Category Archives: Revision Work

Revision: How to get started?

After the wonderful news earlier this week that Perceval’s Secret had won the Silver Medal in the “Thriller/Mystery/Horror” category in Connections eMagazine’s Readers Choice Awards 2018 (thank you, Melanie Smith!), I spent some time publicizing the news, and I continue to tell the world (of course!). It’s the first time Perceval’s Secret has won anything — indeed, the first time I’ve won anything! Another effect of this award: my work on the first revision of the Perceval Shadow first draft has become urgent. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, actually, and working through various issues and scenes in my head. But now it’s time to pull out the manuscript and get cracking.

How do I start the first revision?

First of all, as daunting as it might be, it’s not nearly as scary as the blank page all writers encounter when starting a first draft. When the first draft is done, there’s material to work with, to sculpt, to massage, to add to, and to smooth. I have pulled out the manuscript and my working file, what are the next steps?

Steps for First Revision Work  

Read through: It’s been a while since I’ve lived inside this novel, so my first step is to read through the draft. I had printed out a hard copy before. Now, I’ll curl up with it and my purple pen to read it, write notes on the page or on my handy legal pad, and dream about the scenes and characters.

First Chapter: This chapter will almost always need a lot of work (along with the last two chapters of the book). Writing the first chapter can be a nightmare, challenge, or pure joy, depending upon how it goes. What I’ve learned about my own writing is that the first chapter is the most problematic and scares me even more than the ending. I’ve learned that it’s best to pay close attention to what I’ve written, but to not do too much work with revision until after I’ve been through the rest of the book. There will be threads in later chapters that need or have some connection to the first chapter, and I need to know what they are.

What is the purpose of the first revision? Good question. I approach the revision work as steps toward the summit of completion. Each step has a purpose. What each step’s purpose is can be completely up to the writer. For example, one step could be for scene work. Another step could be for narrative structure and character development. Another step could be for line editing. Another step could be for checking for inconsistencies, e.g. a character’s eyes are blue at the beginning and inexplicably brown in the middle of the story. It is helpful to decide at the beginning of revision work what the purpose of each revision will be, and then focus only on that revision’s specified purpose as the work progresses.

The purpose of the first revision of Perceval’s Shadow is scene work. I need to take care of fleshing out scenes including crucial details, looking at character motivation in each scene, and resolving problems within scenes. I expect this will be slow work, and anyway, it shouldn’t be rushed. Because this novel is part of a series, I also need to make notes about what happens in each chapter and how it might relate to action in subsequent books in the series.

How long does a revision take? Forgive me while I have a good laugh at my own question. I’m not a very patient person, and of course, I want the revision to go really fast so I can get on with the next revision. But then I look up at the neon pink sticky note above my desk on which I’ve written “Pay attention.” This is from Zen Buddhism — the goal of staying in the present moment and paying attention in that moment. It’s amazing what can be observed by being still and paying attention. The same holds true for revision work. In order to pay attention to the words, how they build into the structure of your story and the development of your characters, it’s necessary to go slow and proceed with care.

And now, chapter one, page 1….

Who among my readers here are doing revision work right now on a large piece of writing? Do you have your own steps? What is the most frustrating thing about revision work?

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Mid-Year Writing Update

Last week I was working hard on revisions and used all my weekend time for that kind of writing rather than writing blog posts. This week it’s time to take stock. How’s the writing going this year? Any significant accomplishments?

Non-writing Employment: The first three months of this year, I was working hard on the search for a fulltime job after losing the job in December that I’d landed in April 2017. In March, I accepted a fulltime position with a state health licensing board as their office administrative support. It’s a small office (only three of us) and the work doesn’t follow me home which is wonderful. It’s also far less stressful than the previous job had been. The schedule is not very conducive to writing at the computer during the week but I do an awful lot of writing in my head. Being happier and more relaxed at this job has given me more energy to pour into my writing on the weekends. I may still need to sell some possessions for my financial health which is fine — cleaning out the clutter is always good!

Perceval Novels:
Perceval’s Secret remains on sale (only $2.99!) at Amazon and B&N.com. After running a “Free” promotion last spring and seeing where people went to get their copy of the novel, I removed it from Kobo International. The reviews continue to be good to excellent!  I’d love to hear from readers through reviews at Amazon and B&N, or at Goodreads.

