Posts Tagged ‘Revisions’

…a first draft.

(I  know, you were thinking of another ending, and, yes, you’re welcome for the ear bug I’ve now left you with.)

Part of the joy of letting a first draft flow is, well, letting it flow, and forcing yourself to just get to THE END. Because as we all know, you can’t have a second draft (or a third, or fourth, or…) until you have a first.

So that’s the good. Now for the bad.

Sometimes re-reading that first draft can be utterly crushing. Sure, there are some good parts–maybe even a high percentage of them–but much like the feeling you have after that second slice of cheesecake, the earlier, blissful sensation of anticipation is drowned in the all-too-real sensation of heartburn. You know you were enjoying yourself at one point, but that delight is gone.

Right now, I have acid reflux. Bigtime. The first few bites of my WIP tasted so good, I couldn’t stuff my face fast enough. Then came a hundred pages/bites in, and Ooof. I put down my fork, I sat back, I groaned.

What had happened?

And then I remembered, this is ALSO the good. You want to find those gaps, those breaks in the flow of your story/character, those albeit painful places where you need major work. Because that’s what makes your second draft your second draft.

I’m taking comfort in this fact as I read on. Comfort, and Tums.

What do you take to get through your first draft?

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Garlic martinis (and endings) should always be shaken*

Every story has an ending, that much is a given. But as to what sort of ending, we can’t ever be sure. Unless, of course, we are writing our story and have control over its resolution. But just like in life, endings aren’t always tidy and they aren’t always as we expect them to be.

Now some stories are expected to have happy endings–or at least, a predictable formula. Disney movies rarely end badly. (Even though they can still start out pretty rough, ie Bambi, Cinderella, Finding Nemo, etc.)

For a writer, the question of how to end our stories is complicated. Do we want to portray real life, and show the unpredictability of it? Or do we want to give our readers the security of knowing that they can expect a sigh of relief as they round the final corner?

But is giving our readers a tidy, shiny, happy ending best serving them?

I don’t always think so. In the first few drafts of Little Gale Gumbo, I went the predictable route.  That’s not to say the story wasn’t without its drama and tension, but the ending always seemed a little too neat, and I came to realize that there was far more emotional impact and staying power in an ending that didn’t leave my characters “settled.” I think we can all agree, there is a certain degree of authenticity that comes from a book with untidy endings; endings where all lovers aren’t reunited, where arguments and riffs aren’t mended, where people die or leave, just to name a few examples.

For myself, I’ve read books that I’ve loved as I read them, but that ended in such an unsettling way that I couldn’t get past my feelings of despair to see beyond it. But is that not the goal of an author? To create a story that will affect the reader, and linger long after the book is closed?

So my question to all of you writers:  How do you like your endings? Have you ever grappled with an ending that was less than tidy, less than happy? How did you resolve your dilemma?

As readers, have you ever found yourself unsettled or even disappointed in an ending because it didn’t end neatly/expectedly?

*Recipe for Garlic Martini

1 oz. juice from Trader Joe’s Colossal Olives Stuffed with Garlic Cloves
1 1/2 to 2 oz. of Gin
shake in shaker with ice, pour into glass with olives

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The mighty first draft. We have such great expectations, don’t we? We all want perfection. We all imagine we will produce a manuscript that makes us smile, laugh, cry and cheer the first time around. After all, if we can’t get it down the first time, then it must not be our true vision, right? We must not be every bit the storyteller we imagine? Right?


Wrong. It just doesn’t work that way.

Well, not for me, at least. And I should know.  I’m fighting the first-draft-blues myself just now.

Now don’t get me wrong–my WIP is delightful, delicious and every bit as juicy as I hoped it would be when I first sank my teeth into it several months ago. But it’s not great. It’s flawed. Hugely flawed. And what’s more is I know it’s hugely flawed, even as I write, and write and write.

But you know what? It’s supposed to be. Because first drafts are supposed to need work. Lots of it.

Now the fall is a big birthday season in our house, so lately I’ve been thinking of story structure and development like a birthday cake.

Bear with me: You start with the basic cake. Say, a simple yellow sheet cake. This sheet cake is your first draft. It’s solid, it’s the foundation of your masterpiece, but it’s not nearly enough on its own. Still, it has to be a good cake or else all the decorations, all the buttercream roses or the piped scalloped edging or the Scooby Doo candles, will not make up for a bad tasting cake. (Not in our house, at least. )

Next is your crumb coat. Draft #2. This is your thin coat to keep those dastardly crumbs from rising to the surface of your beautiful finished product. Again, nothing too fancy or too involved. We’re still working on the foundation here. Evening out the sides, making sure we have clean corners, a nice flat top, etc.

Now with draft #3, we’re finally getting closer to the good stuff. We know we’ve got a strong base so we can begin to apply the final coat of frosting liberally, making sure the surface is the smoothest surface possible. Then, only when we have that smooth surface can we safely and confidently move on to…

Draft #4.The decorations. So get out those frosting bags and go for it. Put the finishing touches on that masterpiece, light those candles, and send it out to be enjoyed.

Now that’s not to say every manuscript will take 4 drafts. (I could have easily used the 14-tiered wedding cake for this analogy–I’ve baked those cakes too, if you know what I mean.) The point is that a first draft is just that. The first. Of many.

So shake off that crumb coat of self-doubt and cuticle-tearing-pressure and take comfort, as I do, that the point of a first draft is to simply get it down. A first draft doesn’t have to be beautiful or tidy or frankly even enjoyable. It just has to be done.

Then you can get to the good stuff.

