Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On Going Back into a Revision (again and again and again and again and again)

One of the items on my to-do list this week seems pretty straightforward:

Read rough draft of BLANK. 

(Side note: BLANK is not the actual title of this manuscript, but I have a thing about not talking too specifically about books while I am still hip deep in the weeds with them. Also, this particular project doesn't have a settled upon title at the moment. It's morphed around a lot over the years. Recently, I thought I'd hit upon the perfect title before realizing there was a new YA book out with the same one. Ah well. BLANK it is.)

I don't know if you caught the phrase "over the years." 

I say this with a mixture of embarrassment and defiance: BLANK is a book that I have been writing and rewriting since 2002. I'm not exactly sure how many distinct versions of it there are. It morphs around too, subtly changing and expanding and evolving, so that now it's a much bigger production than I ever dared dream it could be when I first started writing it. 

Nova Ren Suma has this great blog series called The Book of My Heart. In the intro she writes about why her own book Imaginary Girls "holds a distinct and special place" in her heart, and she invites other authors to write about their special books.  

If I ever get my book BLANK right--(whatever right means--I'll know it when I see it--so far I have not seen it)--I will send my response to Nova and ask if she will use it in her series. 

BLANK is without question the book of my heart.  

Every couple of years I write a version, and I share it with my long suffering critique partner Donna, and she gives me a lovely peptalk. 



She's learned, you see. The first time, many versions earlier, when I told her I was thinking about going back in, she asked the obvious question: "Why?" 

I stammered for a bit. At that point I hadn't even begun to articulate my obsession. 

Now I've come to the understanding that I have to write this book. It's my story and I'm the only one who can tell it.

Each time I pick it back up, I am refreshed and excited. This is IT, I tell myself. This is the one. And each time I finish, I'm a raw wound, a burned out shell of my former self, vowing never again. If THIS isn't the one, screw it. Forget it. Forget them, those stupid pretend people. 

Until lo and behold, almost like clockwork, those people wake and rise and whisper, and I am compelled to open up the manuscript and try again. 

I thought I was the only one who did this kind of thing--wrote a book over and over--until I came upon an author's note at the back of a novel: 

I have wanted to write about [this] for a very long time. I actually attempted it several times. First while in college, then again right after. I'd almost given up, but a few years ago--after I'd published three novels and really should've known what I was doing -- I threw myself at the legend one more time. And failed again.

The author is Maggie Stiefvater. The book that she's describing is The Scorpio Races, which is pretty much in my top ten favorite books of all time. 

I like to revisit that book. And I like to revisit Maggie Stiefvater's description of the angsty but ultimately successful behind-the-scenes process.  

It's what I've done just now, as I am about to tackle my to-do: 

Read rough draft of BLANK.

I think you may be able to guess what the next item is on the list...

Begin writing. Again. 

(Just one stack of the many many versions.)


  1. I started writing YA novels around a suicidal character when I was still in high school. I tried that topic in so many ways, so many times. A couple of decades later, I finally figured out how to tell it, and that it should be about the character's recovery from a suicide attempt. That was when the door into that story finally unlocked.

    1. Thanks for sharing that story, Jenn. I love your book Try Not Too Breathe, so it's interesting to hear that it took you a while to figure out the best way in.

  2. This post comforts me. I've often wondered about my own drafting/re-writing process. I can certainly relate to the "years" it takes for me to believe I've actually finished writing something. I haven't even gotten to the submission phase yet for my most recent finished novel. I usually say it's still "simmering".

    1. Thanks, Mieke. I like that word, by the way. Simmering. It makes it seem as if the book is working on itself even when I am not working on IT.