Tag Archives: revising

Revision—To Quit or To Quilt?

I’m going to give it to you straight.

Writing is challenging enough, but to revise a manuscript—to critically reconsider each element and rework it—takes next-level commitment. Everything matters, from the tiniest detail to a panoramic vision of the whole.

The word revise is of French origin and means, “to see again.” At some point in the creative process, your writing must be seen afresh, and no one can do that like you. You, after all, envisioned your idea and with the barest of materials—imagination, emotion, words—undertook to create something both beautiful and useful. Because of you, a unique manuscript came into the world, and at some point, you will strive to revise it. Your instincts about this prospect are correct, at least in part.

Correct:

-It will be demanding and will require a fresh outpouring of determination.

Incorrect:

-You can’t do it.

You can and moreover, you will. Why? Because you love and believe in your manuscript. Trust me, you wouldn’t have gotten this far if you didn’t. If you didn’t believe in your story and in your ability to tell it, then all the notebooks, colorful thumb drives, or even that pesky laptop would be mouldering in a drawer.

Like my single, sorry attempt at a quilt.

Sure, I bought the supplies. I had coordinating fabrics, the roll-y cutting blade thing, and the self-healing mat. I had templates, thread, and batting. I read the directions. I even had middling good intentions.

I barely got started. Turns out, my heart isn’t drawn to fabric and batting, and I can’t cut a triangle to save my life. I wasn’t committed and before long, I knew it. I put my quilt stuff in a drawer and moved on.

I deeply admire quilters. I’m dazzled by the skill and artistry required to make even a basic quilt. I appreciate quilting’s history, its regional and cultural variations, and its stitch-by stitch manifestation of mathematical understanding and applied color theory. Behold this gorgeous example:

Now that I’ve tried my hand at quilting, I esteem these creators and their profoundly beautiful, profoundly useful, something-from-nearly-nothing coverlets much more. Their commitment to each one is self-evident.

I admire writers too. Their next-level commitment to creating the profoundly beautiful and profoundly useful is self-evident. Which brings me back to revision.

I don’t care if your manuscript is a 15-word board book or a Game Of Thrones-esque monster, you’ve come this far and will persist. With the courage of your convictions, you’ll disassemble your writing as laboriously as you pieced it together. You’ll pull it apart at the seams, tease out the stitches, and cut where you must to shred what was whole into back bright scraps. You’ll re-see it. And then—here comes the magic—you’ll bring it back together. The final result will be soft and strong, colorful, useful, and durable. It will offer comfort and cheer, warmth and inspiration. Born of tireless work and loving patience, of an open mind and a more open heart, it will be a wonder.

And that’s the truth.

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A few picture books about quilting:

Patricia McKissack and Cozbi A. Cabrera’s STITCHIN’ and PULLIN’Stitchin and PullinGeorgia Guback’s LUKA’S QUILT.

Luka's Quilt

Ann Whitford Paul and Jeanette Winter’s EIGHT HANDS ROUND.

Quilt image credit: Soldier’s Quilt, Artist unidentified, Probably United States, Canada, or Great Britain, 1854–1890, Wool melton, 67 x 66 1/2 in. American Folk Art Museum


I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. It will be illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.
I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Advice, craft~writing, Editing and Revising, Inspiration, Uncategorized, Writing

Sentiment and Stakes

I was in New Orleans this past weekend visiting my son and continuing my quest to find the ideal plate of shrimp and grits. The August air was swampy, but the city was packed with what I first thought were tourists. Then I looked again. I saw families sporting brand-new shirts with matching baseball caps. I saw younger kids trailing behind an apparently aloof older sibling.

Aloof

The moms would gaze at my son and turn to me with a small, sisterly smile, eyes often brimming with tears.

Mom crying

The dads were generally hale and hearty as they lugged huge duffles around, but I wasn’t fooled.

Crying

You guessed it. It was freshman move-in weekend at Tulane.

