Revising, Writing

An Update on The Manuscript That Wouldn’t Let Me Go

Nearly a year ago I wrote about the manuscript that wouldn’t let me go, and the post resonated with quite a few readers. This response didn’t surprise me as I knew it was a common phenomenon to love a particular story so much. Well, I have an update on that project. I finally finished redrafting it! (For those of you who are curious, it’s the MS currently listed as DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN under the Writing tab. However, I’ve changed the title and am working on an updated description to go with the updated manuscript.)

Anyway … I made it about halfway through revising the MS in January before it was time to return to my more current project, AS SEEN ON EVIE. Because no matter how much I loved this older project and wanted to fix it, the new one had to be my priority. I kept thinking throughout the year that I’d return to it, but with revising EVIE, reading for CPs, vacations …. well, I sort of lost my enthusiasm for it. But I finally reached that time when EVIE was ready to go out into the world and I needed to work on something else to keep myself from going crazy with the wait. Sure, I could have worked on something new, but I’d already started this project, so …

About a month ago, I read through that first half of the manuscript I’d already revised. Here was my first tweet about it:

How nice to read the first chapter and remember the seeds I planted in this rewrite. Maybe I am ready to tackle this!

And then, a few days later, there was this:

Love reading a revision I started months ago and discovering that it’s good. Think I really did figure out how to fix this MS!

Only thing is, I wish I’d already finished the whole revision instead of half because I still hate drafting :(.

Oh no! I reached the end of the revision. Now I have to remember where I was headed with this 9 months ago …

On the bright side, I am able to keep a good portion of the previous version of the MS, so I’m not writing from scratch.

So, I spent the past few weeks redrafting the rest of the manuscript. This may not seem like a very long time for a revision, but I really had spent the time planning it out before. I also discovered as I went through it that most of the major changes I’d implemented occurred in the first half of the manuscript, and what I had to do in the second half fell into place pretty naturally as I inserted from my earlier manuscript. I did still have to write a couple of new scenes, though–never my favorite part. I also had to make the tough decision to omit two scenes, one of which I’d definitely classify as a darling. However, as I mentioned in the previous post about returning to a manuscript you love after such a long hiatus, it doesn’t hurt nearly as much to cut scenes or characters when you have that much distance from them.

And now we come to the question of what I plan to do with this manuscript. Before, I said I was doing this just for me. I’m not so sure about that anymore. Obviously it’s back at draft one stage again (although a more polished first draft than usual), so it requires revision, but then we’ll see what my critique partners say. Perhaps I will want to send it back out into the world again once I polish it instead of keeping it to myself. We’ll see. It’s all a matter of whether I manage to shine it up to its true potential this time. After tackling this draft, I’m much more optimistic than when I started than it could reach perfection. (Anyone who’s read a version of DUET will understand that word choice 🙂 ).

Revising, Writing

The Manuscript That Won’t Let You Go

Do you have a manuscript that won’t let you go? It seems that every writer I talk to has one, and I’m no exception. Mine is a manuscript I shelved after querying quite successfully–well, as successfully as querying can be without an offer. It garnered a lot of interest, all the way up to an R&R, but it still wasn’t quite there. It’s hard for me to believe, but it’s been two years since that manuscript. I’ve written three more since then (another queried and shelved, another in the midst of querying, and another just drafted), and yet that one still lingers as the one that got away.

I think it’s because I always knew it had so much potential, and obviously a number of agents thought it had potential as well. It just didn’t live up to that potential. They were right. The problem was, I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.

A couple of months ago, I had this light bulb moment where I thought, I suddenly know what I need to do with this manuscript. I was in the middle of drafting my new project, so I just jotted down the notes, but still. I let those notes simmer while I finished the draft of my WIP, but I had committed to let it sit for a full month before revising, which left me with some time on my hands. So I figured, why not seize the moment and play around with this manuscript again?

As I’m revising this two-year-old manuscript, I’ve discovered it’s surprisingly easy to cut with that much distance. I’ve deleted entire scenes and even a character without remorse. I’m not tied to them the way I used to be. So when other writers tell you to put some distance from your manuscript before you revise? It’s good advice. You have perspective. Now, obviously you can’t let something sit for years, but if you ever want to go back to an old project, I think it’s a sign that there could be hope for it. Because even if you really love it, you can let go of your darlings more easily with distance, and all the feedback you received makes a lot more sense, too. You’re not so emotional about it.

I think sometimes you have to listen to that story that won’t let go of you, even if it’s just for you. I’m not revising this manuscript in order to query it or go back around to the agents who asked for it before. This is for me, to know that I can help it reach its potential. It’s not even my main priority. When my moratorium on revising the WIP is up, I’ll start on that, but I’ll come back to this later. Once I finish it, you might see a new title, word count, and description for it here on the blog, just to reflect its shiny new life. We’ll see. And who knows? Maybe my future agent (fingers crossed) will want to read it and it won’t let him/her go, either :). But even if it never goes any further than my own computer, I’ll be ok with that, because this is just something I have to do.

