February 9, 2012

The Manuscript That Ate My Soul and Drove Me Bonkers

Months upon months ago, I had a spark for a new book. An A-Ha moment, in Oprah-speak. And so, I opened up my little netbook and started a new document in Word and I let the words rush out of my fingertips. I think I wrote about two-thousand words that first night.

It was a YA alternate history novel. I called it, "Revolutionary."

And I loved it. 

I loved how easily the story came to me. It flowed out of me each time I sat down to write, unlike my other books which required chainsaws and wrenches to yank out of my brain. Gruesome, huh? But not Revolutionary. The voice sang to me on that very first page, along with the characters and the plot. Each day I cranked out one or two thousand words, easy peasy, which was crazy since I'm usually a very slow, very sloth-like drafter. I was utterly convinced that I'd finish the draft in a couple of months, polish it up a little, and send it along to Agent Jim. 

Alas. 

First, I finished the book. That part was awesome. But then...brilliant Agent Jim helped me realize that I needed to switch the POV from first present to third past. The voice just wasn't working. Yeah, all of that easy-peasyness? Not so easy peasy anymore. My book needed a major rehaul.

Cue this:



And this:



And some of this: 



Life lesson for Caroline: Beware of easy peasy! Oftentimes, this means that you're being overly confident! 

So yeah. That was a hard pill to swallow. And I can't say that switching the POV fixed everything in the book. Because, ahem, I'm currently working on "Revolutionary Version 6." Yes, SIX! My easy-peasy manuscript has turned out to be rather difficult. The voice had to change, the romance needed help, the character arcs needed fleshing out, and a lot of other things in between. Now, it's sort of funny  to read my very first draft and laugh at myself for thinking I was *thisclose* to being done with it. 'Cause it was a hot mess!

Humility. I haz it now. 

As I near the finish-line for this revision---just one more round of beta readers before I send this thing to Jim!---it has been helpful for me to look back on these months upon months of drafting and revising, and to figure out what I've learned. 

1. A good agent is worth his weight in gold. 
I'm really, really grateful for Jim. Some agents may have taken a look at Revolutionary Version 1 and told me to work on something else. Or cut me off altogether. But he never did such a thing. He gave me insightful comments and he gave me some tough love. 'Cause I'm sure it isn't easy to tell a writer to change the entire POV of a novel, but I needed to hear that. In the end, the book is so much stronger for it. And that's because of Jim's sharp editorial eye. 

2. Get feedback sooner rather than later.
I have a perfectionist tendency to make my manuscript just right before I can send it to beta readers. In other words, I procrastinate. I tweak some words here, switch some paragraphs there, pretty much crippling myself because I'm striving for perfection but I can't achieve it. And so, with my next manuscript, I know I have to let go earlier on, to send my book to my readers so I can get a jump-start on the big structural changes. 

3. But don't get feedback TOO soon!
Haha. Let me explain. On one hand, I definitely need to let go of my precious baby---er, manuscript---but I've also found that if I send out a few chapters to my critique group early on, I just end up fiddling with those chapters instead of finishing the draft. And so, I think my critique-process will change with my next book. Instead of sending out my book in little pieces, I'll send it out in greater chunks (maybe 50 pages?) or perhaps just send out the whole darn thing. 

Anyway, back to the revision cave I go! But what about you? What are some lessons you've learned with your drafting/revising process?

11 comments:

  1. I just finished changing the POV for my book. Yeah, it wasn't as simple as changing her to me. But like you, wow, it made a big difference!

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    1. Wow, high five for the both of us! Switching POV definitely isn't easy!

      We must grab lunch or dinner soon! I'd love to hear more about your book!

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  2. Life Lessons I Have Learned: You need to finish this book already because I miss seeing your face.

    Also, Anna-Marie and I demand to read it. We will link arms and chain ourselves to trees and everything, but we're gonna make this happen somehow.

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    1. I must see you soon!!! I miss your face. And I hate that Anna-Marie has to live all the way in California. Booooo!

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  3. I almost feel bad laughing at this post because this revision sounds painful...but then you put in all those hilarious gifs and I couldn't help myself.

    Good luck, C! I know you'll get there. Sometimes revisions make you want to claw your eyes out, or, as you said, they just jump right to eating your soul. ((hugs))

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    1. Haha, it is so much fun to find silly GIFs! I think i can waste hours of my day doing just that.

      Thanks, too! Man, I can't wait for this revision to be over. :)

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  4. Home stretch! Yay for revisions. I think we ultimately went on submission with Midnight Thief version 7.0 (I queried with version 5.0). I'm curious -- what was it about the first person POV that wasn't working?

    I've learned quite a lot as well from my drafting and redrafting. Jim does have a good eye! This is what I worked on in my revisions , and this is what I'm doing differently as I start my second novel

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    1. Ohh, fascinating posts, Livia! Thank you so much for linking to them! It makes me feel better that you went on submission with version 7.0 of your novel. I'm not alone in this club! Haha.

      To answer your question, hmm... I think my first person POV just sounded too young and a bit too silly. I could have just darkened the POV--Jim made that suggestion too--but I think I write better in third person so I thought it would serve the novel better.

      I'm really loving the change though! I think the tone matches the dark setting of the book a lot better.

      By the way, I've already told you this, but I can't wait to read Midnight Thief! It sounds so cool!

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  5. Hahaha!! I *just* learned something very similar. When you think you're ready--you aren't! lol.
    And YAY for awesome agents! <3

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  6. I had a similar moment with a short story I just completed. Betas are so wonderful. And for my novel, I leared to delete characters who didn't do the story justice.

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  7. Good luck with the rest of your revisions! I wrote the first half of my current book during my MFA program so I got constant feedback. I think with my next book, I'll wait until I've written larger chunks (or the whole thing) before sharing it with my critique group.

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