Tag Archives: revising

Perspective, Vulnerability, and Action Figures (or things that aren’t just about Lynda, you know)

Wow. Here I am, two months after the launch of EMU’s Debuts, bringing up the rear. As of today, we here at EMU’s Debuts have rolled through a complete rotation, in which each of us has written a Monday post on the topic of our choice, and each of us has also written a follow-up Wednesday post in response to one of our colleague’s Monday posts. Our rotation repeats after today. So here I am, bringing up the rear.

Coming full circle. Happy Completing-The-Rotation-Day, EMU’s Debuts and fans!

image: renjith krishnan

Okay, true confession time. What I am really doing is procrastinating. How does someone follow up a post like Lynda’s from earlier this week? She talked about vulnerability. She talked about shifting perspective. She talked about brushing yourself off and getting back to your feet and making your dreams come true!  Heck, I was so inspired just from reading it, I immediately queried six or eight agents right then and there!

Memo to self: try to get those emails back before they get read—or before Erin Murphy reads this blog post.

Okay, okay, I’m kidding here. Probably because Lynda said something that resonates so deeply it’s terrifying, and I’m trying to hold it at arms length by kidding around.

She said (deep breath!)…

we have to be vulnerable.  We HAVE to be VULNERABLE.

Yeah. Okay, so anyway, a priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar—

No, Jeannie, get a grip! Don’t blink. Don’t flinch. Say it, Jeannie.  We HAVE to be VULNERABLE.

Cracking yourself open--it doesn't get much more vulnerable than that!

Vulnerability—cracking yourself open, as Lynda so aptly put it—is at the heart of what we do if we write.

Is there a career path out there with a more cruel paradox than this?  First, take a person who lives mostly in her head because she’s always been a bit introverted—heck, she might even have been, just hypothetically, say, the fat kid with glasses in grade school which is why she fell in love with books in the first place—convince her to lay her heart open on paper, then have her send it out into the world of normal people, where it will be judged for its professional and economic value by people who aren’t particularly focused on sparing her feelings. Oh, and while you’re at it, why don’t we throw in the BONUS feature of extreme competition–only one in ten heart-spillings-on-paper (aka manuscripts) is going to meet with success!

Anyone puking in the toilet yet? Let’s face it. Vulnerability sucks.

And yet, Lynda is right, we HAVE to be vulnerable. So why would anybody do this—especially anybody who, as the fat kid with glasses, acquired enough humiliation in fifth grade alone to shred a life-time’s worth of self esteem?

That’s the question I’ve been contemplating since reading Lynda’s post on Monday. For me, I think the same experiences that drove me into my head as a kid, drove me back out as an adult, and as a writer. To me, being vulnerable is hard and scary, but it is also so, so, SO affirming.  Putting my heart and soul on the page and having a reader say, “wow, that’s just how I feel too!” makes me realize that even in the years I was in my head, I wasn’t alone. That the me that had to hide was a person of value, a person who has something to say, a person who (and here’s the biggie) can change the world, at least for one other fat kid with glasses out there who can find friends and solace and joy on the page.

I remember very well the moment when I had to decide what I was doing with my writing—was I going to just write as an outlet for myself, or was I going to reach for publication? My biggest fear in that moment was that the business of publishing would ruin the joy of writing. I wrote because it gave me joy, did I need more than that?

Weighing against that was the complete invisibility of my art if I didn’t put it out there.  I realized that if I was a painter, or a sculptor, or a potter, my art could hang on the wall or sit on the table and people would walk by and see it. I could sell it at a local craft fair and someone would enjoy it. But a manuscript? How else is anyone going to see that?

That was the moment of my perspective shift. And I don’t mean I wanted fame. I wanted to be heard—be understood, be ALIVE, and have the joy of my living reaffirmed in the world—that was what writing became about after that moment.

That was the shift in perspective that made the risk of vulnerability worth it.

Was it easy? Did it come with humiliations and stinging rejections? Were there times I wanted to be puking in the toilet?  I think we all know the answer to those questions. But if you have been following along here at EMU’s Debuts for the last few months, you also know about the sweet spot, the tears of joy, the relief, and the sheer joy that are part of the process too. Perspective is all about keeping the highs in mind when you meet the lows. Writing comes with both, if you keep at it.

And so, as we wrap up our first rotation here at EMU’s Debuts, Lynda made this brilliant observation:  “Maybe I need my own action figure.” I think everyone does who dares to put their vulnerability out there to create something beautiful.

EMU's Debuts ACTION FIGURES! Enlarged to show detail. Operators are standing by.

So here they are, coming soon to a retailer near you: The all new EMU’S DEBUTS ACTION FIGURES (you know you want them!):

The Lynda Mullaly Hunt, that comes with red knee-high boots, and a sports car (perfect for long drives to meet dream agents!)