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Last night my writing critique group got together for the first time (we’re an on-line group) and one of the topics of the evening was to establish goals for the next year, specifically what we hoped to glean from the group for ourselves as writers. The answers were diverse and when I said that I had never belonged previously a writing critique group, all were shocked. One of our members said that he was particularly surprised because he was always under the impression that writers require feedback from a community in order to grow and sustain their writing. I have to admit, I always thought the opposite of writing. For me it has always been a truly solitary experience.

Now don’t misunderstand, I very much love talking about the craft with others, VERY MUCH, but in terms of working on my craft, I always considered the evolution an intensely individual experience. And until our host had posed that perspective, I had never thought of it otherwise. I gleaned instruction by reading the works of other authors, reading articles written by editors and authors on shaping everything from plot to dialog. I read and I wrote. I read and I wrote. But until I submitted a deeply revised manuscript to an agent in a query, I rarely showed.

What about all of you? What do you want from a writer’s group? Mentors on your craft, or friends with whom you can share the joys and frustrations of writing, or maybe even both?

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Good news tonight!

My editor has finished reading the newest draft of LITTLE GALE GUMBO (which includes a new ending!) and she’s delivered a hearty thumbs up! We’re nearly there, she assures me, which is wonderful to hear, because I’m due to deliver the final draft of the novel to NAL in a little over a month. Just a few changes left, she says, nothing huge. I’m relieved, and thrilled. The next step is to make edits using track changes, which means the file is now THE FILE. It’s a brave new world for this kid, but I’m ready. Put me in, coach!

All this sounds like a good excuse to celebrate. (I’m one of those people who needs little encouragement to reward myself–Laundry folded? Let’s open that bottle of red!)

So what’s a better reward than a smooth, tangy slab of  triple cream soft-ripened cheese that’s been nearly melting in room-temperature North Carolina heat?

Presenting, Le Delice de Bourgogne (just imagine an accent aigu over the second e)…

I might use some bread or I might just use a spoon, I’m not entirely sure…

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So, you finally heard back from the agent who has had your partial or your full. You open the email/letter with your heart in your throat. Your eyes dash over the response, catching every other word, hoping to glean the real message as quickly as possible. When you do, your brow furrows. It’s not a no, but…well, it’s not a yes, either.

So what is it?
It’s the mysterious revise and resubmit request.

When I read junebugger’s post today, I was reminded of this often-frustrating but usually-encouraging happening in the world of writing and publishing. So what to do when an agent requests a revision of your manuscript and then offers a second look?
Better yet, what to think?

Let’s look first at the second question: What to think? The first answer is think good thoughts. Agents are busier than ever these days, and inundated with more material than ever. They aren’t offering you ways to possibly improve your manuscript as well as the chance to reconsider it just to be nice.  They are doing it because they genuinely believe there is potential in your work.

So if they believe there’s potential, why not just offer representation outright? Well, an agent-writer relationship is just that: a relationship. Your agent has to know that she/he can work with you, not just your written words. Are you easy to work with? Will you respond professionally, in your dealings with the agent, with potential editors/publishers, with the reading public? Can you meet deadlines? And maybe most of all, how well do you take reviews of your manuscript and subsequent requests for changes?

So when you get that wonderful offer to revise and resubmit, don’t despair. Sure, we all want the offer for representation–that’s the goal–but keep in mind the road to representation (and the road to publication in general) is winding and bumpy and never, ever straight. It’s not a yes, but it’s not a no, either.

So if  the agent’s recommendations for your manuscript make sense to you and are ones you are comfortable making, then by all means, revise and resubmit. And even if the results still don’t garner the offer, always remember that most agents have remarkable memories for material and writers who piqued their interest. A courteous and professional exchange goes a long way down that winding, bumpy road.

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It’s fairly easy to tell when an egg is done. A marshmallow over a campfire. Certainly a pot of coffee–it stops dripping. Even relationships usually offer a pretty clear picture of when they are “done”–even if the participants choose to ignore the signs (think the smell of burning toast).

But when it comes to writing, or many other creative endeavors, being DONE is never a sure thing. Right now I am about to send off a draft to my editor and until the minute my finger presses the send button, I fear I will tweak it within an inch of its life. Now is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Some things can stand to be improved upon (one notable exception: a coconut  Hubig’s Pie, www.hubigs.com) but for a manuscript, when do we say it’s done?

When we press the send button?

When it’s printed?

When someone buys it in a bookstore?

The nature of editing and revision is to, well, edit and revise. But is there such a thing as TOO much fussing? I’m sure. I just need to know WHEN that is.

Any ideas?

Keywords: writing revising hubigs pies

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The sour cherry tree behind our old house must be full of fruit just now, and it will be time for picking. For my husband, the process was always a blustery event, a mad plucking of any reasonably ripe-looking cherry, then I would inspect every single one for even the smallest hint of insect life. (“Is that a worm? Honey, I think that’s a worm.”) It is not so different in our kitchen: he is the wild, carefree chef, slinging onion peels and spraying pepper, while I tidily chop garlic on a miniature cutting board and neatly deposit my ingredients into little bowls.

Revising a manuscript is not so different. There is a time for cutting with abandon (Kill your darlings, the phrase all writers know and take great comfort in sometimes) and a time for mincing with a finer blade, or in the case of cherry-picking, filling your container with anything remotely ripe, then sorting through your bounty with a more critical eye towards the sour cherry coffee cake you plan to end up with.

I find both methods to be satisfying, if not at times, challenging, and even downright frightening. After many years of revisions, I have come to understand the process and even find peace in the devil I now (think) I know. I often equate it to taking apart an engine (and I am sure I am the millionth person to make this analogy): You start with something assembled, then you disassemble it and even though you know the pieces on the worktable in front of you WILL go back together and WILL result in a working engine, you can’t help but feel that panic of HOW to get them back together now that they sit apart.

So take comfort, rest assured, they will go back together and, best of all, the engine will perform better.

Especially after a slice of sour cherry coffee cake.

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