- Thu, 02:25: RT @josswhedon: I watched a bunch of women get sliced up in video games and now I'm watching it on my twitter feed. @femfreq is just truth…
Why Revising a Novel is Like A Firefighter Carwash
No. Really it is.
So, usually when I start revising a book, I feel like this:
This is the person organizing the fundraiser, which was a bunch of firefighters washing cars to raise money for Dana Farber's efforts to eradicate cancer. Notice how she has money in her hand? That's sort of like an author after the publisher buys her book and gives her an advance. Also, notice how she is hunkering down with her hands raised? This is because she is totally overwhelmed because she now has to REVISE her book.
Okay... Which brings us to this stage... See this guy? He has started actually revising or as I like to call it SUDSING UP THE SUV.
He's working hard. He's lightly touching the handle of the door for balance or in case he needs to escape all the suds... Because, seriously? LOOK AT ALL THE SUDS! These are all the corrections and insertions that need to be done, all the track changes. It is the cleaning up of the dirt, eradicating the mistakes...
How the heck is he ever going to manage this?
No. Seriously. HOW?
Because it isn't just about the suds it is about GETTING RID OF ALL THE SUDS, which I call the HOSING OFF! This is where the author is like, "Holy cannoli, I used the word, LOOK, 847 times in an 87,000 word manuscript. Whimper.
But the HOSING OFF stage is okay. I promise, because it makes us better writers with better vocabularies. It makes us rethink the moments where we use weak words, our go-to words, and we hose them the heck out of there to make a cleaner, stronger SUV... I mean book.
Plus, it defines our forearms as evidenced by the above firefighter. Managing a hose (or a vocabulary) is hard work. It builds up muscle.
And it's also about the next stage, REFINING, paying attention to detail or as I like to call it CLEANING THE RIMS OF YOUR TIRE THINGIES... Hubcaps? Those are hubcaps, right? Obviously, my vocabulary skills still need some work.
This stage of revising is that part where you go through the manuscript all over again and again, look for plot holes, repetition, emotional depth, inconsistencies in logic, all that arch stuff (internal, physical, emotional), and more. This is the nitty-gritty part. It requires bending and a soft, bright blue cloth.
And it seems overwhelming, right? It seems almost impossible? But it's not. And do you know why it's not? Because you are not alone.
Just like these firefighters working on a policeman's car, washing it clean, aren't alone, YOU the writer aren't alone either. There is an editor, a copy editor, sometimes beta readers, sometimes teachers, sometimes agents, readers, your check-out clerk at the grocery store, publicists, marketing people, random friends with ideas, women at bars, random blogs with suggestions, all sorts of people out there at the computer with you, helping your brain to gather all the things you have ever learned to make the right choices, the strongest choices to get the cleanest car story that you can have.
That's so cool, isn't it?
So, often writers go into revision feeling like we are all alone. But we never are. There is a community of people present, and learning past, that is right there with us, hosing off, detailing, worrying, and cleaning. At least that's what I tell myself when I start to feel lonely and worry and get scared.
I get scared all the time. That's okay. We all do.
*These pictures are all from the Bar Harbor (Maine) Fire Department's Car Wash this Spring where firefighters cleaned cars to raise money to support Dana-Farber's efforts to eradicate cancer. Our past fire chief, David Rand, died of cancer yesterday. He was a great loss, a hero, a man who served. The entire community will miss him. My deepest sympathy goes out to his family and friends.
Okay, here's the thing.
I was totally going to write about revising, but I am tired of people judging other people when they don't know their stories.
For example, there is a lot of judging about the ALS ice-bucket challenge, where people are called out to give $100 to support efforts to negate ALS. Instead, they can dump ice water over their heads and give $10 instead, while calling out other people to do the challenge, thus spreading it all around social media.
And now there are a bunch of people saying that the challenge is:
1. Ridiculous (They use stronger words usually)
2. Doing nothing to raise money or awareness of ALS despite news reports to the contrary
3. Just a bunch of sheeple, which means people who are followers, people who are sheep, people who are doing something just because they think it's cool or because all their friends are doing it. Hashtag activism means nothing they say, because trends come and go.
So, yeah, basically something that involves caring and awareness is cool so now we have to deride it. The thing is that humans are followers and leaders. We are all sorts of things mushed into bodies and communities. That's the key. This challenge, even for the people who don't send $10 to ALS, builds community. People reach out to one another. They post. They think for a second. Maybe some don't. But a lot do.
If even one person thinks a little about ALS, or sends in $10, or inspires, or motivates? Isn't that better than nobody doing it? Maybe half of the people doing the ice bucket challenge aren't sending in money, maybe it's more than half. But, it is still raising awareness and money if it gets anyone to volunteer, to care, to donate.
