Last Friday morning I met with my coffee group. Though we normally meet on Fridays during the school year, this was a welcome summer coffee meeting. As the conversation progressed, the talk turned to my writing. I shared my struggles with the revisions I am making to my middle-grade novel, particularly my struggle with finding a certain character’s voice. I was very grateful to hear from one of these coffee friends (who himself is a screenplay writer) that I am not alone in the revision struggle. He shared some of his frustrating experiences with revision, which helped encourage me that I’m not alone. I very much appreciated his input and the assurance that a lot of writers have difficulty with revision.
One of the things that is both a blessing and a curse in writing is that it is often a solitary endeavor. Writers have to be able to work independently and need to enjoy spending time alone. This allows us to create in our own way, without interruption from people outside of our stories. Our characters keep us company, and help lead our writing down the right path. On the other hand, this isolation can be overwhelming. It can lead to the feeling that you’re alone in your struggles, with no one to commiserate. When you’re at a lack for ideas, there is no one there to talk it out with or to brainstorm.
Luckily for those of us to call ourselves writers, there are a lot of supports in place to help with that feeling of isolation. I left coffee on Friday knowing that I needed to look into some of these supports to keep myself motivated and positive. On my way home, I stopped and bought a new notebook and four multicolored pens (I kind of have a color thing; information means more to me when it’s in different colors!). When I got home, I opened the most recent issue of Writers Digest (the cover of which boasted the promise of support with “Your Ultimate Revision Guide.” A guide to help me revise this book? Yes, please! I opened both the notebook and the magazine and read through “The Geyser Approach to Revision” by James Scott Bell and quickly decided that I needed to reread this article like a student. (Since I was an elementary education major, not an English major, I am still very much a learner in terms of the correct ways to use the various parts of the writing process as an adult.) I used my notebook and pink pen to take fastidious notes over the article. There were so many useful gems of wisdom in this article, I had to use two pages of notebook paper. A few of my favorites:
“Invite the Flow to Return.” Bell highlights the importance of reliving your writing as you revise. A couple of his suggestions include creating a playlist representative of your story(Why haven’t I done this before? iTunes, you can expect a visit from me soon.) and creating a visual representation. My brain immediately started thinking of images that represent the characters in my book as well as the conflict. My scissors and glue haven’t been used this much since I left my classroom a few weeks ago!
Cut weak scenes. Okay, I know this. It’s super logical to get rid of the scenes that don’t advance the story in the way that’s needed. “Every scene should have a heart, the moment that gives it a reason to exist.” Yes! I need to find the heart of my scenes and those without a heart need to be sent on their way.
“Let the Geyser Loose.” Bell suggests spending 5-10 minutes writing feverishly on a particular scene that needs to be spiced up a bit, then reading though it and taking a few of the BEST things out of it. Love this idea.
Writer’s Digest also offered a fantastic article, “Raising Your Characters Above the Status Quo,” by Steven James. This article was particularly poignant based on the character struggles I have been having. James offered excellent advice on the importance of showing “shifting submission and dominance” in your characters. James talked about the purpose of the “supporting cast.” The reason those minor characters are around is to highlight the character traits of the protagonist. He also talked about the issue I know my critique partner was getting at when discussing Amber, my protagonist (I starred and circled this quote in my notes, it’s that important!). “If you want readers to invest in your protagonist, you’ll need to find areas where he has a weakness, low status, or something to overcome.” At the same time, the protagonist can’t be too weak. Otherwise readers will see him or her as hopeless. It’s a delicate balance for sure.
The support of bloggers is of huge importance to me, too. Whether they realize it or not, the posts that my fellow writers (both published and unpublished) create offer both advice and inspiration to me. I’m not sure whether it was fate, kismet, or a sign from God that splashed Mary Kennedy’s “10 Tips for Resilience” across my Twitter feed and to my attention, but I’m so glad it did. At a time when I’ve been struggling to keep working and fearful of attempting to query, Kennedy’s article offered advice.
Going from the naivety of thinking that book publishing is a magical world in which manuscripts go from envelope to hard cover in the blink of an eye, to the understanding that publishing comes with a lot of frustration, rejection, tears, and good old-fashioned hard work, is a difficult transition. I’m just grateful to have a variety of resources (and people) to turn to for support.