This is a familiar autumnal scene. Whether it’s kindergarten or university, parents dust off and put on their brave faces and launch their children toward growth and change. Hopes and fears alike accompany them. There’s a great deal at stake. After all, lots of time and endless hard work go into the making of a person, and all that time and hard work offer no guarantee. Sorry.

Harry Potter Goodbye

Writers must know about stakes too. There’s a old blacksmith saying that says, “No hoof, no horse.” Well, writers could just as easily say, “No stakes, no story.” Without stakes, a story simply won’t hold the interest of the reader. The genre doesn’t matter. Tiny children know how to care about what a character stands to gain or lose. They know enough to throw a boring book across the room too. A carefully constructed setting peopled by well-developed characters and a masterfully layered plot are all helpful, but stakes—life, death, hello, goodbye, friendship, enmity—are what make any story worthwhile.

If your aim is to pack up your story, to oust it from the cozy confines of home and ship it out into the world, be sure you know what’s at stake for it. Your characters must face step-by-step choices with real consequences. Will they go to the Social Justice barbecue? Or will they swarm en masse like thirsty locusts to the campus bar instead? In the case of Tulane, it’s called THE BOOT. I wish I were kidding. (See? Stakes!)

The Boot

When you’ve done all you can to challenge your character, to test their mettle, to compel them to change and become who they are, when you’ve finally pushed them out of the nest with a quick tap on the “send” button, Wipe your tears and be good to yourself. I recommend a nice plate of shrimp and grits.  You’ve surely earned it.

Shrimp and grits

 


Hayley's Author Photo

About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Heading Back, Trying Again

4209645736_4121bae310_b

Tejas

Last week, my husband and I took our young son down to visit his relatives in Texas. We flew into Dallas first, then boarded another plane to fly way down south to McAllen. Air travel is tedious in the first place. Add a small child to the mix and it becomes a high-energy challenge to make sure said child is kept busy enough not to annoy everybody else on the plane. When we began our final descent into McAllen, we were relieved, to say the least. Our uncomfortable slog was almost done. Soon we would collect our bags, check into the hotel, and start the vacation.

We were flying over the landing strip – we could barely see the runway beneath us, through a thick mist of low clouds – when the plane pulled sharply up and began to climb. The captain’s voice crackled over the PA. “They’re telling us not to land, due to weather conditions. We’re going to try to divert to Corpus Christi. Don’t worry, folks, we have plenty of gas.”

Ugh.

We got to Corpus. Same thing again. Bad weather. Couldn’t land. “We’re going to have to head back to Dallas and try again later.”

Malcolm

My son, four years ago, immediately after his very first long plane ride. “That was really stupid, Mommy,” his adorable face seems to say.

NOOOOOOOOOOO.

The plane turned around. My son, who had believed he was about to escape from confinement and get sneaked lots of pieces of early Easter candy by his loving relatives, now had to sit through not one but two more plane rides. He threw himself to the floor in front of his seat and cried “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO DALLAS!” (Since this was exactly how every adult on the plane wanted to react but could not, nobody minded the display.)

The reason I share this story is that, right now, I have to revise a long novel in short order. I’ve already revised this sucker a couple of times, but it still requires some pretty extensive rebooting, and frankly? I don’t want to go to Dallas. I didn’t anticipate that I would have to go all the way back to Dallas. Corpus Christi, sure, a quick diversion – but back from whence I came? NOOOOOOOOOOO. *throws fit on cabin floor* See, to me, the story seemed to be landing beautifully. I could see the runway fine. I didn’t know there was a problem. But as it turns out, there’s some bad weather, so if I really want to reach the destination, then there’s just nothing for it but to circle back and try again.

The worst part is, now that the bad weather has been pointed out to me, I can see it. There it is. Yep. I do have to go back to &*$#ing Dallas. And while I’m sure that, deep down, I do have enough gas to get me there, it doesn’t feel like it right now. My debut is coming out in two weeks (insert ONE MILLION HOORAYS!), which is a huge and exciting big deal that has me completely off kilter. I’ve found it impossible to keep up my usual levels of productivity.

