Get on Your Mark, Get Set, Revise!

Writing anything is a lot like a sport. It requires being in good condition. It necessitates having a clear idea of what you’re doing and where you’re headed. And it requires a plan for getting from the start of the game or race to the finish line. This past year my goals changed drastically. Nearly a year ago, I did a reassessment of what kinds of writing I wanted to do, and what I wanted to let go of in order to focus on my goals. At the time, I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, but at this point, I can say, I’m very glad I switched to a new game.

For years I’d played around with an idea for a mystery novel. It sat on the shelf, in a file folder, and on flopping discs and then hard drives, until I had some spare time to work on it. The mystery novel seed was always at the bottom of the priorities list. That is until last year when once again I pulled it out, to work on it. This time however, I asked someone else to read what I’d done so far. It was only about 5-6 chapters into a story…not much for so many years of keeping the project on the top shelf of my closet. This time however, I wanted to get some feedback from someone who knew writing. I wanted to see if there was enough started to be worth making it a priority or not.

Not only were the first few chapters interesting to the reader, they also sparked an interest in her to help me get the project off the ground. Since then, my writing life has been devoted to writing the first draft of my first novel, Body on the Beach. Early in the summer I finished the first draft, and then I set to work revising it. After a first run through, I set the draft aside for a week to decide what I wanted to do next. More work was needed getting rid of some pieces that didn’t add to the story, and getting more involved with my main characters. I also needed some rest. So rather than continuing to piddle away editing or redoing one thing or another, I simply put the manuscript aside.

The first time through with any kind of experience is always about learning by doing, at least it is for me. This has definitely been a learning experience. And what has helped me a lot is listening to other writers and my editor/reader. Also wanting to make things easier and more efficient for my editor/reader, has made me come up with some ways to cut down on excess paperwork, unnecessary repetition, and needless busy work. One of the best things for me was having a skilled reader and editor who urged me not to look back. She continually encouraged me to keep writing.

One of the problems I have as a writer is that I am also an editor and teacher. As a result, I am hypercritical of my work, and yet that does not serve me well. It cuts into the pleasure of being creative. During the revision of this book, which we have nicknamed BOB, I have had the tendency to spend too much time on copy editing, and not enough time yet, on really developing the characters and flow as I want to.

This last week I found I just couldn’t go any further. I decided the best thing to do was to change things up, and vary my routine. Took time to socialize with friends, did some light reading, and took lots of naps. Got back into my dreams, and began considering how to change the layout of my office. Moved my desk, and am setting the scene for the next phase of the revision process. I also took some time to cook and clean up a bit. Took some nice walks, got out and did a bunch of photography, and caught up with a lot of things that have been overlooked while I’ve been so focused on writing.Earlier a the end of last week, my reader/editor and I met to kick back and relax and to talk about what we wanted to do next.

Thanks to some great advice I got from author, Angela M. Sanders of Portland, Oregon (and Paris in the summer), I am now using a new type of software that is designed for writers. The software is so much more compatible for writing a novel than what we have been doing most of the year. I introduced my reader/editor to it, hoping she would like it. And she did. So earlier this week I contacted the software company to find out how to go about equipping her with the software. Taking care of details, getting things in order, including me, and looking forward to setting out a plan of action to bring this book to its conclusion.

That reminded me of an email conversation I had years ago with another writer, C. Hope Clarke. It was mid-summer, and she was just about where I am with her first novel, Lowcountry Bribe. She was asking herself the same kinds of questions I am asking myself right now? What next? What order should I tackle this? And am I ever going to finish? The one question I try not to spend too much time on, is “Is it any good?” At this point, I know it’s pretty good, and what I want to do is clean it up and tighten it up, and get it ready for market. When she was asking herself the questions about her first book, I was asking myself the questions of how to start bringing some of my writing projects to a conclusion?

Our mutual conversations, and the support I received from her and other writers, has provided me with what I needed to get 6 books finished, published, and on the market. Three books of poetry, a book on understanding the Tarot, an inspirational books, and my latest book, a collection of essays entitled, Tales from the Lily Pad. Last year at the end of August, I decided to put BOB at the top of my list, and have been working on it steadily ever since.

Yesterday after yoga and coffee with a couple of friends, I decided I was getting fidgety and anxious to get back to work. Instead of doing it right away, I just let myself notice how I felt. I decided to let myself have the weekend off, and then get set to start work again on Monday morning. Today I had a massage, and noticed how much my body still needs to be worked on. Part of my writing routine includes yoga, but it’s going to have to also include some more swimming, walking, and healthy activities to keep my body and the rest of me in good shape.

And then there’s the question, “Where do I begin?” Ask the question and sure enough, someone is bound to have an answer. After going for my massage, getting some lunch, and sitting on top of the hill looking out at the river on this beautiful day, I drove home to rest. I opened my Facebook page, and noticed an article written by San Francisco author, Susan Ito. Her article was on, you guessed it, revision. She teaches some workshops on revision, and her article was the perfect answer for what I needed. She outlined just the things I’m going to do, and explained them in a very practical way–a way that put order and organization into place for me. So what I’m going to do for the rest of the weekend is relax, and get outdoors to enjoy life.

The writing process, no matter what kind of writing we do, is something that demands an understanding of how much control and order we need to keep things in shape, and how much freedom and letting go we need to let our characters tell us their stories. Whenever I take a break from the creative part of writing, I have this sense that my characters are all sitting just above me, chit chatting over tea and toast, calling out to me, and urging me to get back to the table with them. I can hardly wait. Ready or not, here I come.

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