Thursday, January 19, 2012

Making Changes

Tis the season to make some changes. Have you noticed? Promises and prompts to change ourselves abound at this time of year. New Year’s resolutions. New year, new you. Out with the old, blah, blah, blah. The quantity of TV ads touting gym memberships, exercise balls, diet plans and workout videos is staggering. Department store ads bombard us with organizational mechanisms to help us finally whip our chaotic hoarding selves in order. Even schools join in, urging us to finally make that career change we’ve always wanted to make but never realized until we saw their ad. How could we not feel inspired?
I’m jumping on the change bandwagon myself, hauling my lazy bones out of bed a half hour earlier to do daily cardio, purging the sweet treats from the house, rearranging rooms (needless to say, my husband isn’t too excited about this one). But while change is exciting, it’s also difficult. Downright painful, sometimes, as my aching muscles can attest.
A particularly agonizing change I’m working toward right now is the revision of my first novel. You may remember this novel from my frustrated blog posts last summer in which I lamented the obvious poor taste and lack of vision espoused by the more than a dozen editors and agents who never even bothered to request the full manuscript, let alone offer me a six figure multi-book contact. Silly people. Or so I thought. But after a kind yet in-depth critique from my mentor, I came to realize that I had been the silly one. This novel wasn’t ready. It wasn’t even close. And here I was, trying to shove it down the throats of massively overworked agents who had at least fifty other manuscript packages – some good, many not – to slog through along with mine. And there would be another fifty the next day. And the next. When I finally looked at my piece with a more objective eye, I completely understood the many responses I received with the same basic message: “It’s well-written, but I didn’t fall in love with it.” An infuriating response at the time, but one that is becoming clearer to me the more I write. It’s one thing to master the mechanics of writing. It’s entirely another to grab readers, to make them care deeply about your main character, to laugh, to cry, to turn page after page after page. This, alas, is much harder to master. Thankfully, I now have an amazingly talented writing group to help me do just that.
My manuscript, originally planned as a young adult novel, is now becoming a middle-grade novel (which, apparently unbeknownst to me, it was all along, except that I never let my word count know). And so the main goal in revising is to cut. Cut the introspection, cut the flowery language, cut long narrative passages, cut, cut, cut. Stephen King said it best, I think, when he compared manuscript revision to slaughtering children (as only he would). Ripping out phrases I worked tirelessly to craft because they don’t fit the character or my target readership is excruciating. They were such lovely phrases, after all. Surely they should be read by someone other than me.
But it’s a necessary process. And strangely rewarding. In fact now that I’ve begun, I make it a personal goal to cut X amount of pages from each chapter, and I find I’m merciless in hitting that goal, no matter how many “darlings” I have to sacrifice, because once I’ve slashed a chapter, I immediately see the improvements.
It’s a painful process, but worth it in the end. As most change is.

1 comment:

Elizabeth-Anne said...

Love it, Sue. Hang in there!

I did my undergrad thesis on the word becoming flesh, and as I was complaining about revising, my adviser (apparently this is now "er" and not "or") said, "Never worry about cutting and revising unless you're God working on the Book of Life. Now that's a painful edit."