And the other aspect of the derision that I find unhelpful is the concept that people are being called sheep for doing this one thing, this one potentially positive thing (despite its waste of water, a precious resource). How can a random viewer possibly judge another person's sheep status because they were involved in one social-media, celebrity-endorsed fundraiser?
So, I looked at my newsfeed on Facebook and scrolled down. The first ice bucket video I saw tonight was of a fire chief and his bonus daughter.
That fire chief? Hardly a sheep. This ice-bucket challenge? Hardly the hardest thing he's done for this community. He coaches kids' football. He helps raise funds for Dana Farber, his very job is about putting his life on the line for people when he fights fires, responds to accidents or mass casualty incidents. And those are only a few things I know about him.
His bonus daughter? She's still in high school, but she helps her mom raise money for cancer. She cares about kids, volunteers for things all the time, and has empathy up the wazoo.
They aren't sheep.
They are people who care.
I'm actually not sure the fire chief knows what a hashtag is; let alone hashtag activism.
But their activism isn't just about ALS. Their activism is a part of their lives. They don't yell it out on bullhorns. There are some things that they expend more energy on, but they give and they give and they give.
The next ice bucket challenge on my feed was another local guy, a Rotarian, carpenter, and real estate agent. A guy who loves the Marvel Universe and his community and who can strike a pose whenever the camera is nearby. I think he's maybe 30? 35? In the year I've known him, I've seen him dress up like Prince Charming to help raise money for a wheelchair project in Panama, spearhead a mini-golf tournament to help raise money for local health agencies, cash-out tourists eating lobsters at a seafood festival, feed bicyclists who were riding to raise money for another incurable disease.
But yeah. He's a sheep, right? A hashtag activist? Just giving up his nights and his Saturdays while scraping together a living because he's all in it for show? Hardly.
And these are just the big things those people do, the obvious volunteering. I'm not even talking about the countless times they smiled, or cared, or offered a ride, or a hug, or a job. These are the tiny moments of activism that never get shouted about. They just are.
That's the point. Don't judge someone's level of caring or action from one tiny video on the internet. Don't judge their intentions when you aren't in their brains. Instead, maybe search your own heart and be grateful that they did anything. Instead, maybe hope that they did more than that video or profile picture change or tweet. Or even better? Don't judge them at all. Instead realize that we all have our own levels of caring, of ability, of time.
Yes, it can be annoying to watch everyone you know dump ice over their heads. But here's another thing: You don't actually have to watch. You can ignore it if you want to. And, yes, you can even deride it and mock it and say that it isn't doing enough. That's your choice. However, I hope that you choose to look at people (with all their issues) with love instead of with snark. I hope that you choose to be an example with your own life rather than a naysayer about others.
Remember, we don't know everyone's stories, not all of the scenes and chapters. That's why we should be grateful for the things that try, the people that try, no matter how imperfect their execution, or how 'sheepish' it seems.
Because here's the final point. You're sort of right. None of us can ever do enough. But that should never be an excuse to not do anything, or judge others for what they can do and have done.
So, basically, I had to wake up early because my dogs have decided that every motor vehicle that drives down the road and is not either a MINI Cooper or a Prius is a threat to all of canine-humanity's (Caninemanity?) existence. This means that to eradicate the threat, they must bark as loudly and fiercely as possible at all motor vehicles while simultaneously scratching the window sills in a way that would make any cat envious of their house demolishing skills.
"You couldn't possibly mean me," says Scotty.
"Scotty, you know I mean you," says me.
"I personally am proud of my skills of warning off evil motor vehicles," says Gabby.
"I know you are, Gabby," says me.
"I practice all the time," says Gabby.
"I know you do," says me.
"Want to hear me practice?" barks Gabby.
"Want to hear me cry?" cries me.
And so on.
But anyways, I have learned while revising this morning:
1. It is hard to revise when your dogs are barking and you are trying to keep them quiet so everyone else in the house can keep sleeping.
2. Sometimes you may have to bribe your dogs to make them stop barking.
3. If you bribe your dogs by petting them, it means you can only type with one hand.
4. Typing with one hand is hard.
5. When you have more than one dog that you are trying to keep quiet by petting them, you will not have enough hands to revise, pet dogs, and stuff. This is sad.
I know! I know! I am sure you are all super glad that I shared this.
