Sunday, June 28, 2009

My muse is in the witness protection program


My muse has gone into hiding. Pouting, no doubt, that I think she led me down a dubious path, left me faced with a big, ol' honkin' revision.
Why do I illustrate this with a picture of bark? Because sometimes it really is true: You can't see the forest for the trees.
The novel in question is a YA fantasy more than 300 pages in length with suspenseful scenes and captivating chapter hooks--at least according to my fabulous crit group. I know there is a lot of good stuff there--wonderful old-growth giants and tender new saplings, but I'm not sure about the forest as a whole entity.
So for two months, I've been letting it "rest." I created this blog, rewrote a short story I'm going to submit and started a contemporary YA novel. So I haven't been idle, but I know it's time to face that revision.
I recently picked up some tips at a SCBWI "schmooze." I am going to rework key changes that should occur in the main characters at the beginning, middle and end of the book, thus strengthening the character development and relationships. I am also interviewing each of my main characters, letting them tell me who they are in their own voices. It's something that should perhaps be done at the start of a novel or part way into it, but I'm finding it eye-opening even now. And I am scrutinizing my world-building to find where it is weak or hackneyed.
But my muse, who makes occasional visits before retreating again, would rather have fun with the new toy she brought me--that other story where I can go for a wonderful romp and not have to face revision for a very long time.
My question and call for help is: What advice can you give me on tackling revision as a process? Do you have checklists, tips, lessons learned?

21 comments:

Dave said...

So many things that I could say about revision, as I've worked at it for a long time.

Best advice: Only pay attention to people that get your story. That doesn't mean they love everything about it. There is such a big difference between feedback from someone that gets it and someone that does not.

Maybe I will do a post on revisions, cause I have so many things to say. I did a post way back at the start of my team blog on giving and receiving feedback.

Anyway, my advice is to run with your muse. If you are being tempted by a new story, go for it. Enjoy the chase. The other story will still be there, when it is time.

I had the choice between stopping my story at about 115,000 words, or continueing on with the next book in the series. I chose to revise and revise and revise. Now, the world that I could see so clearly seems so far away. I made my choice and learned from it, but man, if I have a similiar situation again, I'm going to run with the fun, and write what is new.

Before long, the new stuff will need revision too. I look forward to hearing what you do!

Andrea Cremer said...

Tricia,

Oooh, revision likes to chase my muse out of the house on a regular basis.

For me it's often a matter of forcing myself to start writing and then once I've got a few words down I realize the muse is hovering quietly nearby, encouraging the work. Getting started with revisions is tough. For me it's the difference between the liberty and adventure that is writing a first draft and the blood and sweat that makes up revisions.

I always have to remind myself of how much better I like the revised writing because no matter what I seem to dread the process.

wordver: troid - Star Wars meets Homer

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Dave: Thanks. I think I will go with the flow. When I want to explore the new book, I will, and if I'm motivated to tackle some of the revision, I will. I have read numerous authors say it was years from first concept to publication of some novels. I should allow for some slow simmering of this material and tell my impatient inner child to go outside and play.

Andrea: It's encouraging to hear you say you like the revised writing when you're done. I promise there will be blood and sweat. :-)

Laura Canon said...

I hate to confess it, but I kind of like revision -- within certain limits. I like stepping back and analyzing the book and I like the feeling of, I guess you would say, "puppet master." It's a skill I developed over time and I'm not sure I can give you definite instructions. The pages of my notebooks are filled with attempted structural analyses, lists of questions, lists of problems, lists of possible answers. Certain questions recur: "What do you want this to say?" "Why is this important?"
I can share one belief I have sharpened and kept throughout my writing:
1. You have to be able to cut any material (sentence, paragraph, scene) no matter how great if it doesn't help the work as a whole. This is a huge trap for any writer. It can be the most flowing sentence, the funniest observation, the best description of a sunset you ever wrote, but you have to have the guts to cut it if it doesn't belong.

BJW said...

Well Tricia J. O'Brien, first of all, how long has your muse been missing? Uh huh, and where was said muse last seen? Right, and your relation to this, muse, is that what you're calling it? I see. And did you have anything against this... muse? I mean where there any quarrels? Any disagreements? Physical confrontations? Uh, huh. Yep.

Ok ma'am, we'll look into it. Prepare yourself though, these missing muse cases can take quite a while. What's that? How often do we crack 'em? Heh, heh, good one. Like we'd ever answer that.