I continue to research and plan promotions for 2018.  I participated in a BookBub promotion also last spring that increased my number of followers there. BookBub also provided a list of those followers from that promotion who are particularly interested in thriller fiction.

As for the other novels in the series, I’m now starting to work on the revision of the first draft of Perceval’s Shadow, the second novel in the series. This is the year of revision work!  I’m sure that as I work on the revision, I’ll also be writing notes for the other three novels in the series. It always amazes me how my opening one door in my imagination can also open other doors to other projects.

Marketing: As I mentioned above, I ran a “Free” promotion for Perceval’s Secret this past spring.  I learned that most people gravitate to Amazon despite the book also being free at B&N and Kobo. I wrote about the results of this promotion and my response to it here.

I’ve been happy that people at my new job have been interested in my writing. I know of one person who bought Perceval’s Secret and read it. She talked with me about her response to it and I loved hearing from her! I still need to utilize the marketing tools at GoodReads, LinkedIn and Publishers Marketplace.  I continue to promote the novel on Twitter and Facebook.  I’ve been writing more posts at the Perceval Novels Facebook page, too.  Please go and like it, and visit often for updates on the novels.

New Novel Project: This project remains on the back burner this year. I still plan to transform my original screenplay, Over the Rainbow, into a novel. I love the story, the main character, and the potential of it, so I hope to be able to work on it soon.

Debt from Publishing Perceval’s Secret as an e-book: I finally finished paying off the credit card debt that I incurred when I published Perceval’s Secret. I still have substantial debt, but it’s not from publishing. I don’t know when I’ll publish the novel as a paperback. It’s still one of those things that I want to do but don’t have yet the money to do.

Short Stories: Lots of success to report here! I finished the revisions of Light the Way.  It is now ready to submit. I spent some time researching possible markets for it, and now I just need to pick one and start the submission process. I also finished the revisions of The Negligee. I’ve decided that this short story falls within the horror genre and I need to research markets for it. I finished the first draft of Aanora and two revisions. Right now, it’s in the hands of a beta reader. I expect that I’ll be doing at least two more revisions before it will be ready for publication.  I’ll be very happy to start getting more of my fiction out in the world.

Blogs: I’ve been participating in a blogfest called #We are the World Blogfest at the Eyes on Life blog (as Gina Hunter) for the past year or so, finding positive stories about humanity and sharing them on the blog. That’s all I’ve been writing at that blog and I’ve lost readership there. So, I will probably end my participation and return to my former commentary format with “The Successful Patient” posts as well as the current events and society commentary. I’ve been struggling with time — having the time to work on my fiction — and blog writing has taken more of a back seat to the fiction writing this year. I still continue to write posts here at Anatomy of Perceval on Saturdays.

Essays/Paid Gigs: I’m only now beginning to figure out if I have the time to do some of these personal essays for ClassicalMPR or other online sites. So far this year, I haven’t had the time.

Journal Writing: I’d hoped to establish a regular habit of journal writing every Sunday, but have failed miserably at this.

The Successful Patient Memoir:
Nothing has changed on this project — still on the back burner.

Reading: My daily conmute during the work week gives me lots of time for reading and I’ve been enjoying that aspect of being back to fulltime employment. I shall exceed my 2018 Reading Challenge at GoodReads. Reading is such an essential part of being a writer, and I’ve enjoyed some wonderful and provocative books so far this year. You can check out my reviews of them on GoodReads, and give me a holler while you’re there!

I’m really looking forward to submitting the two short stories and the Aanora novella, and spending the rest of the year on Perceval’s Shadow!

Have You Ever Made Yourself Cry?

After spending all of July 4th working on the first revision of the Aanora story, I wasn’t certain when I’d get that much time again to work on it. I completed over half, exceeding my goal by 18 pages. So it was a good day’s work. Then, as it worked out last weekend, I ended up having all of Sunday afternoon to devote to writing instead of the piecemeal work I usually do on weekends. So I decided to finish the first revision of the Aanora story. And I did.

And I made myself cry.

