’s important to write and think about making the time to work. So often, I put off the things I want or need to do because people are calling me, or because I forget that writing is my job, or because I enjoy writing so much that it can sometimes feel like play. But writing is work, and in this case, for me, it’s serious work because someone is waiting for it. This is a discussion writers need to have often, because I think many of us forget that writing isn’t just fiddling around with a pen and paper or a keyboard. It’s serious work, and requires a commitment.

And now that I’ve said all that, I’m hitting the “publish” button and logging out so that I can get to work.

Now.

Revision day.

Today is the day I get down to business. Today is the day I make all adjustments and revisions to my manuscript before sending it off to my faculty mentor.

Revisions = arts and crafts. Those things on the floor are orphaned scenes.

This is a task I’ve been putting off, because it horrifies me. The first draft of this novel is not finished. Revising feels like going backwards. I don’t particularly want to read what I wrote in the first chapters. I hate having to put scenes in order when not all the scenes are written yet. I really hate the idea of making cuts to the manuscript this early in the game.
But since this is for a structured academic program, that’s what I’m going to have to do. And let’s face it: my mentor is probably going to want to read a draft with as few misspellings and typos as possible, so I have no choice but to make the manuscript presentable now.

The good thing is this: By the end of the day, I’ll have a very good idea about the shape of the story I’m trying to tell, and all of my scenes will be, roughly, in order.

So let’s do this thing – no Facebook, no Twitter, no email until I am done revising. I may have my husband unplug our router.

Clean manuscript or bust.