Digging Into Revision

Back when I missed my deadline last October, I marked off the month of January as what one of my writer friends calls “writing cave” time. No distractions, appointments, or lunches. Just write. Every day. Except Saturday, which is my day with Al.

So six days, flat out, all day, until dinner or until I hit my page target (ten pages a day), or until I burned out. So how’d that turn out? Well, I think I’m going to make it before my trip to Seattle. But there were a few bumps along the road. Some days I struggled to enter the cave at all. I got a cold. Sniff. That was two days. I had burn out days. One or two. I had a problem, a psychological block, which Chuck Wendig (hilarious writer who blogs about writers and writing and other things) would call FAKE WRITER’S BLOCK but I know was just me working out a knotty problem with a character and her situation.

You might guess: it was the sex scene that wasn’t about sex. I finally got it right. But that took a few more days. Other than those things, I wrote most days. I also grocery shopped, cooked, cleaned the kitchen, did the laundry, and dusted and vacuumed the living room and my cave. I’m lucky. Al takes care of the bathrooms. We have three. And he also does a ton of other stuff around here.

When I’d made that January promise, I’d conveniently forgotten about Luke. My book. The one that came out in December that I have done hardly a thing to promote. I mean, really, I have a folder of ideas but that’s it. Everything else, other people did for me, without me asking. I’m lucky twice. Today I posted a picture of the “real Luke” family on Facebook for #TBT. That’s Throwback Thursday for non-FB people.

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It’s  not really promo because I didn’t put it on my author page, but my friend page. I didn’t add a “buy” link or anything. I didn’t even mention Luke or the book. I will get to promo, just not yet. It’s too cold out for one thing! And my Mac is busy doing other things, like writing this blog post. I have kept up my twice a week posting because it’s something I really love to do. But blog posts aren’t really promo…I don’t think social media really works as far as promotion. I like to tweet and sometimes I’ll (rare) throw up a link or quote a review of Luke, but mostly I make a few quick visits to tweeps (Twitter-speak for those of you not on that site) do some RTs (re-tweets) and follow links. Except for the blog, I have spent far less time on social media than usual. As I said, I don’t think it helps sell my books, but it relaxes me and I get to connect with other writers that way.

You know, we all work alone in caves so it’s nice to get out and wave hi every once in awhile. But the way to get the work done is to limit social media and defer all other activities until the pages for the day are done. My limit was ten pages a day but I always went over that. I’ve clocked several thirty-page days. But the thing is, this is revision of a first draft. So those thirty (or however many) pages get edited again the next day.

I remember Louise Erdrich saying that’s how she works from the first draft. She picks up the pages from the previous day and makes them as good as she can before moving forward. I’ve been doing that with this second draft, so it’s a combination of second draft and third round edits. Next I will let the manuscript rest while I’m in Seattle with Owen, then read it again when I return. If I can bring myself to ever leave this little sweetheart!

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Something occurred to me as I went through this month of intense revision. I realized that it was okay to go at a pace that felt natural to me. It was okay not to make my self-imposed deadline. (My editor said “take as long as you need.”) I only have this one life and maybe it’s about more than writing (gasp!) This is, after all, the first month of my formal retirement from teaching college. Writing is now my only job. For the rest of my life. I should enjoy it, not push myself because soon a new semester will be underway. So, I gave myself permission not to finish if it didn’t happen. Yet, it is happening. It was a goal, so I’m happy it’s looking like I’ll meet it, as I’d like to finish this book already and move on to what’s next.

Notice I didn’t say “the next book.” During this month in the cave I realized there’s a lot going on outside. And I want to be part of it. Even though it has a treasured place in my heart, writing has never ruled my world. It’s always been “people first, writing second.” When I was working the day job and wishing for the time of life when I could devote myself entirely to writing, I had no idea that when that day came, I might have other things on my mind. Like a new grandson coming in April. Let’s see, I have a trip to see my first grandson in February. Then in March, two weeks with Al in sunny Florida. New grandbaby in April. Maybe in May I can get focused on writing again. Meanwhile, I’ve got some living and loving to do.

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I’m from Detroit, so not sure how local the MC5 were back in the day. (MC stands for Motor City). They had a couple of hits “Devil in a Blue Dress” and “Kick out the Jams” come to mind. The chorus to “Devil in a Blue Dress” sung fast, was ‘JennyJennyJenny, won’t you come along with me?’ and I’m thinking of it because Jenny Crusie is the writer who taught me everything I know about the craft of writing. And I’m looking back at those old lessons to try to get my WIP in order.

If you want the details on Jenny’s intensive workshop, I talk about our week together here. But back to today at my writing desk. Not a writing day goes by without me taking one of my Jenny hammers, wrenches, or screwdrivers out of the toolbox. Today, I’m going with a suggestion she gave me. This is a paraphrase, but the gist is:

Me: My books are too short. They’re more like novellas. How can I make them longer?

Jenny: One way is to add a subplot. The subplot should support the main plot. They should mirror each other and be entwined in ways important to theme and plot.

Great advice. Working on my second book in the Blue Lake series, I came to the end at about 40K. So of course, I needed a subplot. This was convenient, because I really wanted to write one, but with romance, editors can be picky about subplots. Now that I’m writing “women’s fiction” a subplot and even another point of view or two is not a problem.