A complete surprise! As I came to the end of the novella, immersed in that world and the characters, what I’d written made me incredibly sad. I hadn’t thought of it as a sad ending, actually, which is the reason for my surprise. I didn’t think the ending had any kind of emotional punch. It was the ending of that story. Period. But as I was reading that last scene, I started crying, sad for the characters who were saying good-bye. I wasn’t sad that I’d finished the story because I still have work to do on it. I wasn’t sad that I’d never see the characters again because I will.

Now I’m really interested to know how other people will react to the ending, and it will be something I will ask my beta readers. Is it a sad ending?

I’ve wondered also if it’s truly a good thing when something I’ve written affects me emotionally. Is it a good thing when the writing makes the writer laugh? Or cry? Or angry? If it’s someone else’s writing, that’s different. But what about my own writing? If my writing triggers an emotional response in me, does that mean it will trigger an emotional response in readers?

Some time ago, I remember vaguely reading something on the internet somewhere, perhaps a blog post or maybe it was a craft article in a writing magazine, that if a writer’s own words can make herself respond emotionally, especially when the writer knows the characters and story inside and out, it’s a particularly good sign that it will emotionally move readers. What immediately pops into my mind is the opening of the movie Romancing the Stone when Kathleen Turner’s romance novelist character finishes writing a novel in tears. (As a writer, I always wondered which draft she was finishing.) Will it really?

When I finished the first draft, I didn’t cry. I was kind of relieved. I’d finished it. I had already begun to think of the stories that the novella had suggested to me, mulling over when to write them or not, and which one to write first. Then I turned to the two short stories I was also working on. Then I also had a brief period of frustration about working on everything else but not Perceval’s Shadow. It was imperative to leave the Aanora story for a while to ferment. It fermented for 6 weeks during which I rarely gave it a thought. Coming back to it for the first revision felt extremely good, and I was excited to have a whole day to start the work. So my emotional state was not anywhere near where I ended up when I finished the first revision.

Where is Aanora now? I’ve put it away again to ferment some more. I wonder if the ending will make me cry again when I do the second revision?

Rejection, with a side of Acceptance

Believe it or not, rejection is an important part of every writer’s life. No one is immune. I was reminded of this recently when I read the editor’s column in the July 2018 issue of The Writer. Nicki Porter described the reality of writing submissions, whether the submission is to a magazine editor, a literary agent, or an editor at a publishing house, the mathematics are much the same. Each receives hundreds of submissions a week. Porter wrote: “The amount of manuscripts a typical agent receives in a year could fill three train cars, but the amount she accepts will fill a tidy desk drawer — and she’ll successfully sell even less.” Rejection, then, is an important part of every writer’s life no matter if the writer is a beginner, experienced, or an award-winning author.

I tend to look at rejections the same way I look at mistakes: they are opportunities for learning, for improvement. Yes, each rejection hurts initially, but I learned a long time ago that the rejection is never about me personally. In fact, the rejection might not even be about my writing. Sometimes it’s about an editor who has already scheduled to publish a story similar to mine in theme or story. Or it could be that despite my research into the publication, my story just doesn’t fit it. Once, I even encountered the reason that the publication had changed hands and editors with an entire new approach to the magazine.

When I suspect the rejection is about my writing, that’s an opportunity to go through the story with a more objective eye, an editor’s eye, and revise and tighten it as needed. If an editor takes the time to write a note, I pay close attention to what the editor says in that note. There was one time, however, that I dismissed the note — it was from a young literary agent writing about Perceval’s Secret that I’d submitted to his agency for consideration. The agent expressed interest, but wanted me to change Evan Quinn, the protagonist of the novel (and the subsequent 4 novels in the series), to a woman because female protagonists were “hot” and it would be easier for him to sell to a publisher. The agent didn’t say that the character didn’t work as a male, or even ask me anything about my decision to make Evan a male, or any other comment specifically about Evan Quinn or the story. No. It was what I considered an extremely shallow comment that totally ignored the amount of work already put into the book and the amount of work what would be required to change the gender of the protagonist, not to mention how the gender would radically change the story itself. Needless to say, after politely declining to consider the change, I moved on.