The Cynthia Levinson, that comes with a tidy writing desk and fights for truth, justice, and civil rights. Comes with amazing civil rights marcher dolls that want their story told!

The Mike Jung, funny, happy, and (of course!) comes with a specially hinged jaw and a selection of shoes that fit within it!

The Michele Ray, that comes with a LOT of hats to wear, and cries when you squeeze it!

The Natalie Lorenzi, that comes with twenty-five admiring letters, and one very sweet spot!

The L.B. Schulman, that comes with so much empathy she only whispers her good news politely when you pull the cord!

The J. Anderson Coats, that comes with a flooded basement and a lot of common sense about what to say in public!

And the Jeannie Mobley, that comes with deeply buried insecurities, and a pretty bad joke about a priest, a rabbi, and a minister!

But all of them are writers, so they come with fear, determination, a variety of scars and bruises…

And best of all, a soon-to-be-published book. Because they dared to be vulnerable.

So go on. I dare you. And while you’re at it, give yourself a pat on the back and an action figure of your own. You deserve it.

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Filed under Celebrations, rejection and success, Writing, Writing and Life

Revision: Diving Deep Into a Different World

Reading Natalie’s post, Finding My Audience, made me think about revision in a new way. I’ve also done what you’ve mentioned…revising for my critique group, my mother-in-law (great editor, that woman) and soon, my editor. Your post made me think about the need to revise for our readers. It’s definitely important that writers don’t lose sight of building the world of their characters in an authentic way to the readers’ experiences. I believe this happens organically when a writer climbs inside the scene that they are writing, experiencing the conflicts that their characters face, feeling their ever-changing emotions, touching what they touch, smelling the smells of their world. I think this is a higher level of writing, and one that is often achieved only through revision.

I just finished reading an amazing YA, THE RUBY NOTEBOOK, by fellow EMLA writer, Laura Resau. Her book jumped off the page for me, transporting me to France by taking me, as a reader, on a journey of the senses. Laura was in the moment as she wrote this book, and it shows. As I revise, my number one goal isn’t so much to think about my specific audience, but rather to bring the world alive to all of us, to touch the universal pains, joys, and desires that are a part of our experience as humans, regardless of age.

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

Finding My Audience

My novel has two main characters—Hiroshi, a Japanese boy who emigrates to the United States, and Susan, his American cousin who has forgotten her Japanese side.

When I started writing my debut novel five years ago, I was writing for all the Hirsohis and Susans who had ever come through my classroom door—who struggled with language, culture and defining themselves. I was writing for the 10-year-old me, who had moved from an Air Force base in Germany to Texas (talk about culture shock…). I was writing for any kid who has ever felt different.

Then I joined a critique group, and something shifted. Now when I wrote, I pictured how my critique partners might react to this scene or that snippet of dialogue. As I revised and revved up for the agent quest, I tried imagining what agents would think of my title, my chapter endings, my prose. Would they keep reading? Would they request the full manuscript?

Then I signed with Erin, and the manuscript went out on submission. Now it was the editors I was hoping to impress. When the consensus was “too quiet for today’s market,” I never thought to replace the word “market” with “kids.” Kids? What kids?

When Erin and I finally decided that a massive revision/rewrite was in order, I reconnected with my inner 10-year-old. I dusted off my memories of the Hiroshis and Susans who had long since left my classroom. I read excerpts to my own children as I revised, and I paid attention to their reactions. And in the end, this is the manuscript that finally sold.

When I got The Call, I told my students the happy news. My classroom is full of 4th grade Hiroshis and Susans—they are all immigrants or children of immigrants. I told them what the story was about, and immediately Hira’s hand shot up. Hira came to the U.S. from Pakistan two years ago. She is quiet, smart, and a voracious reader.

“Mrs. Lorenzi, I have a connection,” she said.

A connection? Already? And it’s not even a book yet! I thought.

“I know just how Hiroshi felt,” Hira said.  “You know, when he felt different. Because he couldn’t speak English, and neither could I when I first came here. But now I can. And I think Hiroshi will, too.”

Of all the grateful, giddy moments since getting The Call, this one moved me the most.  A child had made a connection to my story. It was an amazing feeling. And I am humbled to think that other kids might also connect with my characters one day.

When I receive my revision letter, I will certainly be revising with my editor, Emily, in mind. I’ll strive to answer her questions and fix what needs fixing and make the manuscript as strong as it can be. And in my mind’s eye, Hira will be sitting right next to her. I’ll be revising for both of them—one who will champion my book, and one who will see herself in its pages.

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Filed under Editing and Revising

Let Your MC Be Your Emcee

Wow. That was some entry, Michelle; reading it makes me wish Nancy Paulsen could help me write my entry/response today. I loved your Katherine Hepburn reference! I agree—in writers’ minds, editors sweep into rooms; others merely put one foot in front of the other.

