Friday, July 13, 2007

Too Close To Tell - Oy, I hate edits today

A few weeks ago I ran my first two chapters past my writers group. We meet up for a chat about twice a month and each of us takes turns submitting our work for critique. The group found some problems that I hadn't been aware of in the first two chapters, though I'm still not convinced that I agree with the assessment...

Being that I want the novel to become as good as humanly possible, I decided to edit with the notes from that chat in mind - adding a new scene and revising some rough patches - the new scene also meant a deletion of some segments in chapter two... This has taken me the bulk of the last two weeks and it's finally done. It was the longest two weeks I have spent on this novel - possibly the hardest bit of writing I've ever done, and I can't decide if it was so hard because I was fighting the critique or if it really doesn't work.

Does it read better? Does it pull the reader in and keep them there? The truth is, I don't know. I'm too close and I can't read the damn thing one more time without bouncing my head of the desk to stop the blinding pain that infiltrates my eyes at the sight of it... okay, a little over dramatic, but barely.

I know, at this moment I'm too close to assess these revisions in any honest manner so I'm leaving off on them and going back to where I was in revisions prior to that critique. If any of you have noticed my lack of posts and visits around the blog universe as of late, now you know where I was... I should be making visits in the coming days, and hopefully posting a bit more...

How about you guys? How is your writing coming? Have you hit rough patches of revision recently or are you basking in flowing prose at the moment?


jjdebenedictis said...

Have you hit rough patches of revision recently or are you basking in flowing prose at the moment?

Option B last week; Option A this week (unfortunately.)

If you're too close to it, put it away for at least a month. I think your plan to do something else is the correct one.

The Anti-Wife said...

I refuse to allow anyone to see my first draft until it's finished. I like to get it all down on paper then go back and review and revise - using those cut, paste, spell check and delete features liberally. When others comment before I carry my thought to their logical conclusion it throws me off track and makes me doubt myself.

Believe in yourself and write for you - not for the possibility of publication. You can always revise for publication later.

I think Miss Snark would say, "Stop obsessing."

Mary Witzl said...

Nice to have you back in the blogging world!

I have been working on a novel for some time now, and after rereading it recently, I knew quite a bit of it had to go. The first part was fine, but twenty pages of it did not work at all and had no 'zing.' Deleting them was painful, but positively cathartic. After I got rid of those pages, I went great guns on the next few chapters, then got to a point I wasn't sure of, and got bogged down. I'm giving it a rest for a few days (we have house guests, which makes it a bit easier); then I plan to go back to it and push myself to finish the next chapter.

When I show what I have written to my husband (who along with my best friend, happens to be one of my sternest and most discerning readers), he almost always has ideas about what works and does not work, and like you I generally resist swallowing them whole. But after a few weeks, I usually see his point. I don't necessarily accept his advice and change my work accordingly, but I see his point.

Putting your work away for a few months is hard, I find, but one of the best ways to get some distance from it and a more objective eye.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi JJ,

Yeah, it's an up and down journey. I was so hyped up when I finished the last edits of these chapters (I thought they were well polished at the time) this revision was just draining... can't wait to get back to the middle..

I'm also a firm believer in putting it away. This is my last momentous edit. Then I plan on putting it completely away for a month and working on my next novel - reading a few great books, and not thinking about this in any way at all. When I come back to it, I want to read it all the way through to see if I enjoy it (I'll note anything I find awkward or off, but otherwise no editing on that read). If the edits are substantial, I'll give it another month before proofing - if they're not that bad I'll just give it a few weeks and in the meantime I'll be going over my submission research and narrowing down / personalizing my queries.

Hi Anti-wife,

You know, I never used to let anyone see an early draft (this isn't early, it's my seventh). I did run my first chapter through kidcrit (a great group if anyone's looking for ya or children's critiques, lots of published writers who are fabulous and very helpful) earlier, and they were enormously helpful in editing out backstory and pinpointing where I was spoonfeeding - my major problem.

This particular crit threw me off because when I submitted it, I really thought it was my final edit. Like I said, I'm not sure the consensus was accurate so leaving it sit for a while will give me a better idea of whether it's improved or not.

Miss Snark would be right - don't you miss her?

Hi Mary,

Nice to be back in the blogging world :-)

I love it when they are zinging along, I really do love that rush - it's what makes the rough edits worth getting through.

You're right, too - you need that time away, even though you fairly itch it get back to it, but otherwise glaring mistakes will completely escape your attention... you need the fresh eye.

It's great that your husband is so helpful and forthright with your writing. Good readers can be hard to find.

Jerseygirl89 said...