What about you? Do you have a project you can’t let go? That tugs at your heart and pulls you back in over and over?

Revising

Solving the Revision Puzzle … plus pictures of Harry Potter World

I can’t believe it’s been three weeks since I posted, but I promise I wasn’t just slacking off. First there was Christmas, then we went to Florida so my husband could be one of the best men in a wedding. And then we went here:

DSCN4545DSCN4542

In case you can’t read the signs in the second photo, one direction leads to Hogwarts and the other to Hogsmeade. Let me just say that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter lived up to every expectation I had. The ride inside Hogwarts was totally worth the wait. We ate lunch at the Three Broomsticks and visited Olivander’s wand shop. I spent way too much on Harry Potter souvenirs. Oh well. It was all worth it to see the books come to life. We spent New Year’s Eve at Universal Studios and flew back to Missouri on New Year’s Day.

So why haven’t you heard from me for the past week? Because I’ve been feverishly working on revisions for the YA version of DUET. I sent it to three readers two weeks before Christmas. I received comments from the first one the week before Christmas and had to sit on my hands to keep myself from jumping right into revisions. Her comments made so much sense, but I have a bad habit of taking one person’s comments and revising right away. I resolved to wait until I had all the feedback, which left me twiddling my thumbs a lot that week before Christmas. However, it also enabled me to send the other two readers some specific questions and possible solutions to consider when they finished reading. That turned out to be an excellent thing.

I received comments from the second reader as I was getting ready for the rehearsal dinner in Florida and the third while eating dinner at Universal Studios. Ah, the magic of  smart phones. I have to say, the fact that I couldn’t start working on the revisions until I got back was a blessing in disguise. It gave me time to really think about what I needed to do to fix the issues so I was ready to jump right in when I got back.

Here’s where I’d like to emphasize how important it is to get multiple opinions. We all come at a story with our own histories and views on life. No two people are going to read the same manuscript and see it the exact same way. And while all three readers commented on the same major issue I needed to fix, they made different points about it and had slightly different reactions to my proposed solutions. By synthesizing all that together, I came up with a new, modified solution that fits with the story and what I’m trying to accomplish. If I’d started revising after the first one, it wouldn’t have been as strong of a solution.

That’s what critique partners bring to the table. They don’t solve your problems for you. They challenge you to make it better your own way. I see it like a puzzle. The first draft is missing some pieces. I send it out to readers, who hand me new pieces that I have to fit into the puzzle without compromising my vision for the story. Without fail, the final result is something much better than I would have come up with on my own.

I can’t give you a formula for how many people should read your work before you know it’s ready. I don’t even know that answer for myself, but I’d say it has to be more than one. And I’m not finished yet. The changes I made in this round were pretty major, so I still need more eyes on it before it’s ready to go.

What’s your system for revising? Do you start after you hear from one reader? Do you wait? Honestly, if I hadn’t been forced to by our trip, I’m not sure I could have done it, but now that I’ve seen how effective it is, I’ll restrain myself the next time, too. I’d love to hear how others handle it.

Contests, Reading, Revising, Writing

Practice Makes Perfect–Or At Least Closer to Perfect

It’s been more than a month since my cupcake celebration for finishing my latest first draft. It took great self-control to let the draft sit for that long, but I filled the time with critiques for other writers, a major contest, and a revision to DUET. But finally, this week it was time to start revising.

I decided to take a different approach to revision with this manuscript. Instead of jumping right in with changes from the first page, I read through the whole thing and made notes on the side. It’s so easy to do with Scrivener, a program that has made my writing so much easier, but that’s a topic for another day.

It took me two and a half days to read through approximately 45,000 words, and the last half I did in one. I didn’t want to stop reading! Since I let it sit, I didn’t remember exactly how I’d executed everything, and I was surprised it was in such good shape in first draft form. Of course it’s by no means ready even for beta readers, but it’s decent. Here are the factors that contributed to a much more polished first draft.

Practice. This WIP is my fourth novel. The first shelved manuscript really only got to a third draft or so, and I never had anyone else read it before I queried 20 or so agents–a rookie mistake I can’t say I skipped. The second (CAVEBOY) and third (DUET) I’ve talked about here before. CAVEBOY took forever to draft because I kept revising as I went. I completed DUET during NaNoWriMo last year. My planning for DUET consisted of laying out the alternate realities, so when I wrote the first draft, it was only 29,000 words that consisted mainly of her trips into the music. Fortunately that was only two weeks into NaNoWriMo, so I went back and filled in the character’s emotional journey. Not the best way to draft, but I did end up with a complete draft by the end of the month. As I explained here, for this WIP I took a similar approach with daily word goals, aiming to complete it in a month. The actual drafting wasn’t any easier–I just hate that part–but I knew what I was doing. I knew how to structure the story, how to develop the characters, etc., from the beginning instead of getting those notes from critique partners.

