Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How To Revise a Novel: Step #1

(This is the first in a five part series on Revising a Novel. These steps are helpful for after you've finished a complete draft.)

The first step in my revision process is the easiest and the hardest. It's:
After spending a year thinking and writing about these characters and their stories, it's practically impossible to know if what I've written is any good because I'm way too close to it. So I do three things:

1. Give myself plenty of time away from the project.
Easy because, hello, I'm not doing any work! Hard for two reasons. First, it's quite a challenge to stop thinking about these characters. It's like when you break up with someone and try not to think about him. It just doesn't work. Also, I feel sort of ungrounded and purposeless. I might do something crazy like volunteer to bake cookies for a bake sale or paint sets for the school play or do other time-sucking things I've trained myself to say no to recently. I must remember to do the things I want to do during this monthlong hiatus. I have a stack of books I've been waiting to read. I can work out every day to get in shape for our trip to Greece this summer. My daughter is on spring break now, and my sons will be on spring break at the end of the month, so I can spend quality time with them doing whatever they want.

2. Read the work aloud.
I have to wait until my monthlong break is over, but then, when I come back to the book, I'll read the whole thing aloud. Easy because it's just reading. Hard because I'll hear all the parts that suck, and I'll think I'm a hack (for a moment anyway). In my critique group, we submit ten pages at a time, and someone else reads our work aloud. That's even better because when they stumble over a sentence I wrote, I know I've got work to do. And when I happen to get someone who is an excellent reader, and she laughs and sighs at all the right times, and my words simply sing, I think I might be a genius (for a moment anyway).

3. Ask a friend (or two) for help.
Easy if you ask the right friends. Hard if you don't. There are two different kinds of "right friends" for this task. My critique group will give me the most helpful responses. A month from now, I will no doubt walk out of critique feeling like I have a ton of work to do, but I'll know that I can do it. The other people I let read my book at this stage of completion are people who love me and love my writing and will love whatever I give them to read. I'm talking about my sister, my daughter, and my niece. This doesn't mean they won't be able to point out an area or two I can improve. But in general, I know they are my go-to girls for stroking my ego. After all, I worked on this thing for over a year. I need someone to tell me right now that it was not a waste of time. Even better is a comment like the one I got from my sister. "It's the best thing you've ever written, Bren!" Or the text I got from my daughter in all caps with a bunch of exclamation marks letting me know she finished it and can't wait to talk to me about it. Or the look of complete surprise and excitement in my niece's eyes when I handed her the manuscript and offered it to her to read. I've learned the hard way not to give my manuscripts to my mother, husband, or sons. At least not at this stage of the game. I love them, but I don't need to hear, "I'm not really your audience." Or, "It's good." Or worst of all, "I liked it. No really, I did."

So this is where I'm at with IVY IN LIKE. Step #2: See the Big Picture, is coming next. Stay tuned!

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