Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Starting Over

During my first semester at Vermont College I started work on a new project, a supernatural YA story. Having never attempted a supernatural work before, I had a lot to learn. I chugged along through the first draft, completing roughly 150 pages. Some of it was sh*tty first draft stuff which Anne Lamott encourages us to ignore, some of it was decent. Towards the end of the semester, my advisor encouraged me to keep going, to push through to the end (I had finished about 3/4 of the story) but I stopped to do a major revision - cutting a character. That done, I was fairly content with my work. Obviously, it was a first draft and I knew I'd have to revise. My goal for second semester was to get to the end of the story - to finish it. Alas, that was not the goal of my advisor, Alan Cuymn (pictured with me above in a really bad photo, my eyes are closed and I have serious hat-hair).

When I first got Alan's comments on my packet, I gaped at the pages in disbelief. There was more of his handwriting on the page than there was of my typed words! I curled into the writer's fetal position (you all know what I mean - that horrible place we all go when someone criticizes our work). But after a short while, and a Hershey's Almond Chocolate bar, I was able to uncurl myself, look at Alan's comments with fresh eyes, and see the validity of his comments.

I start the story with a prologue (oh yes, the dreaded prologue about which there is great debate which I'm not going into here). The prologue begins with a very distant third person narrator, almost omniscient, then zooms in on the main character (psychic distance). Alan wanted me to start the prologue over, "get inside the main character's head immediately" he said. "You could try first person" he agreed. ARUGH! Heavy sigh.

So, I started the prologue over. My first attempt was first person, and there was a split decision in this critique group about whether or not I should keep it. I decided to chuck it, though, and wrote it again in close third person. Guess what! I like it! I think Alan's suggestion to get immediately into the character's mind draws the reader in faster and makes her more sympathetic and understandable. I think the writing is stronger and more compelling.

Hey, maybe listening to people who know what they're doing isn't such a bad idea! Isn't that why I enrolled in VCFA in the first place? To listen to people who know more than me? To push myself to become the best writer I can be?

I'm not sure I would call what I'm doing revising - it really is starting over. I don't know if I'll chuck the rest of the 150 pages totally or simply rework them. But I wonder how you approach revisions/starting over? Do you chug all the way through that sh*tty first draft? Or do you stop and revise along the way? Or do you start completely over?

Alan's last words to me when we spoke were, "Remember the writing is supposed to be fun." My first thought was, Yeah, right. But he is right. That's not to say it isn't gut wrenchingly hard, but it is fun.


  1. Yeah. I remember when I used to think "revising" meant--"go in and fix the typos".

    Revising=rewriting. And, yep--it's WORK.


  2. Just discovered your blog, great post. I feel like you just posted my thoughts EXACTLY. I, too, was about 3/4 of the way to finishing my YA/Middle Gradish novel, and to go back, and tackle it, and finish it, UGGGGGHHHH. Daunting to say the least.

    Good luck trying to publish!

  3. Meg

    I thought your revision of the Prologue was immediate - and very compelling - placing the reader directly into the heart of the tragedy. It takes hard work and talent to do this - and the Hersey's chocolate certainly helped too!


  4. I started to a total rewrite of one manuscript, which still went faster with a renewed vision and a lot of the description already there. Then I started over and rewrote that into first person instead of third. Hard work but worth it. Good luck.

  5. My MG novel was a study in constant revision. I'm trying to just plow ahead on my YA -- but I find it to be really hard working this way. I really want to fix things.

  6. Hardygirl - you made me laugh out loud! revising = fixing typos. I love it. I remember those days too.

    Ruby Mama - Thanks for stopping by the Paper Wait. Daunting, yes, but worth it in the end.

    Eileen - The chocolate does indeed help.

    Laura - the renewed vision is like renewed energy.

    J.A. - I really prefer to have things on the right track before plowing forward, but since it had been so long since I'd actually finished anything I wanted to be "done".

  7. I start my novels revising as I go, thinking that will cut down on rewrites later. Hah! I end up tossing and chopping anyway. Rewriting is work. Period.

  8. HG - Yeah, I don't think revising as you go means you revise any less.