Monday, February 14, 2011

Dream-Revising vs. Actual-Revising

My last post was about how I'm taking all kinds of life detours while trying to write a first draft of a new novel, thus slowing my progress but making life pretty darn interesting. Here's proof that those life "detours" are time well spent:

My agent told me she thought I was on the right track with my revision, and she asked me if I could intensify one event and move it up in the timeline of the story. It was excellent advice, but I had no idea how to actually do it. The event happened because of all the things that led up to it. And because of the event, the story came to its natural conclusion. How was I supposed to move the event to the beginning or middle of the story?? I was stumped.

That night, I woke up at 3:30 with a headache, so I took my favorite headache medicine, Excedrin Migraine. (which, by the way, I was taking when I plotted the idea for my new ya novel. I swear, that stuff has some creative magic in it.) Anyway, as I was trying to fall back asleep, I was thinking about my agent's suggestion, and I was searching for the solution. Then, bam! It hit me. I don't have to actually move the event. I only have to move the impact of the event. In other words, my main character can be telling the story from that moment, as opposed to telling it all chronologically as the story unfolds. Where did this solution come from? E. Lockhart, the author who spoke at the fabulous retreat I attended! She calls it a "tent pole structure." It also comes from reading some books recently that use this technique. Would I have come up with this answer without those so-called distractions? I doubt it.

I spent the next four hours in bed, in and out of sleep, revising the book in my head. I even came up with a new title. The book was practically written, and my headache was gone!

The next day I went to a coffee shop to get to work. This would be a piece of cake. I mean, I had already done all the hard thinking-work last night in bed.

I opened my document, gave it my new title, and stared at the first paragraph. I love my first paragraph. It's just right. I spent forever crafting it. So the fact that it took me a full hour to have the guts to cut it shouldn't upset me. But it did. Why is dream-revising so much quicker and easier than actual-revising?

First drafts, revisions, publishing... it all takes longer than you want. (Case in point: I wrote my picture book The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine's Day Ever in 2002, sold it in 2007, and it will be out in 2013!!) But who really cares? Things take as long as they take. Why would I expect anything worthwhile to be quick and easy?

So... I hereby vow to stop focusing on how long things take and instead to put my energy into trying my best, learning each day, enjoying the creative process. It might be cliche, but it's true: We shouldn't count the days; we should make the days count.

Friday, February 11, 2011

How Not To Write a First Draft

I'm in the dreaded middle of the first draft of a new novel. And I'm doing everything wrong. So if you want to succeed as an author, feel free to learn from my mistakes:

1. When your agent contacts you about your manuscript that she's submitting (the one you thought you were finished with), DO NOT come up with the perfect way to revise it now.

2. And whatever you do, DO NOT start that revision, even if you think it will only take a week or two.

3. DO NOT go to an incredible writing retreat where you'll learn so much about writing that you'll realize everything you've written so far in your first draft is complete dreck.

4. DO NOT meet talented and personable authors at said writing retreat and then go home and check all their books out of the library.

5. And absolutely, positively, DO NOT start reading their books.

6. DO NOT go to another event where a funny author whom you admire talks about what makes humorous picture books work.

7. And definitely DO NOT get inspired to write a picture book now.

8. When your husband asks how the writing is going, DO NOT tell him the terrible horrible truth, unless you want him to back up in fear, hide the sharp objects, and keep his distance from you for the rest of the evening/week/month.

9. If a special holiday is coming up, like Valentine's Day for example, DO NOT spend time creating the perfect gifts and cards for everyone in your family. Even if it makes you happy.

10. In other words, if you want to finish a first draft of a novel, DO NOT let life interfere.

I'm serious.

Your family doesn't really need you.

And you don't really need to enrich yourself as a writer, or a reader, or even as a human being.

I'm telling you, if you let life interfere with that first draft, you will never finish. Ever.

Well, maybe you will finish eventually.

But it will take you a long time. Longer than you expected. Longer than you want. And it will be harder than you ever imagined. Because writing is hard. There are no shortcuts. There is nothing quick and easy about it. And because life is complicated and funny and tragic and beautiful and busy, and if you're living it right, it will impact everything you do.

But. If you stick with your manuscript and work on it a little bit every day, no matter how long it takes you, no matter how much life interferes, at some point, you'll finish that first draft.

And then?

You can revise.