Happy Labor Day!
I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be ‘happy’ or not, but hey if you have the day off then I’m sure that you are
What better way to spend your day off than to begin implementing revisions to you WIP (ahem.) You’ve received some great feedback, now how do you go about putting these suggestions into play? I invited Meredith Jaeger, author of The Trouble with Twenty-Two, a novel about the quarter life crisis, to tell us her process of making the changes. Over to you, Meredith!
I have a confession to make. Up until four months ago, I’d never had a serious critique partner. I’d taken writing classes in San Francisco, but in the same nature you’d expect from the land of flower power, our group of aspiring novelists exchanged only kind words. These happy vibes were meant to keep us moving forward in our writing (and to prevent us from wanting to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge). But happy vibes don’t get you published. Tough love does.
Then the beautiful Sally Hepworth (an agented writer!) contacted me out of the blue, asking if I’d like to be her critique partner. She’d found me through my blog, which she enjoyed reading. I was humbled to share my writing with her. Sally and I had completed our novels, so we agreed to swap them, to perform a detailed content edit of each other’s work.
You can imagine my disappointment when I received an email from Sally, telling me my manuscript wasn’t quite ready to leave the slush pile. I’d done a year’s worth of revisions on my own. I hadn’t given her a rough draft for critique, but a manuscript I thought was polished.
Sally wrote, “I’m not sure if you’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing (if you haven’t, you must!) but he likens writing a story to an archaeologist removing a fossil from the ground. You have a great story here- you’ve removed the fossil intact. Now it is time to get out your tools and polish the fossil until it sparkles.”
My novel was 100,000 words long, but Sally felt it would be better at 80,000. She didn’t see enough of a character arc, and felt the writing could be stronger in the second half of the book. I felt overwhelmed by everything needing to be fixed.
I bemoaned to Sally over email my fears of never being published. She responded, “I can almost hear you telling the story of all the re-writes to a group of writing wannabes when you are published. I am not just saying this because I am your critique partner, but I honestly think you have what it takes. You write beautifully, and this is a very special, raw story.”
Sally’s kind words motivated me. For anyone else who finds herself back at square one, here’s a step by step guide to implementing changes from a critique partner:
- Breathe. Remember to take in the positive along with the negative. It’s okay to cry in frustration, but move past it and get to work.
- Take a few days to let the comments sink in. See which ones resonate with you. It is after all, your book. Sometimes the hardest changes are the ones that need to be made.
- Make the biggest changes first, such as adding and removing scenes. For example, one of my big changes was cutting a plot thread in the novel where the best friends go to a Madonna concert. I went through and cut out all references to Madonna.
- Write new dialogue. I had to write new scenes from scratch, such as the best friends reuniting before the novel’s end. I allowed myself to write really badly at first, just to get words on the page. Later, I went back and polished my prose.
- Start from the middle. As Sally says (in her awesome Australian accent) “I’d start from the middle, because in my experience you start off strong and by the middle you’re knackered and sick to death of your book and can’t be bothered editing clunky prose.”
- Go through the entire novel and make sure your changes have followed through to the end of the book. Make note of where you have loose threads. Use a system to keep track of which chapters you’ll need to revisit later.
- Don’t feel rushed. Agents who request revisions would rather get your manuscript back in a month or two, knowing you worked really hard, than after a week. Take your time.
- When you’re ready, send your revised novel back to your critique partner. If you’ve made the tough changes, she’s bound to tell you it’s fabulous.
One of the first things Sally wrote me after she sent me her critique was that she hoped we were still friends. This touched my heart. Being honest with someone about the flaws in their manuscript isn’t easy, but it’s what a good friend should do. I’m so grateful to Sally for sharing her feedback with me. Sometimes it’s been hard to stomach, but I’m a better writer because of it. If I earn the honor of being a published author, I will surely thank Sally in my acknowledgments.
Meredith Jaeger has been in love with creative writing since she was a little girl who drew skateboarding cats. She lives in Oakland, California with her fiance and overweight feline friend, Sylvester. She writes women’s fiction and her first novel is titled The Trouble with Twenty-Two. She blogs at http://thetroublewithtwentytwo.wordpress.com/ and tweets at @meredith_jaeger. Please say hi!
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