the hardest revision ever

Cutting and piecing and sweating…

Recently someone offered to read my first YA novel, Strength, along with the query letter, and offer me feedback. She didn’t offer once, but a handful of times, and last week she sent me an email asking where my book is — she’s waiting.

After her offer I opened my query letter and totally changed it. I was mortified to think I actually sent it out to a handful of people. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why I didn’t hook an agent. The thing is, after looking at the query letter and revising it significantly I was a little afraid to look at the story again. So I avoided it…until her email came.

Mary Helen, one of the members of my writing group, read the book last July, after I sent my first batch of queries. Her response kind of made my gut wrench. She suggested the story start in a different place…or at the very least I increase the tension in the first part of the book. But I already cut the first 50 pages, I don’t know where else to start the story!ย (This could have sounded a little whiny.) Still, Mary Helen’s suggestion was one of those little seeds that took root and grew. I let it grow because I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the story. So I avoided it. I didn’t open it. I put all of the hard copies in a box and put the box high up on a shelf. I worked on something else.

And then that email last week…from someone with experience in children’s publishing…who wants to read my story. Big gulp. Then a snow storm and school was closed. Deep breath. A tiny click. And the story was opened.

All day I worked on the beginning. All day. Soon the difference between writing well and crafting a story became real to me. The writing wasn’t terrible, but at the same time, the story wasn’t right. So I grabbed an orange Flair felt-tip pen and began to cross out and jot notes and cross out more. I began to connect parts that were originally pages apart. Soon I had my computer out and was piecing together the beginning. I kept my Flair pen moving until I wasn’t crossing out chunks of text. It was then I knew I had a new beginning — the beginning the story needed. Thirty-nine pages became 19.

It was the hardest revision work I’ve ever encountered. I sent it out to my writing group and was affirmed when Mary Helen sent me a response that confirmed this is the beginning the story needs. She then commented on the first four pages and wiped away the sting of revision. Maybe I can do this after all, I thought. Honest feedback coupled with affirmation and giving the story space and time to simmer are lifelines for me as a writer. Once again I’m learning I can’t rush this process, but at the same time I need gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) nudges to keep going.

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12 Comments »

  1. I'm so glad to read about this moment – I'm going to pass it on to a friend of mine who is in a similar place – give her inspiration to get brave and poke her heart back into the process

  2. It's so nice to read about your “struggles” and know that other writers have to let things simmer for awhile. It makes me sad that I can't give students much simmering time, though.

    And I love that you used orange flairs! Flairs are one of my favorite writing tools. I buy them every chance I get and go through many of them in the course of a year!

  3. I love reading about your processing and work you do with your book. I know it's hard and painful, but that is what we need to share with students. Slip, slap, it's done is not the way to get it right. I am in awe of all the writing you do.

  4. Wow-what courage, & you shared this with us, too. I am glad to get the details, makes me understand why I'm looking at a sentence over & over again, but also I'm envious that you have such a supportive group. And I'm excited for you, that you have a book! With a title! It's on its way!

  5. I'm with Linda. You are so lucky to have such as supportive writing group. I was so glad to hear about your process. Revising such a lengthy text seems so daunting to me.

  6. Ruth,
    What bravery! It's so hard to listen to the tough comments but they paid off for you. I love that you documented your process.
    Bonnie

  7. It sounds like you are surrounded by all the right kinds of support. I know it seems like you are just lucky that way, but I know better. You work to support others and they are more than happy to reciprocate. I am enjoying every step of your process and I am itching to put a copy of Strength in my Amazon cart one day!

  8. What “strength” you have shared — we all need a little nudge, push, or in your case, a shove to get moving again. Timing is good too. A little break from the story and then an email and snowstorm! Perfect combination!

    Best of luck as you struggle through your revisions, but know every step in your journey is just as important as the first and the last step.

  9. You are so fortunate to have a writing group that is willing to read your work and provide honest feedback. I often feel like I'm writing in a vacuum, for myself, and wouldn't it be great to have others read my work? And, then I think, but that's scary. Do I really want to show my work to others? I'm going through this a bit right now as I struggle with my research proposal for my EdD. I've got writer's block. It would have been great to have had a group to get feedback from and not just to submit it cold. Although I often use my husband to critique my writing I sometimes yearn for a colleague I can trust to do that instead. Good luck with the book!

  10. I am learning that a lot of simmering happens with writing . And rereading. I am so thankful for our writing group. I would not push myself if I didn't have the supportive group.