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! (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.