And this is why my novel is a jumble of notes in my bedside table. . . I know you can do it. Keep persevering and listen to your gut for now. . .

hifidel said...

Hey Merry,

I am very confident it will come together.
I do know the feeling of tough criticism periods, especially when you don't agree with what was said.

I agonize over revisions, and seldom feel that anything is every quite finished. I guess that means I'm a bit of a perfectionist.

The space will be good. And you will get it done.

Hang in there.

Anita Daher said...

I've been putting in 16 hour days, Mer. I came from hols a week ago and learned my editor wanted a fairly major plot change in my latest. Plus I need to rewrite it from 3rd person to 1st.

Back to work...

Travis Erwin said...

My creative road has been rough of late with a few sporatic smooth patches thrown in. I'm actually going to blog about why I think this is either tomorrow or the next day.

Merry Jelinek said...


Thanks for the support! I'm still plugging away, it's actually moving much better now that I'm back to the middle point of the novel, rather than the first two chapters. Now, I shall hand back to you your same advice. Get those notes out of your bedside table!!!! I'll bet they're much better than you think they are, and you'll never know how good it can be until you've actually finished. I'll be rooting for you!

Hi Shelly,

Still hanging in there and, I will say this for myself, at least I didn't just discount the information - I tried it another way and when I can look at it with a fresher eye I'll be able to tell if it's improved...

I was thinking of checking your opinion on the rewrite, but I'm going to wait until I've finished the revisions completely. Thanks for the support.


OY!!! Okay, I shouldn't complain at all... If I were you, I'd be facing those revisions with a whole lot of chocolate and coffee on hand. How is it going? Did the switch from 3rd to 1st improve the story? That has to be a very difficult switch to pull off in a full ms.

By the way, Spider's Song is on my list of reads for when I'm finished with revisions - I can't wait, it looks really good.


I'll be stopping in to see your progress. I think that's the nature of the beast with writing - I haven't heard too many authors say that it flow smoothly without any hard writing periods - at least not any published ones.

Anita Daher said...

Hi Mer,
I was so worried about changing it from 3rd to 1st person, I dragged my feet as long as I could. Now that I've begun, I'm loving it. It's way easier to get a sense of personality in 1st person, and not that much different from blogging!

Sun Singer said...

Hi Merry,

Contrasted with what you know about your novel in progress, those doing the critiques know squat. Others can say what they think, and often there's some helpful stuff there--like the backstory help you found from kidscrit. Otherwise, don't listen.

I know a good publishing company editor can purportedly see a hit within the first few pages of a manuscript. But I prefer seeing the novel as all of a piece. The things I might initially think are missing from the first few chapters may be aptly answered a few more words into the story.

Many writers (including me) don't like showing early drafts to anyone. At that point, the story is often still somewhat fragile, perhaps not fully formed, and so once others get into it, it starts picking up bits and pieces of them and their ideas before it, or the author, are ready for input. You were helped by earlier critiques; perhaps now, though, setting the work aside is the best thing you can do.

That will give ample time for clearing all the other people out of the novel so it becomes 100% yours again.

Best of luck!


night lightning woman said...

The writing I have done professionally has usually not gotten much proffessional critique until the final stages, but what I do know is that I don't trust my judgment of anything I write for months after I finish. One of the things I enjoyed about working with families is that you know when you are in the middle of it how you are doing. If you stink, you can tell! And a breakthrough? Fabulous.
I'm really enjoying blogging, and I've been very pleased with some, but only now am I going back to the months' old writings to see what I think of them now. I THINK I am focusing better. I hope so.

Jen / domestika said...

Hi Merry. Once again, Malcolm has said almost exactly what's in my mind. While many of us are *coff coff* stunningly brilliant editors *coff coff* who can see at a glance where a ms needs a good massage, at this stage you are the only one who sees the whole flow of it. I think your current plan is a good one. Time to step away from other people's opinions and edit as your guts says you should (or not)... take no more advice on it -- until you set the novel in front of your agent or publisher's reader, at any rate!

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Malcolm, night lightening woman, and Jen,

Thanks for stopping in. Sorry it's been so long since I've answered comments - bad blogger. I've been swamped with summer and trying to use the time I get for writing... well, writing.

The edits have smoothed out some - good days and bad days though that first chapter was still the roughest to write. right now I'm working on a chapter by chapter overview so that I can assess the thing as a whole at a glance, and hopefully see any holes and to serve as a rough draft for a synopsis, for those rotten enough to prefer those in submission rather than partials.

I haven't decided whether to post submission progress - maybe just a brief mention that it's done and out... I'd hate for agents to look up my blog and see a bunch of whining about rejections...

Thanks for stopping in.