Saturday, September 18, 2010

When Revising Becomes an Ugly Tattoo


So I noticed something after turning in my last round of revisions to my agent: Sometimes revisions are like an ugly tattoo. It's the ink you get when you're drunk, or feeling impulsive, or on a dare. A week later, you look at the monstrosity on your arm and go to another tattoo artist and beg her to fix it! But it's HUGE. And even after she covers the portrait of--who the hell is that, anyway?--you realize the overlaying tattoo has made it bigger and even uglier than it was before!

Now, this is not to say that the writing was bad. In my case, the editor who's looking at my MS wanted me to change certain aspects in regards to the story's tone. You'd think that would be easy, but after revising the first chapter three times, I found that it had become irreparable. The realization came from a much deserved chiding from my agent. I'd sort-of lost focus somewhere in the revision process. I hadn't done my writing justice with the revisions. My agent was 100% right. Essentially, the entire chapter had to be scrapped and re-written.

I thought about why the revisions hadn't worked. I started out with my original chapter: the foundation of the book, the first glimpse of my characters and their personalities. Then, after the editor's feedback, I took that first chapter and rather than removing the elements she didn't like, I added another layer. When she asked for just a little bit more, I poured it on thick, adding yet another ugly layer to the previous two. I didn't remove what wasn't working, I just kept adding, and adding, and adding. What I ended up with was a friggin' mess.

In most cases, revisions are quick and easy fixes. A tweak here, a scene there... But if you have to change an entire element, I've learned it's best to to just start over. When I re-wrote the chapter this last time, I had a long talk with my characters prior to starting. I reminded myself of who they were, what they wanted, and how they ABSOLUTELY would NOT act. Then I hit the keyboard. The end result was a chapter that kept the integrity of my characters personalities intact. It laid down the foundation that I had originally laid while at the same time incorporating the story elements that my agent and the interested editor wanted. And when I turned the chapter in to my agent she said, "You nailed it!" I had essentially performed laser ink removal on that ugly tattoo that was my first chapter. Sometimes all you need is a blank canvas!

10 comments:

C. N. Nevets said...

I love this analogy. It may help me sort out some issues I'm having with my WIP, which has been through through quite a few overhauls already. Thanks for this clear and relatable advice!

Marva said...

Sometimes it's best to just say no.

The agent shopped your book with a certain tone. The publisher accepted the book with that tone. If that tone does sound sweet to you, then refuse. Will you lose the sale? Maybe. Will you lose your agent? If so, she's just not into you.

Easy for me to say being agentless. However, I was asked by a publisher to revise with the promise that my book would be published. I had to just say no. What she wanted might have been somebody super-duper book, but it wasn't mine.

However, I HAVE revised when the suggested changes made sense.

You don't need any ugly tattoos.

Tabitha Bird said...

Oh gosh. That is so true. I am re-writing at the moment for a 'possibly' interested agent and I have scrapped whole chapters in favor of re-writes for this very reason. Love that you talked to your characters like that. I kind of do the same thing. Sometimes they listen :)

Janet Johnson said...

Great post! I have felt like that with my first chapter for a while now. Though I think I kept cutting, and cutting until I'd cut the soul of the thing right out. I had to start over. Still wonder if I should start again.

Katie said...

I completely agree. Great post!

WindyA said...

Yay! I love this post! Especially that picture. ROFL!

I completely agree, though. When you lose yourself/your characters in a round of revisions for whatever reason, you lose the integrity of your story. Sometimes it takes some tough love to get you back to where you need to be!

Eric said...

Great analogy (and yeah, nice picture LOL). I can't imagine what was going through the tattoo artist's head as he inked that one. Since I do have a few tattoos, I can completely relate to the idea of a bad tattoo (which thankfully I don't have). As for your revisions, you're learning so much as you go through this process. You are already an awesome writer, but you'll be even better by the time you make it to the end. Great post!

lbdiamond said...

Good point. The art is in figuring out what to cut and what to add. More isn't necessarily better.

Fantastic post!

Kristy said...

That can be hard to accept and...overwhelming. You seem to have such a positive outlook on it though.

K.M. Weiland said...

It's way too easy to lose focus during revisions, especially after you've read the thing for the thirty millionth time. I've discovered that there comes a time when I simply have to chuck the MS in the closet and refuse to think about for a few months.