Brainspace for Rent, Enquire within

I can easily relate to Jeannie’s post about having to let go of those manuscripts to which we’ve become so attached. After several rounds of revision to get it ready to show our agents, another few rounds before it goes on sub, and then the whole post-sale revision process that includes structural edits, line edits, copy edits and first pass pages, you’d think an author would want nothing more to do with her book. But, you know what? If I’d been offered another few chances to tweak it, I’d have taken them. And I bet most authors would say the same. Like a home remodeler or plastic surgeon, we can always spot something to fix.

Don’t these guys look like they could use some dressing up? Manes and wings of billowing silk would do just the trick.

So it’s good thing our publishers say when. Because letting go of that book means we can open our psyche to accept a new tenant. That’s the trade-off–give up tinkering with one story and you get to start dreaming of, and exploring, another. One you can shape and reshape over the course of another dozen versions. Watching your idea evolve is like playing an intricate game of Telephone, where your original pages look nothing like the end result. Case in point, my first manuscript was women’s fiction about an artist who falls for a guy newly arrived from East Berlin at the time the wall fell. Fast forward a few years and the story had morphed into a contemporary YA about an artsy girl whose dream is to dress up the massive shipping cranes that line Seattle’s harbor.

I think of storytelling like mining, chipping away until we find an ore, and then seeing how far it’ll go. My hard drive is littered with the first fifty pages of many stories whose vein of ore didn’t travel far enough. But that’s okay. All that gold dust will get used somehow, some way, in some other story.

So, during this waiting time between turning in the final draft and diving into the launch, I’m happily chipping away at the next new thing. Deciding that maybe the story of a girl whose mom is kidnapped because she’s developed a secret new energy source is really the story of a mom who runs away of her own free will, say, to Bali, where she’ll use her scientific discoveries to wipe out all technology in the region and create her own version of Eden, unless her daughter foils her crazy scheme. No, wait, the mother doesn’t disappear at all—the girl’s whole family travels to Bali on vacation, where the girl contracts a mysterious virus that has both desirable and lethal side effects. No, wait, it isn’t a virus, it’s a man-made drug…Well, you get the idea.

Enjoy the satisfaction that comes when “The End” really means the end. Chances are you’ve already found “The Beginning” of another adventure that will lead you on journey that can keep changing until you’re told when once again.



Filed under Editing and Revising

9 responses to “Brainspace for Rent, Enquire within

  1. Jeanne, I was thinking about this recently, too! Even though, plotwise, hardly anything has changed for my book from the first draft to where it is now, I doubt that there’s a single sentence that has survived intact without some sort of tweaking. Now that I’m on to a new WIP, though, I think there may be more potential for bigger content changes down the road. So I’m curious–with your new book, has each major plot change you’ve decided on resulted in a whole new draft? Or are you exploring different options pretty early on in the process as you brainstorm and outline?


    • I look at the first fifty pages plus synopsis as a package. As my critique partners can wearily attest to, I write many versions of those, often throwing them out and starting fresh, until I get a plot/voice/atmosphere I’m happy with. After that I’ll write the rest of the draft. Good luck with your plotting!


  2. Pingback: Brainspace for Rent, Enquire within | Jeanne Ryan

  3. I think the initial tinkering is the part of writing I love most, Jeanne–when anything is possible. Once it’s been submitted to our agents or editors, it becomes a collaboration, which also has its pluses. But that pocket of time when your story is your own is golden. Thanks for that reminder!


  4. Jeanne, I’ve written two manuscripts since KATERINA’S WISH first went out on revision, and am working on a new one. One of those two is currently on submission, the other is awaiting editing, but alas–I was distracted by a shiny new idea. Unlike you, I don’t tend to want to keep tweaking. I tend to want to stop too soon. Hence the one waiting for revision. But, that probably won’t keep me from finding myself down the road thinking to myself, “I wish I had changed that!”


  5. J. Anderson Coats

    I admire you guys for not being completely freaking exhausted after finishing the whole process. Post-novel ennui hits me pretty hard sometimes, but yeah, there is something wonderfully liberating about opening a new document with no baggage and just filling it up with shiny new words.


    • Interesting how different all our experiences have been. I hit ‘freaking exhaused’ after two intensive rounds of structural revisions. Then, somewhere between copy edits and first pass pages, I got my second wind.


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