1419016087843 (1)

A Christmas gift from one of my students, since I am always after them to revise. Lately, every day, this thing mocks me from the cupboard.

Luckily, there are other people with me on this flight. Just seeing them there and knowing that they understand exactly how I feel is enough to keep me sane. The lovely and talented Tara Dairman, whose debut novel launched last year, was in Seattle a few weeks ago, so a few of us EMLA folks in the area met up for dinner. Being out with Tara, Laurie Thompson, Jeanne Ryan, and Trish Toney Lawrence was delightful and bracing. At one point in the conversation, I admitted that I’m just not writing the way I usually do, and it’s really scaring me. Tara (who is now working on the third book in her series) replied, “That’s normal. On the Fourteeners board, there was a whole thread about how none of us could write anymore, now that our first books were launching. It’ll pass, you’ll be fine.”

It was exactly what I needed to hear, and I know that she’s right. Just yesterday, I found myself mentally problem solving some of the manuscript’s biggest issues, and I was excited about the possible solutions. So while it might be uncomfortable and tedious, I’ll get there. Sure, I might have to go back and sit in the airport. Eat a soggy, twelve-dollar sandwich. Stay a night at the Ramada and then climb back into the same clothes again tomorrow.

But I’ll get there.

HiRes_Morrison_6814_crop Megan Morrison is a mom, a middle-school teacher, and the author of GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL, due out April 28 from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. Visit her at meganmorrison.net.

 

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Preparing to Leap

small__3965231381I’ve been working on my final edits for Book Scavenger. I began this novel over ten years ago, and I’ve always had the comfort of knowing whatever I put down on paper could be changed. Now I have about two weeks left of revising and fiddling, and then the version I send back to my editor will pretty much be the one that appears in stores. This is exciting and totally terrifying.

It’s terrifying because there’s no turning back now. There are nerves about sharing my writing with a wider audience. I hope people will like my book. I don’t want to disappoint friends and family who have supported me over the years. I want my editor and agent and critique partners to be proud of my book.

It’s exciting because I love my book. Over ten years ago, I set out to write a story I would have loved as a kid. I drew on some of my favorite things from childhood: Goonies; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; The Westing Game; The Egypt Game; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It took me drafts and drafts and drafts to get all the pieces of my story to work together in a way that finally represented the characters and world I held in my imagination. It’s not a perfect book–I doubt I will ever write something that I would consider perfect–but I love it nonetheless.

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing what I feel in this moment is similar to something I worry about as a mother: How will the world treat this piece of my heart that I love and have nurtured? Will people buy it, praise it, recommend it? Will they hate it, trash it, make fun of it? Will they ignore it?

The fate of my book will soon be out of my hands and literally in the hands of others. These last moments I have with Book Scavenger are me doing my best to prepare my baby for the big, wide world out there.

It helps that I recently saw the rough sketches for interior illustrations. Not only was this an incredibly happy, surreal moment, but it helped me detach from the book as “mine”. The incredible Sarah Watt‘s rendering of the characters is going to go hand-in-hand with a reader’s consumption of my words. When I think of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I think of Quentin Blake’s illustrations. When I imagine Tara Dairman’s Gladys Gatsby, I picture Kelly Murphy’s drawings. When I picture Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, I picture Garth Williams illustrations.

So this is all part of my process right now. Final edits, fact-checking, fussing with words, and preparing myself to let go, step back, and let Book Scavenger leap out of the nest.

 

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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

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Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Helpful or Otherwise, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

A Title Change and Why

I REALLY notice titles. Doesn’t everybody? We all have picked up books based titles, and I want people to pick up my book based on the title.

So here is my title change story.

I liked my old title, THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON, and I felt it was a title that kids would like. I felt people would pick it up. After all, dragons are on Tara Lazar’s list of 500+ Things That Kids Like. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted my title to be a glimpse into my story. A lure. And I had an idea that my title could accomplish this better by adding a few words. So I researched. I looked at title length. I looked at title layouts on covers. I thought. And thought some more. I let the new title wander around in my brain a while. I said it out loud in my house. I said it out loud while walking and driving. I typed it out and stared at it. I thought about people saying, “Oh, you must read MY OLD TITLE or MY NEW TITLE.” Which was better? I tried it out on some family and friends. And then I decided to approach my editor. I wanted her expertise and I knew from our working relationship that she would listen to my reasons and tell me her honest thoughts.