Photo: aliyasking.com

So, how can a writer increase his chances that his submission will be accepted for publication or representation? Here are three essential tips I see over and over in articles about gaining acceptance of one’s literary work:

  • Follow submission guidelines to the letter. The guidelines are not there to amuse or frustrate you. The agent or editor has created them to make his or her job easier for processing submissions. I judge scholarship essays every year, and it never fails to astonish me that 25% of the submissions never make it through the first cut because those writers failed to follow the guidelines.
  • Submit polished writing. Never submit first drafts. Just don’t. It takes at a minimum 3 revisions — and often far more — to get a piece of writing into publishable shape. Do ask for help in the form of first readers or members of your writing group to give you relevant and intelligent feedback about your piece. Do not rely on spellcheck or grammar check. Read your piece out loud. That is hands down the best way to catch grammar and syntax issues as well as word choice issues. When you submit polished writing, you are also showing that you are willing to do the work necessary to make your writing the best it can be.
  • Be a respectful professional. Forget the gimmicks. Follow the submission guidelines. Provide a succinct cover letter that includes what the editor or agent requests – nothing more, nothing less. If you receive a rejection, resist the temptation to fire off an angry or derisive e-mail in response. Doing that marks you as a disrespectful amateur. Every submission is like a job interview for your writing.

Each writer possesses a unique view of the world, a unique writing style, and unique stories to tell. Be true to the process and honor your own uniqueness by writing what you are compelled to write in your own voice. And while you’re at it, forget what other writers are producing or how other writers’ careers are progressing and focus on your own writing life and work. After all, that’s where you are.

Where I write

 

Revision Work, or, Now the Fun Begins!

Two weekends ago, I finished the first draft of the Aanora novella. I printed it out, tucked it into the working file, and there it has remained and will remain for at least another 2 weeks. Last weekend, I worked on my short story “Light the Way,” tweaking certain parts and checking on the use of language in it. I think this story is about ready for submission, and my next task for it is to develop a list of publications for it. This weekend, my plan is to tackle another short story that needs far more work. It has been drifting through several rewrites because I can’t seem to settle on what the main character is truly about. This morning, while getting dressed, I was thinking that maybe I needed to give her more vulnerability than I have in previous drafts.

Revision work. Probably the real work of creative writing.

A recent article in The Writer about something unrelated to revision sparked some ideas for me for this problem story. I realized that I needed to get to know the main character better. She has been a cypher to me really, and I think that’s been a huge problem. Next, I realized yet again that withholding information creates suspense or tension. There’s an element in this story that I think I introduce far to early. One of my early drafts kept this element hidden, with only hints and glimpses through most of the story. I’m thinking that my original impulse regarding that element was probably correct. And third, I’ve always known that the main character was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, but I’d been waffling, I think, on whether or not she’d accepted that fact of her life and if she had, what was she doing to heal? I’m fascinated by the psychological and behavioral results of untreated PTSD which is often a result of early childhood psychological and physical trauma. So does this character accept American society’s reluctance to face the ugly fact that PTSD is not only something combat veterans and disaster survivors experience, or does she push against that reluctance?

These are good questions. When approaching revision work, questions are a writer’s friends. Questions generate thought and ideas. Questions could have answers or just more questions. The process of working through questions can untangle the worst of a messy draft. The important thing is to open to those questions, let them percolate in the mind (and the imagination), and to be patient. I have a post-it note above my desk that reads: Trust in the process.

The following 4 questions are also on a post-it above my desk and are essential for narrative structure as well as character development:

  • What does the character want in terms of this story?
  • What is the character willing to do to get it?
  • What is the character’s primary emotional vulnerability?
  • What is the character’s biggest fear?

These questions address the main character, but they can also be asked of all the rest of the characters, especially those that are potential or actual obstacles to the main character.

Every writer has his or her own way of approaching the revision process. In my experience, there is no right or wrong way, only the best way for each writer. I need a lot of thinking time, as well as time to noodle around with the questions that I have, time to play with possibilities without feeling I must commit to any one direction. I’ve only just begun thinking about this particular short story this weekend. It will probably take many more weekends before I’m satisfied with the answers that my imagination provides for me.

Evan Quinn has been nagging at me as well. Last weekend I was writing notes for Perceval’s Shadow and thinking about my approach to its revision process. But Evan knows he needs to be patient and let me get this short story revision done first. (With a fulltime job now, it’s impossible for me to be working on more than one writing project at a time.)