Thursday, August 26, 2010

Faith in Revisions

There is a great article in Poets & Writers, called Revision as Renovation, by Benjamin Percy. It's definitely worth a read. He draws parallels between revising and home renovation. And, while I knew the article was about the importance of revision, I couldn't help but focus on these paragraphs:
"I had sold my novel, The Wilding. My edi-
tor at Graywolf Press, Fiona McCrae, told me how excited
she was about the manuscript, but wondered if I might be
amenable to some changes. Of course, I said. What did
she have in mind? 'How about let’s start with the point of
view?' she said. 'Might we shift it from first to third? And
in doing so, with the freedom afforded to the characters,
perhaps we could add five interlocking plotlines all com-
ing to a head at once?' The book had good bones, in other
words, but it needed some renovation."
and then this:
"It took me a year to rewrite The Wilding, to change from first to third person, to free up those characters and braid together their stories. And when I handed it in to Fiona in March 2009, she said . . . 'Fantastic. Exactly what we wanted. Now, would you mind cutting several of these sub-plots? And maybe we could add another in a female perspective? And while we're at it, how about let's rethink the ending?' And, and, and."

All I could think was, "Wow! An editor acquired a book that needed ALL that revision? She waited a year for revisions, and then asked for more?" I was left shaking my head in wonder. As a writer, all I could think was how amazing, validating, affirming it is to know someone has that kind of faith in your work; that much love for just the idea of what you're writing! That's the kind of excitement and enthusiasm you want for your writing!

I'm grateful to articles like these because most authors don't know what it's like for other authors. We are an isolated bunch, but reading others' experiences gives us great insight into our own, and to the industry in which we are investing so much time, energy and heart, with no promise of any kind of return, save for our love of the craft.

2 comments:

triciasullivan said...

Great article--thanks for posting.

So much of what you hear nowadays involves acquisitions committees and a sense that publishers won't touch a book unless it seems like a sure thing. But how do you know what a sure thing looks like without an editor to get behind the work? Different readers have different ideas about the direction a book should take. It seems to work so much better when an editor and an author can get together and agree on a vision.

There are two things that strike me here. Fiona's British accent--if her publishing background is in the UK, they are more old-fashioned here in their view of the editor/author relationship, and maybe she has brought that with her. And the other thing is Benjamin's background. He comes to his first novel with a lot of credentials, so in a sense he's already proven himself. In literary fiction (from what I knew of it when my ex was involved in that field) there is quite a bit more latitude for the writer in terms of time and creative license. So, maybe I'm not totally surprised.

But what I related to most was the sense of saying, 'OK, I'll do it,' and then actually looking at the manuscript and seeing the amount of work (mostly destruction) involved in getting from there to here. I'm working on a biggish revision myself right now (on spec), and it's hard because the first draft was well-received by early readers, but I had taken a structural route that wasn't really working as well as it might, and one reader pointed this out to me. I agree with Benjamin that you have to look hardest at the criticisms, as painful as this may be.

Deep revision like that--not just changing wallpaper, but knocking holes through walls and putting in staircases--that is hard to do alone. I have this terrible fear that I'm going to make things worse. I started with a plausible, if imperfect, house. What if I end up with a pile of wood and a chimney? These doubts have to be pushed aside every day.

So I really appreciate reading this. I haven't got a Fiona, but you're right: reading about what other writers go through is heartening! Thanks.

Neesha Meminger said...

@ Tricia: "Deep revision like that--not just changing wallpaper, but knocking holes through walls and putting in staircases--that is hard to do alone. I have this terrible fear that I'm going to make things worse. I started with a plausible, if imperfect, house. What if I end up with a pile of wood and a chimney? These doubts have to be pushed aside every day."

I know! I'm doing a ground-up revision, myself, so I totally feel you. I did a couple of those knock-it-all-down-and-start-again-with-the-same-materials revisions for Shine, and it's out there doing its thing. So, it's definitely worth it. Because regardless of what happens with the publishing part, you're *learning*, and that's priceless!

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