She liked my new title! She agreed with my reasoning.

So . . . THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON

is now

*drum roll*

THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT

I’m very excited about the title change. It’s really a pretty simple change and may not seem like much to get excited over. After all, it’s only four more words. But to me it was a big decision, and the excitement comes from the feeling that I have given it the thought a title deserves.

Like I said, I had my reasons for wanting the change. Here they are. Maybe some of my “thinking through” will strike a chord with you if you’re wondering about a title.

  • THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON was fun. And it’s a good title. But THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT gives a more tempting glimpse into my story and is a great title  and even more fun 🙂
  • Not only do dragons make Tara Lazar’s list of 500+ Things That Kids Like, but so do knights. So I now have two things that kids like! Double the title temptation. (Even without Tara’s list, I knew that kids liked dragons AND knights, but I wanted to mention her list here because I refer to it often and thought all of you may benefit from Tara’s list, too. It’s an idea generator!)
  • I noticed that a lot of THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY retellings included not only the swallow-er, but the swallow-ee. I felt there was good reason for this. The reason being . . .some of the titles made me laugh before I ever opened the books! Really . . . THAT swallowed THAT? Funny! I want to read more.

So there you have it. A lot of thought. A simple change. And hopefully a title that will draw readers to the tale of an old dragon who swallows a knight.

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penny3

Penny Parker Klostermann’s debut picture book, There Was An Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight, is coming from Random House Children’s Publishing Fall 2015. You can follow her on Twitter @pklostermann and visit her blog HERE. Penny is represented by Tricia Lawrence.

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Fling, Flang, Flung

Party hatAfter finishing a major round of revisions this past week, I wanted to celebrate by posting something profound, or inspirational, or at the very least something helpful to other writers. What I landed on is probably not any of those things, but it’s a topic that’s been stuck in my brain for days.

A line from Rebecca’s hilarious post on Thursday sums it up well:

“Not everyone knows what it is like to work for hours, agonizing over the subtleties of word choice. (Is it a secret meeting? A clandestine meeting? Does a stealthy meeting make sense?)”

Word choice. As writers, it’s our job to play with words, to throw them against the wall and see what sticks. It’s fun. Too much fun, maybe, because in addition to spending waaaay too much time wrestling with a single word or phrase, I get carried away with my own little writer quirks that I don’t even recognize until a) someone points them out or, b) they suddenly become glaringly obvious after I failed to notice them on fifty-three previous read-throughs.

My most common quirk, and luckily the easiest to fix, is adverb overkill (see paragraph above). I love Stephen King’s view on adverbs in the fabulous On Writing: “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” He compares them to dandelions, and if you haven’t read this book or even if it’s been a while, I highly recommend…uh, I recommend it a lot. Mui mucho. Page 125 in particular.

OnwritingQuirk #2: Sentences where I like two adjectives equally well and can’t choose between them: “Joe felt worn and worried.” “Floyd’s briefcase looked scuffed and scratched.” Why use just one when you can double up for twice the impact? And yes, most of the offending phrases throw in some alliteration for extra kick. Sweet!

Quirk #3: Recurring verbs—oh, the verbs. I try to choose strong verbs, verbs with impact, until they turn into doorstops strewn across every other page. My favorite verb in this manuscript turned out to be fling. Well, flung, I guess, since it’s written in the past tense. Characters were flinging things all over the place. Objects were flung to the floor with reckless abandon. It was a flingin’, flangin’ train wreck. HOW DO I NOT SEE THIS STUFF UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE?