Critiquing. Many new writers think of the benefits of critiquing in the sense of what they receive from another critiquer, not what they learn from critiquing someone else’s work. I’ve come to see it both ways. I had an amazing CP for CAVEBOY who taught me a lot about my weaknesses as a writer, and I’m super-aware of those issues as I write now. At the same time, I’ve learned so much from reading other writers’ work. Often I’ll see something consistently in someone else’s work and then think, I need to fix that in mine. That translates into the initial draft, too, as I’m aware of not only my own weaknesses, but the things I’ve seen when I critique.

Contests. I’ve talked about contests before, here and here, so I’m not going to go into detail again, but whether you enter them or not, reading through a batch of entries gives great insight into what to do with your own work.

Reading. I started reading middle grade later than I should have, but once I made an effort to read it regularly, it made a huge impact on my writing. Now I have even more incentive to read MG since I started participating in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. It forces me to have an MG ready to review every week. I think this is particularly important when you’re writing for an age group that isn’t your own. Especially for middle grade, agents say it’s hard to master the voice. Through reading, I’ve honed my middle grade voice and also been reassured that it wasn’t too off to start with. The other thing is that often in contest/conference critiques, people focus on things that they think MG readers won’t know (in mine, Bugs Bunny or Psycho). I’ve read books that have characters fixated on everything from a ’70s game show to an ’80s movie to a classic book. The key is to make sure it’s clear why the character knows about those things. As long as they have a base of reference for it, they can be an expert in anything. Maybe you just don’t mention it in the query or first page :).

So where is everyone else on this first draft issue? Do you notice each first draft is better, or is that just me?

Querying, Revising, Writing

When Is It Time to Revise?

There’s a time to query.

There’s a time to wait.

There’s a time to … revise?

I started querying DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN in April, entered a little contest called The Writers Voice in May, queried a bit more for the first two weeks in June, then decided to wait. You see, I had quite a few submissions out at that point, and honestly I was afraid to keep sending out queries without knowing if my manuscript was really ready. I thought it was, or I wouldn’t have been sending queries out in the first place, but after the mistakes I’d made querying my earlier novel–too many too soon–I’d much rather err on the side of caution with this one and give it the best possible chance.

Over the next two months, a bit of feedback trickled in, but none of it lined up. And that’s when I came to the question of whether to revise or not. The agents didn’t mention the same issues, so were their comments just a matter of taste or something I needed to fix? I decided not to do anything for the moment.

Enter WriteOnCon. I came away with the basic idea that if an agent loves your work enough, it’s ok if it isn’t perfect. They’ll work with you to get it where it needs to be. So I started querying again. I also had a couple more people read DUET, and reader feedback confirmed for me again that it was ready for agents.

But. A couple of comments I’d gotten in the forums at WriteOnCon kept niggling in the back of my mind, so I revised my first page–of course after I’d already sent out some queries. The comments weren’t necessarily new, but it was the right time for me to hear them and figure out what to do with them.

I think that’s a big part of knowing when to revise. Sometimes a valid comment doesn’t make any sense to you, but when it’s said in the right way at the right time, boom! You know what to do. This really came into focus for me a couple of weeks ago. I entered #GUTGAA and received three votes to go on to the agent round. However, one of the judges said she’d had reservations about voting for me because DUET sounded too old and because of a Bugs Bunny mention in the first 150 words. I’d heard both of these comments before, but two months ago I wouldn’t have known what to do about it or even if I should do anything about it.

From the beginning, my query worked. I received a number of requests off of it. But just because it was good didn’t mean it couldn’t be better. Thanks to WriteOnCon, I now had this idea that friendship has to be a major focus of MG. One agent even said he wouldn’t consider an MG if friendship wasn’t mentioned in the query. Well, friendship is a huge part of DUET, but I’d never figured out how to put it into the query. But now, because someone in a position of power told me it gave them pause, I figured it out, and the query has much more of an MG feel than it did before. I know it’s stronger as a result.

The same goes for the Bugs Bunny mention. There’s a scene in my novel where the main character goes into an old Looney Tunes cartoon. I’m confident I’ve handled it well in the actual manuscript as none of my readers have had an issue with it. However, this judge brought it home to me that it was an issue in the first page. All the times someone said before that MG readers wouldn’t know Bugs Bunny and I ignored it because I knew it was fine in the manuscript, it didn’t occur to me that the first page was the problem. It was a simple enough solution to take out that reference and leave it for later. I don’t know why I didn’t figure this out sooner. I guess we writers have hard heads.