So at first I thought, well, I can write the whole subplot as a separate book and then add it in where necessary. I have some experience with this in reverse when I had to pluck a subplot out of another book. That was pretty easy, but the opposite is not. Because really, a book needs to feel whole. Everything needs to seem like it naturally follows from what happened before. And I can’t get the theme/plot/intertwined thing doing the subplot as a stand alone.

So I’ve got three full scenes written and three or four ideas for scenes. My plan was to write out those scenes, but today I’ve decided I’m going to read through my WIP and decide where my supporting characters need to come in and why they are in this story in the first place.

And thanks Jenny for all you do and have done for me and many many other writers.

Galley Edits & Gratitude

As a book reviewer, I learned that “galleys” were the final manuscript, set in print, before publication. Galleys were what we mostly read. They had plain covers and came with an info-packed publicity note. We were always told that we should not quote from galleys unless the publicist agreed. I found that it was okay to quote good stuff but not bad, as it might be fixed in galley edit.

Both author and editor do one final read, and what we are looking for are typos, homonyms, spell check errors, grammar issues. My publisher really does not encourage any other kinds of changes in galley. Glaring oops, yes. Cutting and revising a paragraph or even a sentence, no.

Before I was published, I longed for the day when I would have my own galley edits to proofread. And now I do. I can’t remember doing this on my last book! The Paris Notebook had a different editor, still I’m sure I must have done.

But then, I was not in the middle of organizing a major moving of house. Now I am and I feel the pressure. It may be an insider secret, but after about 25 or so reads of a novel, this writer at least, starts to get bored. Really intensely bored. How ungrateful!

I plan to start my galley edits today, finally, after being distracted by furniture shopping, picking out new towels, and begging the window shade installers to come out with what part of my very large order they have. They said, not exactly no, but “We can be there next Wednesday at ten am to install everything” so I had to say yes. And the furniture, or the greater part of it, will be here Tuesday. I have a new-sized bed. I have not bought the sheets yet, although my pal Ali sent me lots of great stuff online. Great prices too.

See, every time I start to write about the process of writing, it segues into house talk. I have such abundance in my life right now, both with the writing and the new home, that I am simply grateful. And since it’s Sunday, I’m giving even more thanks for this life of mine.

Twitter Inspiration

Found out about National Romance Novel Writing Month, aka NaRoNoWriMo, a little late but decided to jump in anyway. Need all the inspiration I can get for Luke and Chloe, the star-crossed lovers in my WIP. Plus, they’re on Twitter @naronowrimo so I can check in. Got 300 more hard-won words today, and that’s all good. I revised 45 pages as well.

Traditionally, NaNoWriMo is “all new words” but that’s not what I need and I don’t think NaRoNoWriMo cares that I’m in revision mode. For me, that means going through, page by page, and adding to the story, upping the conflict and hotness factor. When I say hotness factor, I’m not talking 50 Shades of anything–I’m talking about the initial attraction between two people who are perfect for each other.

That’s priority one for me. I want the romance to shoot the moon. And when I wrote the first draft, I didn’t take it far enough. (Thank you to my critique group: Vernie Dale, Tom Phillips, and Bob Baker!) The other thing I need to do is flesh out a skimpy subplot that absolutely plays into the main theme of the story and is tightly entwined. In the first draft, that got very short shrift. My writing pals sat in my dining room a week or two ago and helped me brainstorm where the book needed filling out.

Because for me, it’s always about filling in the parts I skip over. Every writer has her weak spot, and that’s mine. What that means in practical terms is the first draft will be short, lots of it will be internal monologue (telling where it should be showing) instead of action, dialogue and conflict. So I need to use what I have but carefully cut the “sitting and thinking” and fill in the right stuff. The best stuff: Action. Dialogue. Conflict.

Revising, I also look at language and try to add color and humor. Cut those cliches right out of my book! One way to do that is to switch the cliche up with a new edge. Thank you Twitter for leading me yet again into inspiration! If you’d like to follow me, I’m @CynthiaHarriso1. I always follow back real people who are not scary:)

The Rocky Road to True Love

Got through 30 pages of revision yesterday. Five hours of steady work. And then last night, I realized they were all wrong. Really wrong. Like, unfixable. In need of swift deletion. The saving grace was that I also knew exactly how to fix the scene sequence. I didn’t have the words yet, but I knew the pattern and how they would follow the romance in a way that makes sense in the overall scheme of the novel.

In writing romance, for me at least, the most difficult, delicate part of the plot is keeping the lovers apart for most of the book, and for very good reasons. No misunderstandings or coincidences or other contrived devices will work these days. They are too cliched. So it’s tough to come up with something original that also feels true. However there is one thing a romance writer can do to sort of illuminate the path, and that is track the romance.

My romance was up and down and a bit desperate near the end when I was pursuing word count instead of story content. I want my lovers to progress forward in a smoother way, a more honest and believable way. There are bumps, but the times when my characters find each other, lock into their attraction, and connect in deep soulful (I hope) ways should, every time, ratchet up the love a little more.

Looks like this: first contact, first touch, first kiss, maybe another kissing scene just to keep things interesting, and then, the scene I almost totally messed up yesterday, the very important “almost” scene. And the “almost” scene is exactly what it says. They “almost” have sex. Or as we like to say in the romance biz “make love.”

Thank stars I realized the problem in time. After the “almost” scene, it’s smooth sailing to the already finished love scene I worked on for a very long time. The editor enthusiastically approved that scene and the black moment that follows. From there it’s a short ride to resolution and happy ever after.

Were yesterday’s hours wasted? No. They showed me what was wrong and where I had to go to correct things on the rocky road to true love.