I could keep going. No shortage of quirks here. But as much as I like to torture myself, deep down I know that all writers have to face similar demons. That’s why we’re so grateful for editors and critique partners and understanding spouses. They help us spot the quirks so we can smooth them over. They allow us to view our work through a more objective lens. And they remind us not to stress so much. Yes, writing is hard work, but it really is supposed to be fun, too. Overwhelmingly, amazingly joyful and jubilant (she typed emphatically, flinging feisty fingers across her fragile keyboard).

Wishing you all a fine Monday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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May Arboretum 027Christine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, THE MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out spring 2015 by Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Celebrations, craft~writing, Creativity, Editing and Revising, Writing

So much for a quiet summer

Weekend break: out on Colorado's Grand Lake.

Summer weekend break: out on Colorado’s Grand Lake.

It’s said that summer is a slow season in the publishing industry. Offices release staff early for summer Fridays. Editors go on vacation. And everything just happens more slowly when it’s hot, right? So submissions idle longer, and the pace of progress on books under contract stalls out.

At least, that’s what I’d heard.

As it turns out, the summer of 2013 was anything but quiet for me and my debut middle-grade novel, All Four Stars (which comes out in summer 2014).

First, in June, the book formerly known as The Delicious Double Life of Gladys Gatsby (and, before that, Gladys Gatsby Takes the Cake), got its official title—this after many months of brainstorming on the part of me, my editor, and countless other people at Penguin.

Then, in July, I received and reviewed copyedits.

I got first pass pages in August. First pass pages are a PDF of your book with pages designed and laid out as they will be in the print copy. For many authors (self included), this is the most exciting step of the entire editorial process, since now the book you wrote actually looks like a real book!

What happens when you forget the foot pump.

What happens when you forget the foot pump.

Seeing your cover for the first time is also a “whoa” moment for most authors, and—of course—that happened for me this summer, too. In fact, over the past three months, I’ve seen the cover evolve from a black-and-white sketch to a full-color masterpiece (which I adore and can’t wait to share!).

Hm, what else? I drafted jacket copy this summer; I filled out the detailed Penguin publicity questionnaire (this took days); and there was the excitement/anxiety of approaching a few authors I admire to possibly provide blurbs for my book.

Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, in July I got the green light from my publisher to start working on a sequel to All Four Stars! That deal was announced officially on August 8, and I wrapped up a first draft on September 11. (Yes, that is crazy fast for me—in fact, 96% faster than my drafting process for All Four Stars.)

Now it's fall. ARCs are coming. So are scary candy-corn-flavored snacks.

Now it’s fall. Bye-bye, inflatable kayak; hello, scary candy-corn-flavored snacks.

Looking back on everything I had to do this summer, I’m surprised that I don’t remember feeling more stressed. But believe it or not, I wasn’t. The fact that I got away from my desk every weekends—hiking with my husband, or trying out our new inflatable kayak—surely helped.

But I think I also recognized that this was the honeymoon period for All Four Stars. The heavy lifting of major edits was over, but the demands of publicity and the onslaught potentially soul-crushing reviews hadn’t started up yet. This was pretty  much the last time that my book would belong almost exclusively to me.

Now it’s fall. ARCs are coming. I need to revise and turn in Gladys #2. I’m going to be busy—but I think I can handle it. In fact, I may finally be getting the hang of this author thing.

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Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Stars, her debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com.

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Filed under Anxiety, ARCs, cover art, Writing, Writing and Life

Trust the Process

When I was working toward my MFA, there were times when I couldn’t see how much I was improving, whether all those essays and drafts and rewrites were making me a better writer. I couldn’t see into the future. All I could do was trust the process.

Two years later, I feel like I’m back in the same place.

My debut novel is finished and off to the printers. I’m working now on revisions for my next middle grade book. But you guys, this revision is really hard.

Adi said on Monday that being published doesn’t make you a writer. Hard work and vision and intention does that. I’ll add that being published doesn’t make revising any easier either. I would have thought that going through the edits for PARCHED would have made me more confident and efficient at revising.

Not so. At least not that I can see yet. Revision on this side of the book deal is just as messy as ever.

