Friday, October 18, 2013


I am starting to rework my current novel--back from the beginning of the romance novel set in Cape May, New Jersey.  A couple of issues have come up in my mind as I am starting to revise it: the point of view needs some work, the main protagonist needs to be more likable, and a crucial scene about half-way through needs work.

I know these things, and chipping away at it is exciting and fun.  I look forward to submitting this to my writing group for feedback.

Another side to this comes out, however.  Like Randy and many writers, I'm sort of a perfectionist.  Letting the work go and stopping the revision isn't something I have ever been able to do.  Revision seems to be an ongoing process that just gets stalled.

In my previous project--a retelling of Frankenstein--the revisions turned into a monster.  I became so focused with the details and individual comments from the group that I lost sight of the overall project.  I have reworked every chapter at least twenty times, sometimes more, and the changes felt gradually less what I wanted to write.  I grew to hate working on it and put it aside.

I'll go back to the project sometime, and I'm glad to be working on something so completely different.  I've never written anything like a romance in New Jersey before this, and most people who know me, know that this is a break from my comfort zone.  But so was writing a soft science fiction.  Stanley Kubrick's attempt to make movies in every genre inspired me.

Back to the revisions.  I heard the term "franken-revision" not too long ago and laughed out loud.  I'm not sure who said it.  This immediately made me think of what happened with my Frankenstein novel.  That novel had turned into a monster as I said before, and I walked away from it shaking my head.  The careful planning and control disappeared.  The revisions took over.  And not in a good way.

In a way, I can see how easy it would be for this to happen again.  

The changes I want to make in my latest novel are clear.  How do writers make the changes they want to make and let the work go?


  1. This is a very interesting topic. How many times do you see a movie before it is too much? How many times do you read your favorite novel before it gets stale? How many times do you revise before it is too much? Obviously, each of those are answered by the individual. For me, we are currently nearing the end of The Zealot for the third time. One of those times we went through it half way and twice we will have gone through it completely. The thing I have noticed each time is that I get a completely different set of opinions from the same people. It is fascinating to see. My point is this, I could submit this novel to the group for the next ten years and would get completely different opinions over and over again. The group has consistently given me good, solid technical advice time and again, which is what I needed more than anything else. Suggestions about plot and characters have been good as well, but have varied each time we have gone through the novel. I take the group's advice on technical things VERY serious and the rest I go with my gut. This revision is my last. I could go on, but it has to end. I know it has reached the point where it is as good as it is going to get. I think we all know when our stories get to that point.

  2. You hear stories about Eliot going through "The Wasteland" hundreds of times. When does it get to be too much? Are we being obsessive? Is this just about being writers?

  3. Revision: the real writing! Seems to me there are a couple different points where we will have to ask that question "Is this ready?"

    The first involves the decision ask someone to invest their valuable time in reading and critiquing our work. While there's a school of thought that advises shitty first drafts--I've never been able to pull that off but I can see the rationale--I would hope no one would hand someone that skidmarked draft and ask them to critique it. So, my approach has been to draft a bit, maybe deepen my outline a bit forward, revise the draft, write more new scenes/chapters, etc, although it certainly doesn't fall into tidy little boxes. Anyway, I would only submit a story or novel chapters when I feel I've done the best I can possibly do given my own goals, vision, knowledge, and skill set. But that "best" clearly means I realize the work can and will be improved--often vastly--but only through the feedback of other critical readers. For writers working on a novel in our workshop, we encourage them to revise chapters they've submitted, but NOT to resubmit them until--and if--they're doing a subsequent full draft. We DO encourage such writers to look at the feedback and to do some "forward" revision incorporating feedback they've received regarding, for example, things like pacing issues, dialogue issues (like commonplace or eye dialect, the devil's own wife!) or problems with perceptions of a character, ie, whatever they can take from past feedback and improve their future chapters that may suffer from the same issues.

    The second decision point on revision would be once the writer has gone through at least a couple of full revisions--Sena Naslund used to say she did, i think, three revisions: the first to remove the bloat, the second to add back in some shape and roundness, and the third to add a bit of loveliness. (I may have those out of kilter, but you get the idea!) Anyway, one revision is typically not enough, especially for writers looking for that first publishing break. So, the question becomes: when do I submit this thing not to critiquers but to agents or editors or publish it directly? Hopefully the feedback a writer gets from her critiquers will give the first clue to that one! While tastes and skills differ, if your feedback is consistently telling you your ms is not ready for prime time, then you need to roll up your sleeves again and do some more real writing. Sadly, with the growth and ease of self publishing, the trend of poorly executed self pubbed novels for sale online has exploded, and can be pretty obvious which ones chose the lazy route and spared themselves the hard work of revision.

    So, I suggest you'll know from your feedback when it's time to finish stirring the risotto lest too much of that delicate balance of the brodo and soffritto and condimenti evaporates or sticks to the pan....