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.

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