Real Life Reevizion (or) The Road to Heaven is Paved with Sharpie Pens

Ah, revision. Why the very thought of it gives me the desire to weave myself a crown of dandelions and dance and twirl under a bright Connecticut sun. No, I’m not happy. I’m just procrastinating.

Revising for myself was easier, but revising for an agent or editor is far more gratifying. A feeling of accomplishment, but also a little twitch-inducing at times. Still, though. I do like it. My editor understands my characters and why I wrote the book in the first place—a huge plus! I have come to view the two of us as a team. (Sometimes I think I must have made a deal with the devil to have signed with both Erin and Nancy; I suppose I’ll find out eventually. Yeesh.)

First thing I do upon receiving a revision note (from my agent or editor), is read over the comments and deletions, looking for things that make me proclaim loudly, “What a fool I’ve been to have missed that before!” (The neighbors can attest to my doing this.) I also scan for words like, “brilliant” or “genius” which do turn up when I write them in myself. I also look for things that are…shall I say…hard pills to swallow. Usually the deletion of something I love. Then I need some time. A little time to let it sink in. Light some candles. Say a prayer. Cry just a wee bit.

Then comes the glory! Sharpie pens (purple or orange on real celebratory days) and small legal pads with which I make totally dorkified lists of issues that must be addressed. Yes, I even make little boxes in the margin so that I can check things off as I do them. (Not funny, that laughing of yours) These lists get organized by character, chapter, plot lines, detail-ribbons to be drawn through the text, etc. I will usually end up with multiple stapled revision packets, including a list of ideas that have spring boarded from the original notes. Yes, it is all. Very. Organized. These lists on my cluttered desk are an oxymoron incarnate. Did I mention the color coding?

All the while, I focus on holding onto the very first nuggets that drove the story to begin with. The voice. The tone. The undercurrents. It’s like focusing the camera without the “auto” feature. Several different settings need to interact with each other perfectly to reveal a crisp picture. Sure, it’s easy to cut words, but does the character stay true to her voice? Is the depth and emotion diluted? Does is sound right?

Lisa says in her fabulous post that real life (RL) interferes with her work. Yes. I, too, have been known to look up at 7:00 PM and find a hungry kid in my doorway, causing me to marvel at why the clock in my office moves at twice the speed of every other clock in the house. Because once I get hooked by the work, I’m hooked for good. I get up only for important things like coffee refills and house fires.

When my kids come home from school, however, I leave my office to get the rundowns of their days. Sitting dormant in front of the computer mid-revision is like a beagle sitting still in front of a steak; there’s only so much one can realistically expect! If I don’t leave the computer, my mind continues to work while I talk, and that’s no way to talk to anyone, I’ve decided.

However, I have to admit that sometimes long hours at the computer fry me. Yesterday, I finally dragged myself out of the office, looking for another living thing. Three hours of ping pong and a trivia game with the kids, and I was refreshed! Better than new. Sometimes, I need real life to creep in. Yet, at the same time, there are times RL interferes with the process—writing in the trenches time. I suppose I’m just hard to please.

One thing, though. Revision follows you. Everywhere. While perusing the pastas in the grocery store, I’ll wonder how Carley may handle a curveball I’m planning for her. While doing dishes, I may try to come up with some wise crack for Toni to make against my beloved Red Sox. I see and smell and hear things that remind me of something in my books all day long. Songs I hear that remind me of “Carley things” (like this song!). An inflection in the voice of one of my kids. The mannerisms of a stranger. An outfit someone’s wearing. It’s both a curse and a blessing. But, it all informs the revision. I carry a notebook in my pocket for such occasions. Always.

So, although real life can be distracting, for me, my real life spurs incubation. While my writing life requires solitude, I do better with real life buzzing around me. In my mind, the hard work of revision and real life are like two hands that hold each other.

Separate yet together. A lot like a writer and her editor.

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17 Comments

Filed under Colleagues, Editing and Revising, Editor, Publishers and Editors, Writing, Writing and Life

17 responses to “Real Life Reevizion (or) The Road to Heaven is Paved with Sharpie Pens

  1. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Love this reminder that Real Life feeds the revision muse–thanks for that, Lynda. My husband has gotten to the point where he can recognize my glazed expression when I’m (supposed to be) in Real Life mode…he’ll say, “You’re thinking about your book again, aren’t you?”

    Um, yeah.

