Monday, February 28, 2011

I Pick things up and Put them Down

Have you seen that commercial? Where the guy, a big beefy guy, walks around the gym (I can't remember the name of the gym), and all he can say is "I pick things up and put them down" in an Ahnold accent?

I don't know why I chose that title - I first wrote "Tearing down and building up again" as the title, but that commercial jumped into my head, so I went with it. Anyway, that's what I'm talking about - revising. Revising is different than editing, different than polishing. More like Rewriting the Whole Dang Book.

About a month ago, I had a conversation with a really great editor at a big NYC house. He had read my WIP, and was giving me suggestions. Other people had told me things like "the voice didn't grab me", or "it just didn't work for me". I had gotten a really detailed agent rejection the week before - which, as rejections go, was like finding gold. And this editor, we talked for half an hour and I had a page full of notes, most of which required me to completely rip the book apart and rebuild it. "It's too old-fashioned." Which has a lot to do, I discovered, with balancing historical accuracy and modern sentiment. That's a whole other blog post.

Which sounds scary. And it was scary. It took me about a week to figure out how I was going to make it work. Parts of the story could stay, there are a few bits that haven't been completely rewritten - most people LOVE the first chapter, so that's stayed, with just a few tiny modifications. These revisions required a complete shift in the focus of the book. Once I found that, though, things seemed to fall into place. I have more action and a darker tone. My female MC is much spunkier. I've taken out what one person called 'the melodramatic slobbering" (and it was too - what WAS I thinking???).

The point is that sometimes you just HAVE to tear it all down and build it up again. The old version of the story was good, in that it was well-written and had a lot going for it. Even the agent who wrote the long rejection said there was a lot to like, and I've tried to keep all those bits. But in th end, it was quieter than I had originally intended, and I just needed a little direction to help me find where I went wrong.

I could have decided to not take any of their suggestions, stuck to my guns and decided that I liked it just the way it was. And I DID like it. There are writers out there who feel that anyone who makes suggestions must be trying to change their voice, or whatever. It's called Golden Word Syndrome, and I've fortunately never suffered from it. Many of those writers that do, well, they keep on stacking up rejections. Not that every editor is right, not that every suggestion is perfect, but it pays to listen and think about the advice, and then decide if it wouldn't be better to change it.

And this is the beauty of computers. I kept the old version, saved a new file, and was brave and tore it all apart and I'm building it up again. You know what?

I like it better now. It's not perfect yet, it'll need a little editing, and some polish, and the advice of some beta readers, before I send it back to that editor, but he'll see a whole new story.

Hope he likes it as much as I do.


  1. I believe when you get multiple feedback that is the same about your story, it's best to make the hard changes. However, in the end it is your story and everyone, everyone that reads it will have an opinion. There are writers I've met who've gotten agents, and pub deals without ever having a beta reader, critique partner and you know what, their stuff sold. But it may have been a lot better had they utilized those tools.

  2. The first book I ever wrote and finally sold was written and re-written, changed and made better by advice I received from a series of editors. I belong to a critique group and have discovered that if three of the group have a problem with something I've written, it's time to look at what I've done and see where I can make changes to make the segment better. Good luck with your revisions and the cleaning up.

  3. My first book EARRINGS had something similar happen to it. In my former critique group it seemed like most of the feedback included that Lupe was just too tough and had a major 'tude. I ended up listening and making her softer. Then an editor from a more traditional press send me a rejection letter with a card inside that included his business phone number with an offer to call him if I wanted to go over my story.

    What is interesting is he asked why I had Lupe so 'soft'. When I told him why he said, "What 14 year old doesn't have a mouth? Put it back in."

    I thought about my critique group which was filled with women in their 60s. Of course Lupe would rub them the wrong way. One even told me she'd never let her own daughter talk to her that way.

    Now I take what advice I like and if I don't think it'll work, I won't use it. I also had the experience where one editor totally trashed my first story. I ended up emailing her and saying thanks, but no thanks. Her feedback would have totally changed my story in a direction I didn't want. Plus this one person didn't get 'YA'.

    Good luck with your revisions, Chris.

  4. That was the biggest criticism - why is the FMC so meek? I thought she was behaving according to mores of her time period.

    Well, historical fiction is more about expectations of today than accuracy, I've discovered. Even though it's not what would really happen, we want that girl to break free of her corset and let loose.

    She's getting there.

  5. It's great that you had such helpful conversations. Best of luck in your revisions.