But wait, I have an even better example. The first day of the #GUTGAA agent round, I received a rejection from an agent who’d been considering my full. Her reason was exactly the same as the very first agent who rejected DUET. Now, I have to back up a bit to say that this first rejection completely baffled me. Her issue with the manuscript was what I thought was the very best part of it. We’re not talking about a single chapter here but a major chunk that makes up the premise. I dismissed it pretty much out of hand because I just didn’t get it. But when this most recent agent said it, I’d had four months with that other one swirling around in my head, and suddenly a light bulb went off.

All this time I’d assumed the section she mentioned was the best part and worried about the rest living up to it. But that was just me being blind. Those parts had come so easily to me I didn’t work very hard on them when I revised, instead focusing on the other subplots. Looking back at my first draft, those sections didn’t change much. While I ignored those easy parts and felt insecure about the rest, the opposite actually happened. And when I looked at it that way, yet another agent’s comment came into focus. So I now had three agent comments in line.

Well, you can guess that this is when I figured out I did need to revise. I spent the week of #GUTGAA going through those parts of the novel and beefing them up. I know the manuscript as a whole is the better for it. It would have been nice if I’d figured this out when that first agent mentioned it, but I wasn’t ready to apply it then. And I truly believe that if any of the agents who read that version had loved my writing and premise enough, they would have worked with me on it. Instead, I’m grateful they gave me feedback that has helped me get the manuscript to the next level.

I received an agent request the last day of #GUTGAA, and that agent has the shiny new version. I also followed up with an agent from that first contest and got the opportunity to send her a revised version, so I’m feeling pretty good about it right now.

So am I done revising? Probably not. If I do get an agent with this version, I’m sure they’ll have changes. If I don’t, I’ll probably get feedback as to why not. It might not make sense to me at first, but I’ll keep chugging along until it clicks.

So where are you in the journey? What has made you decide to revise?

Writing

The Writer’s Voice

Thanks to Krista Van Dolzer, Brenda Drake, Cupid’s Literary Connection and Monica B.W. for hosting this contest!

DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLINIST

MG Magical Realism

43,000 words

QUERY:

Thirteen-year-old prodigy Miranda Harper craves the kind of perfection that goes beyond hitting all the right notes – like she’s inside the music. Thanks to her new violin, she achieves her goal, but it’s more than she bargained for. A flawless performance of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” lands her in a flying chariot piloted by a six-and-a-half-foot Valkyrie delivering a dead soldier to Valhalla. She’s sure there shouldn’t be dead bodies inside the music.

Miranda snaps back to reality, only to battle exhaustion and a reluctance to play for several days. She decides the Valkyrie incident was a hallucination, until the magic strikes again during a Halloween concert. This time her world goes black and white, and a dress-clad psycho chases her with a butcher knife. As a bonus, the scratches Miranda gets during her escape come back to the real world with her.

With each trip into the music, it’s harder to return and the side effects get worse. Miranda knows she should stop, but perfection is addictive. The euphoria of one extraordinary performance is worth a few days of exhaustion and some minor injuries. But when she discovers continuing to play the violin could trap her forever in an alternate reality, she must decide what perfection is really worth.

Complete at 43,000 words, DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLINIST will appeal to fans of Lindsey Leavitt’s PRINCESS FOR HIRE series and Jacqueline West’s THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE.

FIRST 250:

Perfection.

I knew it wasn’t really possible. Near perfection, yes. Total perfection, no way.

I’d learned that lesson after years of playing the violin. Something that sounded flawless to the average person was bound to have minuscule errors.

A tone so slightly off pitch that even someone with a highly trained ear couldn’t tell.

A note played a hundredth of a beat too soon.

A bow pulled at the wrong speed to produce the right sound.

A measure performed in mezzo piano instead of pianissimo.

Joshua Bell, classical music superstar and my idol, once said: “ … when it’s perfect … I feel like I can do no wrong. I could change my fingers – do it on a different string – because I have that much concentration. Also, you feel like you’re inside the music.”

That’s what I wanted to feel – that I was inside the music. That I was the music.

I especially wanted that sensation today, my first day as concertmaster of the youth symphony. Miranda Harper: concertmaster. I loved the sound of it. I should have had the title last season, but Dr. Kamensky said I needed a year to observe. It probably didn’t help that my first year was the previous concertmaster’s last year before going off to college, and it would have really sucked to be bumped by a seventh grader.

Instead he named me principal second violinist. At least we played some Mozart. Good old Wolfgang sometimes let the second violins outshine the firsts.

Now it was my turn to shine. And we weren’t playing Mozart today.