Posts Tagged ‘revising’

I’ve been riding horses, off and on, since I got my first paycheck out of college. One of the reasons I can still get on and (kind of) giddyup after years away from the barn is because I had great instructors. No matter how high my rent was, or what odd expenses came my way, I almost always managed to scrape together the money for a weekly lesson. One woman I rode with for over 10 years — she helped me find the first horse I ever owned free and clear, she taught me how to fall, she even came to my wedding, one of the few times I saw her dressed in something other than boots and breeches.

Another instructor helped me regain my confidence after some bad falls. She taught me how to observe what the horse was saying, not just what I wanted him to do. A third found me my dream horse and went out of her way to bring us together. Although there were other teachers, these three are the ones who mattered the most.

I’ve moved on from that part of my life, but I still remember them all every time I climb into a saddle, and at other moments as well. I learned so much from them, some of it about riding, most of it not.

My new instructor is funny and sharp, with her own ways of teaching, her own equine hangups.  She’s threatening to get a video camera system, so she can show those of us in her class how we really look, not just how we appear in our own heads. And it’s true — the way we think we ride, straight and tall, loose and limber, isn’t the reality at all. This week, something she said reminded me of an exchange I had a long time ago with my first instructor, who had seated me on a horse that was ready to leave the ground at any moment.  She kept telling me to turn him in circles and not to throw away my outside rein.  After the fifth or sixth time, I remember snapping that I was using the outside rein just #$#$ fine, thankyouverymuch.

“Well the horse disagrees,” she snapped back. “And so do I.”

In my last lesson, the current instructor was trying to help me get the horse on the bit going forward, and suddenly, I could hear the old instructor yelling at me not to give away that rein.  From the distance of 10 years or so, it suddenly made perfect sense.  So I shortened up the rein when I was turning, kept the tension in it as we circled, and voila! I had a horse on the bit, moving forward nicely.  (At least, that’s what I’m choosing to believe in lieu of videotaped evidence.)

Revisions in writing can be a bit like riding. How you think it looks, how it appears in your own head, can be radically different from what is actually on the page. If you have beta readers, resist the urge to tell them “That’s exactly what I’ve done,” if they suggest you need to tighten up the plot, increase the love interest, or ground it in a more realistic setting. Remind yourself that you’ve asked for their advice because you have respect for their abilities and judgement. Say “thank you” to them and as little as possible of anything else. Then put their comments away, along with your manuscript, for as long as you possibly can.

When you come back to it with fresh eyes, you just may see that they were right.

Such bad form, but such a happy girl!

Such bad form, but such a happy girl!




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I’ve finished a project.  It feels odd to type those words, because I’ve been working on it for so long. And of course it’s not really finished — it’s just resting with someone else for a bit.  I’m nervous and anxious and a bit at a loss for what to do with all this mental space.  I finish a freelance project and turn around to poke some words on my manuscript into place and remember that I’ve sent it off. I pick up a book to read and don’t have to put it down because it’s 10 p.m. and I haven’t made my word count for the day.  I can read my favorite authors again without worrying I’ll be influenced by their voices.

What will I do with all this head room?  For now, I’ll let it be.  I’m organizing my physical space — I promised myself if I finished writing this month I’d clean my office and closet (how sad is that for a motivating goal?) — and in a bit I’ll organize my brain,  too.  I’ll read plotting books, research the idea for a story that’s whispering in my ear, and maybe take a few workshops.  But for now, I’m trying to let my brain be still, let the writing muscles rest so that they’ll be ready when I need them again.

What do you do with the space between projects?Image

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IMG_1402If I squint, I can just see the end of this book I’ve been working on for such a long time.  It’s there, misty and unformed, but close enough to touch — hopefully sometime in the next few weeks. After I’ve written those blessed last words  — The End — I’ll take a week or so off, and then start in on … revisions.

Yep.  “The End” doesn’t ever seem to mean the end.  It just means the beginning of the next stage. I always find it helpful when other writers share their processes, so here’s what I’ll be doing:

1) This novel has multiple POVs, so I’ll pull each one out, make it a single document, and work on making that voice as strong and consistent as possible. (See more here.) Starting my revision this way has the added bonus of making the manuscript seem fresh and new to my eyes.

2) I’ll put the manuscript back together and face down the abyss with the help of Elana Johnson, who gives my go-to advice on revising here. 

3) I’ve been sending the manuscript to my awesome first reader in chapters all year, and she’s been sending it back with comments. The proper response to anyone willing to help critique your manuscript is a big fat “Thank You!” but sometimes advice is hard to read. So I stick comments I might question in a separate folder and let them simmer there. I’ll do one last read through that folder, and be amazed at how much great advice she’s given me. That means another round of edits.

4) Time to send it out to my regular reader (if she’ll have me) plus a fresh pair of eyes.

5) Repeat.

That’s my summer vacation — what do you have planned?

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