Some days I think my characters are delightful and the setting is fantastic. Other days, I question everything. The worst, though, is when I’m tempted to rush through, to slap on a few bandaids, dab some superglue into the cracks and call it good.

By the time I finished my degree, the transformation in my writing was obvious. Similarly, I know I learned things by writing and rewriting and rewriting PARCHED. I just can’t see it yet. And it’s not making this revision any easier.

But that’s okay. I’ve been here before. I know that I can trust the process.

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Zen-like Calm Still Eludes Me, but Ehh, Whatever

NO, my editor didn't use this on me - he's not a sadist, for crying out loud. I just wonder, shouldn't Jeannie Mobley own one of these, if only for the irony? Shouldn't EVERY archaelogist own one?

I am very fond of Jeannie Mobley, and not just because she’s an archaeologist and therefore can make jokes about Indiana Jones with a higher level of authority than the average bear. I also like that her blog post on Monday could (with the proper level of inattention) be mistaken for something that’s about ME instead of the challenges of responding to one’s first-ever editorial letter. I even respect her candor in saying that I’m more neurotic and uptight than she is about sending my editor a revision, because it’d just be silly to argue. I AM more neurotic and uptight than Jeannie about that, and probably in every other conceivable way. I’m possibly the most neurotic and uptight person currently taking up space on the surface of the planet Earth. Which also means that I handily beat Ruth McNally Barshaw for the title of EMLA’s Most Insecure Client, no matter what Ruth says. Victory! Continue reading

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Zen and the Art of Manuscript Submission

On Friday, April 1st I came home from work, logged onto Facebook, and was reminded that it was the deadline for two of my fellow EMUs to send their revised manuscripts back to their editors. Those two are Natalie (whose panic surfaced here at EMU’s Debuts last week), and Mike, whose Facebook post for Friday looked like this:

I don’t usually derive joy from the pain of others, but I have to admit Mike’s post delighted me.  Three things seemed worthy of celebration:

1.  Mike is back on Facebook after his revision hiatus (Yay!!)

2.  Mike sent revisions to his editor right on schedule, a Herculean feat that keeps his book on schedule for publication! (Yay!!!!!)

3. Mike is even more uptight and neurotic about sending a manuscript off to his editor than I am (YAY!!!!!!!!!!!)

I know, Number 3 seems a little mean-spirited. No doubt some Mike Jung fans are crying in protest– “You’re the uptight neurotic one, not Mike!”  But consider my Facebook post of January 16, regarding a similar moment in my life:

You see? ! I granted myself a full 24 hours (8 of which I was asleep) before freaking out.

Okay. So what of it, you are asking. Sure, Mike’s a bit twitchy. Name me one writer who isn’t. Is the whole point of this post just to drag his good name through the mud?

Here it is--the manual we all need. I designed the cover, now who do we know who can actually write it for us???

Absolutely not.  I am writing this because these posts reveal a NEED.  We writers need a manual on Zen and the Art of Manuscript Submission.

Zen Buddhism centers on meditation as a means to peace and enlightenment. Meditation strips away the hectic surface of our lives to reveal a calmer, deeper place where the ultimate reality of unity, love, and boundlessness may be experienced. Just the sort of place one needs to seek out after hitting that send button or slipping that dog-eared manuscript in the mail.

The irony is that writing is a very Zen sort of thing, at least for me, but it leads to revision and ultimately to submission, which is SO NOT Zen. To clarify, allow me to employ the Jeannie Mobley Ten Point Scale of Zenosity, wherein 1 is all  hectic surface noise that keeps us from peace and truth, while 10 is Nirvana itself. Henceforth, I shall abbreviate this as the JMTPSOZ, which is admittedly a bad acronym, but a much worse hand in Scrabble.

So let’s evaluate these three parts of the writing process: Writing the First Draft, Revising for the Editor, and Submitting.