Look we'll get back to you on this. In the meantime, relax, KEEP WORKING, often these muses just show right back up at home, especially if you stick to your routine. Avoid those scandalous new projects at all costs. Sure they look good now, but you won't even want to look in the mirror come morning. Then again, what do i know right? I'm just a public servant punching my timecard.

Here's my card. Keep your head up and keep writing. This stuff is good. Good day ma'am.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Laura, the Puppet Master, is definitely a commanding title. I like that you take charge. Maybe that's part of the process, not being intimidated.

BJW: Sir,yes sir. Work it is. Stay the course. Avoid the siren call of new projects. *spewing station-house coffee* *wiping off the grin*

Stephanie, PQW said...

I Know what you mean, my muse only wants to be around for the new, shiny stuff. Getting him to help me with revisions takes careful bribery. I tell him I will only work on the new stuff when I have *perfected* that particular issue in the completed work. Sometimes that helps. It feels like I'm studying for the next project and that gets us both excited. He'll do anything that gets me to that new project sooner.

I wonder if our muses have been talking because mine is becoming increasingly stubborn. These days I have to absolutely prove that this revision stuff is really for the next project.

MG Higgins said...

Ooh, so much good information here. I'm glad you asked this question, Tricia. I'm currently revising and even weeding the yard is a darned attractive alternative.

I like Dave's observation that your current "shiny" project will some day need revising, too. That's a sobering thought for a runaway muse.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Stephanie: That's interesting to use revision as leverage for working on a new piece. I feel like I'm learning with every step of the process, too.

MG: Ha! My runaway muse could do with some sobering thoughts.

Thanks, all.

Robyn said...

Tricia, sometimes it actually helps to work on the new one. And sorry if others have said this, but my horse is in a bad way and I'm waiting on the vet to get here. It looks bad. I love her.

Anyway, give yourself permission to work on the new one. Even though you've been away from it for a couple of months, something you type when working on the new, will trigger your muse and you'll immediately find your muse wants to work on the revisions. Revisions aren't easy. I can say that, because I have just wrapped them up. Now I will put a pretty bow on that MS and hope an agent loves it almost as much as I do. Sometimes we have to go through these times as writers. The magic you felt when you started this WIP will return, I promise. :)

Donna said...

What a bouquet of empathy and inspiration! Love BJW's police inquiry. The muse appeared in yesterday's comics--"Stone Soup" in the Los Angeles Times. The alleged muse had gone online shoe shopping.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Robyn: Thanks for the promise of a return of magic. I thrive on it! And all my best for you and your sick horse. I'm so sorry.

Donna: Oh, I dug through the recycle bin and found Stone Soup. It's great, and while her muse was musing over shoes, I find mine particularly likes to escape to the Land of Blog.

PJ Hoover said...

Revisions I tackle in waves. First I get rid of major inconsistencies. Then I add scenes, take away scenes. I save the smaller stuff and fine tuning for later.
And normally they seem so big at first, but after even a week, they are much more under control.

Good luck!

Shelli said...

dive in! ;)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

PJ: Thanks. I'll start with the big stuff and leave the little for later. Sounds like a plan.

Shelli: What? No toe-dipping allowed? Okay, here I go.........

Tess said...

The title of this post cracks me up...and, I love the pic. I actually thought it was a mountain chasm instead of trees. See? Not seeing the forrest for the trees....it worked.

Alright, revision, revision...hmmm...my two cents? Take it in little pieces. Break each scene out, review it and rewrite it and then let it go. It helps me to look at my writing in chunks.

Good luck! If you find a secret that makes it pain free, will you let me know???

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Tess: *smiles big* If I do find a painless way, you shall be first to know, but actually much pain is eliminated by all the lovely blogging buddies. *smiles bigger even*

Pat Murkland said...

To coax my muse back, I make art stuff ... little things, nothing heavy, just playful, usually for myself, because to be creative one has to be playful, and to be playful one has to be creative.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Thanks for dropping in, Pat, and I love your suggestion. I used to do more visual art and should play around with paints and paper and other colorful stuff more. It's so freeing.

Shelli said...

Maybe mine and yours are MIA together :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Shelli: Off partying, no doubt, having grand adventures. Well, I say, we pretend not to notice, have a bang-up Fourth and perhaps, they'll return, happy and sated.