Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Five Stages of Revising

I'm at that point in my novel revisions where everything is crap. Every sentence seems contrived, the main character is shallow and setting...what setting?

I would be plunged into total despair, except that I recognize this as stage three of the revisions process. I've decided to list the five stages of revising so that when I reach stage four and want to toss the whole thing in the shredder I might feel a glimmer of hope.


1. Unabashed optimism. This is the stage where you get that bubble-envelope in the mail, read over the editors comments and realize that you don't have all that much work to do. After all, your project was pretty much perfect when you sent it in, so what's a little tweaking?

2. Creeping dread. As you dive into the revisions process, you start to read between the lines of your editorial letter. What does "explore this further with a deeper level of complexity" mean exactly?

3. Craptastic. This stage lifts the veil from your eyes and you see how bad the whole thing really is. You read other people's books and realize that your work is never going to come near that in terms of prose and characters. Basically, it stinks. It is at this point that you consider rewriting the entire thing in third person to see if that will help.

4. Deconstruction. In this stage, you will lay all of the pages out on the dining room table, the floor, the bed and every other horizontal surface to try and rearrange them in some sort of meaningful order. Why in the world did you put Chapter 3 before the point where she meets the guy? Stupid. It obviously has to come after. But that affects the relationship with the best friend, so the last half of Chapter 5 has to come before the first half of your new Chapter 3. At this point, your editorial letter is tattered and stained with coffee rings and tears of frustration.

5. Resignation. Your due date is looming and the manuscript is a mess. As the hours tick closer and closer you just try to cobble the thing back together so that the narrative makes some sort of sense. As you're skimming it for blatant spelling errors, you read that one sentence on page 127 that rings so true and so right that you allow yourself to think that it might have a few redeeming qualities after all. Maybe the editor will get it and be able to salvage something of the original idea and they won't cancel your contract and ask for the advance money back. Maybe.

In the end, you finish up this process with the knowledge that in a few weeks, you'll get another bubble-mailer with another print out and another editorial letter. And off you go for round two. See #1.

On this date: In 1922, Charles M. Schulz was born.


Anonymous said...

Thank you soooo much for this entry!

I just finished a MAJOR rewrite of my YA ms. (not with editorial comments, but a pretty major revision, anyway). I was euphoric! The ms. was brilliant!

I could feel my book in my hand and run my fingers over that newbery medal on the cover.

Then, my husband decided to "help" me out and read through it.

He's lucky I don't poison his dinner.

But, I guess the ms. is worth salvaging. Maybe my husband is, too.

We'll see.

cynjay said...

Love it. Some things are universal.