    🙂

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Yeah, the joke around here is, “Staring out the window IS working!” But, of course, that’s no joke! 😉

      Like

  2. Marie Tobin

    Great Post! I love reading your blog–funny, wry, apt, encouraging–and can so picture you- or any one of us – dragging ourselves out of our writer-caves, blinking into focus enough to answer ?s like ‘what’s for dinner,’ ‘can I use your laptop to do homework’ and ‘where are my _______ (fill in the blank: running shoes for track, pants, etc.)’ Ping-pong – great idea! though after hours writing, not sure I wouldn’t just stand there 🙂 THANKS, Lynda and congrats on getting through those last revisions before the book hits the stores–cannot wait!

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Oh, Marie–such a nice comment. Thanks so much! Yeah, now that my youngest is a teenager, the “What”s for dinner?” question has become very important to him! When I know I have a writing gauntlet coming up, I make and freeze a lot of stuff. Takes the pressure off of me–and makes them happy.

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  3. Julia

    You are an inspiration Lynda. What a great post (as always). I laughed, I cried (well, not really…the sheep get upset if I cry) and I got the urge to revise. Just have to wait until I finish work, water the cows, and pick up the plants at the greenhouse. All of which are inspirations for my writing too.

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    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Well, spuring anyone on to want to revise is a feat, I think. When you water cows and leave them in the sun, do they sprout anything or merely grow bigger?

      BTW, I have a feeling that you’re being truthful about the sheep. You are, aren’t you? 😉

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  4. The kid in the doorway is absolutely adorable. Where’d you get him?

    This revising thing is so layered. I had no idea. Fortunately, I didn’t have to move characters around, and I couldn’t change the plot. But, when my editor said that reading one chapter made her feel like she’d spent a month in a city council meeting, I knew I was in trouble. So, that chapter got mightily revised.

    And, silly me, I thought it was done. No, that was just the first-round revision. That was just figuring out how to tell the story the way I should have told it the first time. So, then I had to fix it the way I had to fix the couple of chapters I actually did write the way they should have been the first time–re-word, move paragraphs, hunt down facts, check quotations.

    Now that that’s done, I’m waiting for the third shoe to drop. How many shoes can my editor wear, anyway? Before I’m done, I might think of her as a centipede.

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      “The kid” is my son, actually. Thanks, Cynthia! His very biased mother thinks he’s adorable, too. 😉 The picture was taken as we checked into the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. The four of us traveled for two weeks, so we had plenty of luggage (And I overpack ALL the time!) When the kind elevator operator put our bags into the elevator and pushed the button, the elevator…uh…broke. This was Kyle’s expression upon hearing that news.

      I suppose revising non-fiction vs. fiction would be completely different animals. Yet, I do have to check fact ribbons in my stories, too. I bet a program like Scrivener would be great for non-fiction writers? Anyway, I’ll assume, Cynthia, that you have an editor of the ordinary two-footed variety.

      Looking forward to hearing about your next project, Cynthia!

      Like

      • Hilarious story about the elevator! And, you had the presence of mind to snap his photo at that moment.

        I look forward to hearing about my next project, too. It’s been weighing me down for months and months.

        Like

  5. Great post! Not least because that’s the way it works for me. Life is a river and the writing/revising is a current that flows with the rest of the water, sometimes on the surface, sometimes deep below, but always there.

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  6. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    Hey, Kathy, Thanks for stopping by. I like your river metaphor very much. I feel that so much of the writing process is described that way–in swirls and undercurrents.

    Like

  7. Great post, Lynda! I love your revision organizational skills–can you come do them for me when I get my edit letter??? One of my favorite expressions from my own writing world is “life intervenes.” It can be so hard to tear myself away when I’m immersed, but I try to make a truce with myself over worrying about time away from writing/revision when family matters call. Still, with this upcoming revision I’m anticipating that if life intervenes to the extent that I think it will, I’ll be holed up in some hotel room in the days before the manuscript is due just me, my computer, a bag of apples, a hunk of cheese, and a bag of popcorn!

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  8. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    Thanks, Leslie! With my love of Sharpies and legal pads, I may consider branching out? 😉 Yes, I, too, tried the hotel thing once, but I couldn’t focus like I can at home. I recall one day, here, just before my ms was due to my editor, that my husband agreed to take the kids out for a hike, a movie, and dinner. I was bummed not to go, but it was a great work day!

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  9. Love this, Lynda. I’m a dorkified listmaker too! As if I might forget what I need to do, after interrupting kids, interrupting chickens… because I agree that the work never really leaves our heads.

    And p.s., I’m sure the ms is brilliant and genius, or at least it will be once you finish your revisions!

    Like

    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Deborah! We should get together and make dorkified lists together. I’ll draw up a list of topics and we’ll talk!

      Thanks so much for your kind words. Hopefully, the book will find its readers. Perhaps, the blue chicken will like it….

      Lynda

      Like

  10. J. Anderson Coats

    “Revision follows you. Everywhere.”

    This is totally true. Even when you don’t want it to.

    Like

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