Monday, June 18, 2007

Revising, Part Two

Last week I referred to the continuum of emotions about revising and said I was closer to the "root canal" end than I'd like to be--I'm happy to report that I persevered anyway and made good progress (2500+ words). I took the whole RE-VISION mantra to heart and allowed myself to drift in the mind of my main character (and no, while it might have looked like all I was accomplishing was upping my winning percentage on Spider 2 solitaire, be assured, I was working. Slaving away.)

So much of writing is about control--I get to orchestrate the lives of the characters, I pick the setting, I determine the conflicts, I get to resolve the issues. I even pick names. I set writing schedules for myself, I tally word count, I run spell-check, I choose who I ask to read drafts. And I like being in charge. I mean, so much of our lives we aren't bosses of--even when we think we are (if you don't believe me, have a teenager. Or five. Toss in a golden retriever). However, when it come to revision, I find I have to cede that control a bit. I have to slow down, let my mind wander (maybe play some solitaire--thanks Kristy!--), and let the story take over. In doing so, I discover what the characters want me to know and where the story needs to go without my pulling all the strings.

So, this week I'm following Kate and Virginia where they want to go. I'll let them tug at my sleeve and whisper their truths to me in the early light of morning and softening darkness of twilight. And I'll make sure their truth flows through my pen.


Larramie said...

Enjoy where their journey takes you, Judy. And, if you're not thrilled with the destination, there's still the power of your ultimate control! Have fun.

Lisa said...

I've always wanted to ask a published novelist this question about book number two. Like most debut novelists, you worked on All The Numbers for several years before it was published. I've been fortunate to be able to watch as you and a number of the other authors tackle book number two. What kind of time constraints are you under? Are there negative consequences to not meeting deadlines? Are you allowed to say "I need more time -- I'm not happy with this yet"? How much does it stress you out or hinder your creativity? If any or all of these questions fall into the "none of your beeswax" category, then just slap me and I'll shut up :) I've just been feeling sympathetic to all of you from afar because it has got to be an enormous change from how you worked on your first book.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Larramie--you're right--I finally get to be the "bossy big sister" rather than the youngest kid I am in real life.

Lisa--great question(s). My situation might be a bit different from some of the other debut authors you know because I don't have a multiple-book deal; my publisher has "right of first refusal (they get to look at it first) but neither of us is obligated to the other beyond that. That said, I love my publisher and will do everything I can to continue working with them. So, the only deadline I have is imposed by me.

Still, I found I had to rethink my sense of myself as a writer when I started working on my second book--I wrote ALL THE NUMBERS as a labor of love. It was something I simply had to do. I had no idea if it would ever be published, but that wasn't why I wrote it. I taught for a living, I wrote for love. Then, miracle of miracles, I had an agent and then an offer from a publisher. My husband and I decided this was my one big shot so I left teaching to put my all into promoting the heck out of the book. Suddenly, writing wasn't just a labor of love but my job. Once I got past the fear and stress, I found a new rhythm and routine.

In some ways, since I don't have a contract yet, it's all up to me (similar to when I sat down to write the first book). I will say that there is a new stress/fear this time around though--I don't want to be a "one book wonder"--so I put pressure on myself at times to get this one done and make it better than the first. And some writers say you have to publish every year . . . well that's not going to happen with me . . . but my goal is every two years and I'm still on track for that.

Lisa said...

Thank you for sharing that with me and I am sure your second novel will be every bit as wonderful as your first. A goal of having a book every two years seems almost reasonable :) All good things take time (IMHO) and whether or not the added pressure of a deadline helps or hinders is completely dependent on each person, I'm sure. It is wonderful that you've published your first book and that it's given you the opportunity to focus all your energy on your second. I haven't given myself any deadlines for milestones, primarily because I do have a full time job (more than that lately -- it's a busy time of year for me) and stealing time to write is so hard right now. But I do a little every day and I'm hoping the upcoming writers' retreat and the novel workshop in August will mark a turning point for me. Thank you for always being so generous and sharing your experiences with us. Keep up the great work. I know you're working on something fabulous :)

The Writers' Group said...

Judy, I was going to comment on your post, but Lisa's question evoked such a fascinating response. I'd love to hear more about this whole process. I really admire your ethic and purpose.


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Amy and Lisa-

I think you've just helped me firgure out what to blog about next . . . so later this week I'll post about writing that second/next book and all that's invloved.

Thanks! (I'm always looking for bloggable ideas!)

Therese said...

Judy, I'm glad to read this post; I agree, it's important for writers to sometimes relinquish control and let the subconscious have a turn driving.

And Lisa's questions (and your answers) have me thinking about how you and I might compare and contrast our experiences with novel #2...

Email me if you want to try doing something concurrently!

reality said...

Hi Judy,
Please carry on with how you deal with revisions.
I fear them, well you said it; like a root canal. And I haven't had one in my life. No root canals and no revisions.
But I'm close to revision time. And I'm terrified.
Valuable post for me.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Hi Reality--glad you found the post helpful--more will follow I promise (since I tend to blog about what's on my mind . . . and I'm in the middle of revising/writing/polishing/editing).

Also, on Sunday, Therese Fowler and I will both be blogging (or should it be each? Hmmm.) about the process of working on the second novel.

Lisa said...

Hooray! Can't wait to see that one :)

liz fenwick said...

Great post and great comments! I look forward to hearing more about the journey to book two.

It's funny about what you said about control...With the move pending and all the cards still floating above us I have sought and enjoyed the refuge I have found in this rewrite. I am in control here yet I do give my character freedom which is empowering too :-)

Larramie said...

As Kristy Kiernan (paraphrasing here) has said, an author only comes out with a debut novel once. And I'll add, if you're fortunate that book will give you a career!

Looking forward to Sunday.

Larramie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
reality said...

What a great quote. I'll have to keep that in mind.

Judy it is a pleasure to have found your blog. I'll be checking in on a regular basis.

Bev Marshall said...

Judy, I stopped by to read your posts and am struck by the timing. I spent all morning re-vising two chapters of the novel I'm currently working on. I'm aided by the written comments from seven smart people in my writers group, and I can't say enough how valuable they are. You met some of them at the TWF in New Orleans, so you know how savvy they are. They see errors and problems I'd never see no matter how many times I go over the manuscript, and I'm blessed to have them in my life.

Too, to the writer asking about pressure on second books . . . I published the second novel I wrote first, continued revision on the first one and sold it in a two book deal. I felt enormous pressure on that third book because I had a delivery date and I didn't want to have to ask for more time. Book four is under consideration, but the one I'm enjoying writing the most is the one I'm writing now. The pressure is off no matter what happens with book four. I took a very long break before beginning this book, and I think that helped immensely. Most writers I know are far too hard on themselves, pushing beyond their limits, striving to produce and please others when sometimes we should just be kind to ourselves. I remember Dorothy Allison saying once how she hated to hear a reader ask, "So when's your next book coming out?" I get that a lot, too, and now I just say "Whenever someone publishes it."