This is part of a year-long series about those intrepid newcomers, The Class of 2k8. To help marketing efforts for debut novelists, these 28 novelists have banded together to create a group marketing effort.
The Magic Thief, HarperCollins,
Kill Your Darlings
It’s one thing to write a novel. It’s a totally ‘nother thing to revise it until it is fit for human consumption. Before it is revised, a novel is a shaggy monster that is more likely to eat your reader’s head than to be read and enjoyed.
Writing a novel is immersive. Revision requires you to step back from the work and view it through critical eyes; it requires a certain distance and acuity of vision. Revising is not always an easy thing to do. But killing your darlings is an essential skill for a novelist, one I’m still learning.
I am an ‘organic’ writer, which means that I ‘grow’ a novel. It takes shape as I write it, and I don’t use an outline. What this means for me is that I write recursively, revising as I go. Writing is an act of discovery, so when I discover, for example, that my protagonist, Conn, needs to get a haircut in a certain scene, I go back and put in a bunch of references earlier in the text to his long hair. Or I realize that a certain character has more up his sleeve than his arm, so I go back and add some plotty subtext.
That’s revision during the writing process. Then there’s the next step, revising the whole book after it’s finished. For me, this first means working with my agent, who says “cut fifty pages out of the first half of the book” (which I do, because my agent is always right about this). After that’s done it means working with my lovely editor, Melanie.
I had a student once ask me, “How can I revise with an editor and still have the story be my own?” My answer was, “Get over it.” Writing at the professional level is often a collaborative process. It’s important to be open to revision suggestions while remaining true to your own vision for the story. Your editor can see far, far more clearly than you can your work’s excrescences and indulgences—and its beauties, too. Working with a trusted editor will make the book stronger, tighter, better.
Sometimes you have to be practical about revision; for example, you have to revise to achieve a certain page limit. Sometimes you revise for content. You could think of it as play—having fun tweaking characterization, layering in more setting, tightening up the plot, adding sparkle to the dialogue, ironing out the style. The key is to be open to other possibilities, not stubbornly sticking with the first thing you wrote.
The revision process can take months. It can be difficult. It can also be a lot of fun. I’m expecting revision notes from my editor next week. I can’t wait to get started!
Look for these other 2k8 Stories:
March: Jody Feldman
April: Zu Vincent
April: M.P. Barker
May: Sarah Prineas
June: Daphne Grab
July: N.A. Nelson
August: Laurel Snyder
September: Nancy Viau
October: Ellen Booraem
October: P.J. Hoover
October: Courtney Sheinmel