Nancy’s notes didn’t make me cry, but I had to read them 92 times for everything to sink in. Emotion clouds the thinking, you know. And Nancy was very encouraging–so kind and gracious—giving me her phone number, telling me to call anytime. Seriously. All those times I had imagined what an editor may be like…Nancy is better. She even suggested I come to NYC to chat.

Reason told me that I should take her up on it. Business sense told me that I should go to New York—because part Lynda has all of the answers? Really???of the package of a writer is steely confidence, am I right? Well, it wasn’t a lack of confidence that held me back, but the fear that I had to have all the answers right away. That I should be able to read the notes and know just what to do about every change immediately—you know—like all other writers do.

For one thing, writing for an editor is a whole lot different than writing for myself or my writers’ group. For the first few days, every change that I considered for the story had to go through the “What does my editor want? filter,” which really messes with the story. Of course, the changes need to be organic to the story—feel like they weren’t dropped in. In the voice of the character. Obvious, am I right?

So that morphed into feelings that Michelle described so well. The feeling that the manuscript had to be perfect the first time around. The thought that Nancy would call Erin with reservations—and I don’t mean for dinner. I mean the magic invisible ink that Penguin used on those contracts.

It took me a few days and a chat with myself that went something like this: “Don’t be a dope. Nancy saw something in the story worth publishing! Revise this with your main character, Carley, on your shoulder and no one else. No. One. Else. Revise to what Nancy liked in the first place.”

What happened was…I pushed everyone out but Carley and the Murphys. I also had to accept, and then embrace, my own process—even though I wanted to ground it and take away its i-pod for a week. I wanted it to be quick and simple, but I’m an incubator. I needed to sit with her notes (which seemed more organic with every passing day). I needed to stare out the window, do my scribbling—work without working, so to speak.

I have since sent in my first round of revisions to Nancy and will meet her in NYC to discuss them next week. I am *so* excited—surreal to think of taking the train into New York, getting into a yellow cab, and saying, “Please take me to Penguin, 345 Hudson Street.” Man! This is what dreams are made of!

Writing a manuscript from the guts and being lucky enough to find both an agent and an editor who get the book, the characters, and what you were trying to say in writing it? That’s how the dream gets made.

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

Revising: The Joy and the Hurt of It

Revising is fabulous. Revising is painful. Revising is thrilling. Revising is humbling. Revising is rewarding. Revising is challenging. All of this is true, but nothing is more than this: revising is what makes the work better.

I always knew writers revise and edit. And I knew there were these people in the publishing world called editors (who, in my mind, all looked like Katherine Hepburn for some reason), though I wasn’t quite sure what they did. I thought they sat around with red pens looking for typos. To my extreme relief, and to the benefit of my work, it turns out that editors (at least ones as fantastic as mine, Alvina Ling) are coaches, cheerleaders, story shapers, teachers, and yes, typo finders. Editors wear many hats, but the overall thing they do is make the manuscript better.

Now after all of that glowing praise, let me tell you my honest-to-goodness reaction the first time I saw Alvina’s editorial letter (an explanation of what needs work) and my electronic manuscript full of mark-ups (the modern red pen): I cried. As you read more of my entries, you will likely see that tears are my thing, but to classify them, these were a mix of feeling sorry for myself and abject terror. See, I’m not a precious writer. I do not believe that my words are so great, so untouchable that no one should dare tell me to change them. It’s that I felt sure I would fail. Looking at the hundreds of notes sprinkled through the manuscript, I thought, “If I could have written it better the first time, I would have! I can’t do it! Alvina will be sorry that she wanted to work with me.”

But as they say, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,” so I made changes one at a time. Eventually, I whittled them down until I got to some of the tougher issues, like a character who wasn’t as likeable as I thought (Really? I liked her? But, oh, ah, yes, I see what you mean! She seems kind of cold. Change, change, change.) and gaping holes in the story I hadn’t realized were there.

And then I was done.

Ha.

Rookie mistake. You don’t get it right the first time. And that’s not only okay, it’s expected.

So, we went back and forth, and while some might find this disheartening, I must say, for me (once I felt confident that Alvina wasn’t going to dump me like a washed up Homecoming Queen) it was fantastic. When I compare drafts, I see how much more depth there is to the story after the revisions and I know I could not have done it on my own.

Alvina’s eyes are not the only ones on the drafts. She has a variety of unsung heroes who checked my work along the way, including copyeditors (who caught so darned many boo-boos. Yikes!). Plus I have my friends who read my work, and my agent, Joan, who sees every draft first and who does therapy when I’m stuck or sad or confused about the process.

What has surprised me most in this process is what a communal effort creating a book is. I feel so lucky to be working with people who not only make my writing better, but who make me feel better while they’re doing it.

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Filed under Agents, Editing and Revising, Editor, Writing