Writing and Revising the Best of All Possible Books

Hey guys! First thing’s first: there was a clear winner in the “pick my author photo for me decisions are hard” election. You guys loved photo #3, and so that was what I sent on to my lovely editor! This will be my face, FOR THE AGES.

 

Second of all, I know I’ve been quiet lately. That’s because I’ve been doing that mysterious writer thing called revising. A few weeks ago, right after I got my big ol’ edit letter (alongside a marked-up manuscript which bore a veritable and literal rainbow of sticky notes), a friend asked me if I was planning to blog the editing process. But he wondered if doing so might be problematic. After all, you don’t want to reveal conflicts between author and editor.

Funny thing, though. It’s not that I haven’t been blogging because I disagree with my editor. Quite the opposite, actually–and more on that in a moment. I actually haven’t blogged because I’ve been really busy. Working till three or four in the morning busy. Scratching my head and moving stuff around in scrivener and pushing myself harder than I’ve ever been pushed before busy.

In my off-time (that is, when I’m in the bath), I’ve been reading a biography of JD Salinger. The contrast between ol’ Jerry’s editing process and my own is striking. He finished The Catcher in the Rye and then immediately boxed it up to his agent. He got annoyed when an editor asked him if Holden was “crazy.” He freaked out  over a lot of stuff, it seems. Didn’t want his editor messing with his vision. And while it’s difficult to argue with his end result–The Catcher in the Rye is pretty perfect in both conception and execution, no?–I can’t help but feel like my own moments worrying about my own “vision” and whether someone (an agent, an editor, a critique partner) might ruin it were mostly moments wasted.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying a writer should accept every editorial change unthinkingly. I have strong instincts about my work and what does and doesn’t fly. In our short business relationship, my editor has already reminded me that I should feel free to shoot down her ideas. It’s a nice reminder that my book is ultimately my book.

But I do think that even inapplicable feedback is helpful feedback. Even if a suggestion or criticism doesn’t jive with my vision of my work, it’s helpful to know how a reader who is very different from me approaches that work. Reader response is always valid, and interesting. The ability to synthesize a whole bunch of reader feedback into glittering generalities about what readers want has been key to my growth as a writer.

But I also count myself lucky to be surrounded by people–friends and critique partners, my lovely agent, my lovely editor–who are a whole lot smarter than I am. About the business. About books. I trust their instincts, and their faith in the raw material of my novel. I know that they want Starglass to be the best book it can possibly be.

Because look: Starglass has changed a lot since I first started drafting it. Back in 2010, it was a fairly quiet story about a girl whose mom had died called Daughter of Earth. I needed more conflict, so I though, “Okay, I’ll throw in a rebellion. Or something.” While Terra will always be, at her core, a girl whose mom had died, that secondary conflict–that rebellion–has grown in importance mightily. Minor characters have been fleshed out to become whole people. The world–once a stock SF setting–has been enriched. There are now themes and a hearty dose of epicness.

I never imagined myself writing an epic novel. The writer I was in 2010 probably could not have executed the task. But because I was open to suggestions from people who are smarter than I am, this book has grown so, so far past its original conception. And it’s much better than it once was. A better book.

And fundamentally different. If you’re a writer, you might know the feeling of having an entire universe in your head. Your mind contains characters, stories, which sometimes feel like they’re floating around independent of you and your body and your life. The first version of Starglass was one of these stories. Subsequent revisions–and there have been many–weren’t so much a readjustment of the original vision but a fresh new version. It’s like a “many worlds” theory of books. Revision has not just been a refinement of that original but rather a guided tour through many possibilities. The end result, I hope, will be to find the ideal version–not only the best of all possible worlds, but the best of all possible books.

8 Comments

  1. Phobe this is such a fantastic post. You're spot on about why editing is so important – nay, *vital* to make a book really work. I feel exactly the same way about the whole process; as a writer, you're never the best judge of your own work because you're too close to it, and it's so exciting to have the input of someone who's a real expert, and to discover how their vision for your book is going to help make it the best it can possibly be.

    Good luck with your revisions!

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    • Thank you, Emma! It's true, the outside perspective have been invaluable. They've seen this raw potential in my words and been able to help me shape them into something really great. :)

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  2. This is an excellent post! I thoroughly agree that even feedback you don't take is very useful. It may suggest yet a third alternative …

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    • Yes, exactly! And you can play with those reader responses, subverting them or playing them up or down . . . really very fun :D

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  3. Yeeessss. I feel like I've been really lucky with TICK-TOCK. The first draft was… a mess. But it was supposed to be. It was a NaNoWriMo project that I started on a lark, so of course it had some serious LOL-worthy nonsense in it. But then I really thought about what I wanted the story to be, and I rewrote the thing. The rewritten version bears only the slightest resemblance to the original. And that's when I started getting external feedback.

    Everyone had great insight. I largely agreed with most of the responses I got back. Even when I became agented and got ~*real agent revision notes*~, the core of my story remained untouched, which made me very glad. Most of my revisions entailed increasing tension, showing-not-telling, and replacing info-dumps with action scenes. Since its inception, I believe I've only received two suggested changes where I was like, "No, no way, that is not what I'm trying to do here." So I said no. And it was fine.

    I absolutely agree that getting that external reader input gives you new insight about how someone who isn't you is reacting to your work, and it's so helpful. I absolutely feel like my MS has become stronger with each revision. I regret nothing.

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  4. There needs to be a Fringe-esque series about the life of a novel. But seriously–love the pic.

    Salinger has always sounded like a difficult person, and by difficult I mean a total asshole.

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    • Yes, definite asshole!

      I'm sure in some universe there's a version of my book out there starring Walternate.

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