Writing the First Draft rates somewhere around 8-9 on the JMTPOSZ.  When I put pen to paper the noise and chaos recede and I sink into a deeper place. Hours pass unrecognized, words flow, threads of the story come together miraculously in ways I do not seek to understand. It is as if I am the instrument for a creative force greater than myself–it is the Zen of Writing. I re-emerge refreshed, deeply satisfied, reveling in my unity with the universe.

If writing is meditation, revision is work.  So the revision process sinks on the JMTPOSZ to a 4 to 5.  Note however, that we haven’t hit rock bottom here.  Revision can be hard, but it’s satisfying too. Not the deep, Zen, spiritual satisfaction, but more of the Protestant Work Ethic sort, wherein  accomplishment just feels GOOD! As long as I am blundering through the religious metaphors willy-nilly, this moment is more like the Conquering of the Wilderness–the Manifest Destiny of the acquired novel:

The Great Editor appeared and spoke thus to The Author, saying, “When thou hast made the changes writ herein, thou shalt find the promised land!”

And lo! The Author took from The Editor the Immense and Glorious REVISION LETTER and went forth, brandishing the Flaming Pen of Truth in one hand, and the Word Processor of Grammatical Accuracy in the other, and the unwashed hordes of characters with unclear motivations cowered before him! And when all was complete, the writer saw it was good, and offered up the glory of the Newly Revised Manuscript to the Great Editor, saying unto him,  “Here is the most dog-eared, incoherent, raggedy-ass revision the world has ever seen!”

That last line kind of killed the whole religious moment I had going there, didn’t it?  And that’s because that line moves us into the third phase.

SUBMISSION.

Submission, whether it is to the agent, to acquiring editors, or to someone who already acquired the manuscript, it gets a negative 3 on the JMTPSOZ (I know, I just yanked you back to Buddhism. Think of this as sort of a fruit salad of religious philosophy.)

Submission is the part of the process that completely and utterly exposes us all to the most brutal noise and clutter in the world– the voices of self doubt and criticism that come shrieking in like Valkyries onto the bloodied battlefield of our creative minds (because what fruit salad is complete without some Old Norse Paganism?)

BUT here is my point, Mike (and anyone else who kept reading in the hope I might eventually have one):

Those Valkyries are illusions–their shrieks only empty noise. The deep, quiet place is still there-and as true as it ever was.

The time has come to rely on the Zen of Manuscript Submission. Please turn to page 3 and follow along.

Close your eyes, Mike. Breathe. Contract away from the noise, the clutter, the false voices that shout “you are a clueless, bumbling, bowl of neurotic Jell-O.”  All writers hear them. They are liars and fools (the voices, not the writers.)

Relax. Breathe.

Draw in a deep breath and say to yourself “Arthur will…”

Now let the breath out and say to yourself  “…love it.”

In breath: “Arthur will…”

Out breath: “…love it.”

“Arthur will…” on the in breath

“…Love it” on the out breath.

That’s it, Mike. Relax into it.

Okay, while Mike is doing that, I suspect the rest of you are thinking, she can’t REALLY know Arthur Levine will love it. Of course, you’re right. This is meditation, for heaven’s sake, it’s not fortune telling–and I don’t even know Mr. Levine.  But here’s what I can say with confidence, and what we all have to say when the submission panic starts to rise.

Our editors are our allies.

They may not love our revisions and may send us back to the drawing board (or writing desk), but if they do, it is because they are attempting to achieve the Zen of Manuscript Submission too.

Our editors acquired our manuscripts because they love the stuff we drew out of the deep places of truth.  In asking for revision they are helping us to peel away the noise and clutter so that the inner beauty can shine forth.

That’s right, Mike. Arthur Levine is your very own personal Zen Master. Fear not his opinion of your revisions, because even if he tells you they are incoherent, it is because he loves it.  Now one more time. Breathe.

Arthur will…

…love it.

And if that doesn’t make you feel better, resort to chocolate.

ADDENDUM

After writing this I logged back onto Facebook, and saw Mike’s post, with this new comment:

Okay, Natalie. Relax. Breathe.

“Emily will…” with the in breath.

“…love it,” with the out breath….

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