So, I have this new project that I can't officially talk about yet, but it is:
1. A trilogy
2. Not my awesome project with the awesome Tor Books, which is YA and science fiction (sort of) and I am so excited about
3. Important to me
Yes, I actually wrote "important to me." As a writer person, I think all books are important to me because:
1. I am writing them.
2. Yeah. That's basically the reason.
3. Oh! And I don't like to play favorites.
But this one has a weird importance to me because this is the book that:
1. Got me into graduate school.
2. Made me a writer.
Back in my pre-writer days (less than 10 years ago but pretend it's longer so it seems cool), I was a small-town newspaper editor. I made, um, maybe $23,000 a year? And I was sort of the boss. So, obviously I was rolling in the dough. Also, I would have to take my daughter with me on assignments all the time because I needed to write articles and not just edit them because that's how small my newspaper was. (Hint: There was one other full-time reporter)
So, my poor kid would get stuck driving with me to planning board meetings and Rotary auctions and state basketball games. When you live in Maine, this means a lot of driving. And my kid? She was super smart and really easily bored. So I started making up this story to tell her along the way.
That story? It's what made me think:
1. Hey telling stories that are made up is WAY more fun than being a newspaper editor.
2. You don't have to worry about misquoting people when you make up stories.
3. Making up stories means not learning about shore land restriction and set back rules in land use ordinances in random Maine towns.
4. Why am I making only $23,000 a year when I could make $0 money a year.
5. Hey, I will apply to graduate school.
Obviously, my internal logic makes some big-butt kind of leaps. So, I leapt and applied to Vermont College of Fine Arts. I didn't realize it was such an awesome school. I just knew that awesome writers taught there. I randomly applied. I got in. I panicked. But that's a whole other story. The point of this blog post is that the story that I applied with, the first real story that I ever wrote? That's what I am about to be able to talk about.
And yes, important facts to remember:
1. This story has changed a ton!
2. This story is still being worked on.
3. This story pretty much was horrible back in 2005 when I first wrote it.
4. I don't care.
Because this story is the story that made me think:
1. Maybe I can be a writer.
2. Writing is fun.
And I am going to be so sad - so TERRIBLY sad - when I have to stop writing it in about 18 months and all the revisions and writing on all three books are done.
So, I think I'm going to blog about revising it, at least about the first one.
1. Because I am not going to want to let it go.
2. Because I am going to want to remember what this was like.
3. Because I also need something to blog about that is actually writerly and not just about how cute my dogs are and stuff.
4. Because so much can happen between the time a book first starts in a car ride to a Class B Basketball Tournament in Augusta, Maine and the time it hits the actual book store. For me? Both my parents died (separately), and so did my nana, my best friend (that one full-time reporter) and so did my dog. My little baby girl started college. My husband stopped loving me. Someone else started loving me. I got published and hit the best-sellers list and my books are in different languages. People were mean to me. People stopped. I have never had to sleep in a car again because I was too scared to sleep at home. I get to write full-time, all the time. So many freaking things. In just one tiny life (mine) and in just one tiny piece of it (nine years), and I kind of want to savor the process.
5. Plus, my editor is totally awesome.
So, yeah. I am going to blog about revising. Hopefully! I hope you don't mind.
So, the first time you get a editorial letter from a new letter, it's pretty freaky. The letter tells you about revisions to your book.
It's kind of like having a blind date with someone you have Google-stalked and knowing ahead of the actual date that you are stuck with this person for a really long time. It's like you walk into the restaurant and know: Okay. This is the first date and I better freaking like this person because they are now a part of my future for like ... a couple years.
So, it's kind of scary.
So, when I got the email from my new editor and it was A WHOLE ENTIRE DAY EARLY, I thought:
1. Holy crap
2. She is a day early. What? This is publishing. Nobody is ever on time. Why is she early?
3. Then I thought, "I am in love with this woman."
But no... I couldn't be that easy, right? I had to play sort-of-hard-to-get and actually look at her notes, didn't I?
Probably not because... SHE WAS A WHOLE DAY EARLY!
Seriously, you have no idea how stoked this made me. How stoked? So stoked that I am using the word "stoked" four times in this paragraph.
Plus, I was kind of afraid to look at the actual notes, but when I did I was blown away. Never in my entire life has an editor put so much initial editing. She cut out sections. She suggested all these things. She rearranged things the way my mom always used to do in my kitchen when she came to visit. And this was not annoying at all, somehow, because it made it better.
Then, I realized:
1. She has invested so much of her brilliance in this book already
2. She is really brilliant
3. She is also super fun
4. She totally cut my favorite scene
5. I didn't mind that she totally cut my favorite scene even though it meant way more work for me because it sort of needed to be cut
7. I am hungry
That's just the way my brain works.
And then I realized:
I am really excited to be in this editorial relationship and I hope I don't blow it. I hope I deserve her.
There, I said it. I hope I deserve her.
Because I am so freaking lucky to have her working on this book with me.
And then I sent her a dorky email reply, which was basically: