Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Drafty Vault

Zestful Blog Post #118

The current issue of Writer’s Digest magazine (August/September 2015) features an article by yours truly called “What Real Revision Looks Like.” My idea was to Show Not Tell aspiring authors different ways to revise, by printing before-and-after excerpts from my own published novels. At 4,000 words, it’s the longest piece I’ve ever done for the magazine, and it was a lot of fun, in spite of the heavy lifting required.

[The dining-room table looked like this for a while.]

Yes, I literally had to do some lifting, in order to retrieve and go through the early rough drafts of my novels, hunting for passages that would illustrate, when compared with the finished, published product, how to recognize manuscript problems and fix them, using elements of good fiction.

I do possess the original handwritten drafts of all my books except for the first, Holy Hell. The very earliest pages of that one I threw out at some point during the 1990s, when I had typed a version onto a diskette (yeah, techno, baby), had minimal storage space in my apartment, and the belief that it would be vain and insane and bad karma to think the manuscript would someday have any historical/scholarly value. But I did some heavy rewriting of it later, and discovered those handwritten pages in the vault. The vault is the place where our house trolls live, beneath the stairs. The manuscripts are in cardboard manuscript boxes stacked in plastic storage totes. None of this is archival, but oh well. Authors, even minor ones, are supposed to keep their original documents and bequeath them to an appropriate archive. I’ve not made this bequest yet, believing it would be vain and insane and bad karma to think my manuscripts will someday have historical/scholarly value. About 10 years ago I read a magazine article that told about some archive that was (at least then) paying ordinary published authors thousands of dollars, like 10 or 15K, for each of their first drafts they wanted to sell. I don’t know if that’s still real.

Like many living authors, the thought that somebody may write their PhD thesis on my work someday is both flattering and disturbing. The dead ones could care less. But hey, how many analyses of Shakespearean slang can the Library of Congress keep track of?

At any rate, it was fun revisiting those old pages—seeing the reams’-worth of yellow pads I used, the different inks—Pelikan Brown looks good against goldenrod paper—from my varied fountain pens and nibs. I mourn the fact that Waterman changed the name of its beautiful Florida Blue to Serenity Blue. Thanks, dudes. Now that I live in Florida I can’t even buy ink with my state name on it.

OK, this is getting too self-referential. About the article for a sec. The most key point is that revision does not necessarily mean cutting material. Yeah, you’ll probably cut some, maybe a ton. But revision is a lot about writing new stuff, to clarify, to make more compelling, to make more magic. I say, during revising: Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow.

Before I sign off, here’s some wonderful news from Diane Dettmann, an early adopter of You’ve Got a Book in You: Her new book, Courageous Footsteps: A WWII Novel, is now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online bookstores, as well as in bookstores local to her town of Afton, Minnesota.

She’s launching the book locally at an historic ice cream parlor in Afton on August 8 from 2-4. Hustle on over and meet a great gal, check out her intriguing book, and consume mass quantities. Congratulations, Diane!

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  1. Dialogue as negotiation -- what a great way to get your point across!

  2. Hey! Very glad you looked into it & found it helpful, Morgyn.

  3. Elizabeth, your table looks so neat compared to my writing space. :) I like your take on revision that it's not so much about whacking things out, but more about making the writing stronger. That really helps me have a more positive approach to the process. Thanks for sharing the information about my book, Courageous Footsteps A WWII Novel. The launch was a blast! Selma's is the oldest ice cream parlor in Minnesota. It was a perfect place for the setting of the book with 1940s music, ice cream and old-fashioned candies. I appreciate the support and inspiration you gave me during the writing and revising process. I almost quit twice, but your advice to "be patient and stick with it" really helped. I guess I did have a book in me! I have a sequel rolling around in my head, time to take out my You've Got A Book In You and start a new notebook. Happy Writing!

  4. Happy to pass the word, Diane. And you're welcome! Am so glad you stayed the course!


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