Monday, April 26, 2010

The Realities of Revisions by Keli Gwyn

The Rockville 8 Welcomes Three time Golden Heart finalist Keli Gwyn to its blog! We hope you find her thoughts about revisions as insightful as we did! ~R8
I’ve joked recently that I’m not a writer but a re-writer, one who spends much of her time in Revision Land.

Why is that?

I received representation from my Dream Agent, Rachelle Gardner, in December. (That was my best Christmas present ever!) During the call, she told me she loved the story but said, “It needs some revision.” I assured her I was fine with that. And I am.

Years ago, I worked as an assistant editor for a small textbook publishing company. I saw firsthand how much work goes into getting a book ready for publication. Our in-house writers would produce a rough draft, but that was just the beginning. Several rounds of revisions followed before I received the manuscript for copyediting.

Six weeks after talking with Rachelle, I received my Revision Notes. Even with my background in publishing, I was unprepared. She was compassionate but direct when she told me about a major plot problem that would require me to rewrite nearly three-quarters of the story.

“Yikes! How could I have been so blind?” I asked myself. A full week passed as I came to grips with the fact that I had a huge task ahead of me. I knew from the outset that Rachelle was right. Before becoming an agent, she was an editor who worked with some big name authors in my genre, and I trust her. However, I needed to accept the reality of revisions.

I’m currently rewriting this story—for the third time. My first two revisions were self-directed. This time I’m blessed to have Rachelle’s guidance.

When I finish, will I have a story ready for submission? Rachelle says that’s not likely. I may have to go through one or two more rounds of revisions with her, which will be followed by more once the book is contracted. She said I’m at the crucial point where many writers make it—or not. How well we handle revisions is critical to our success.

I’ve accepted the fact that while writing a first draft is fun, much of the time I’ll be busy working on revisions. Thus, I call myself a re-writer.

What Revisions Are Not

Revisions aren’t line edits (sometimes referred to as copy edits). Repetition of words, POV shifts, items that don’t make sense/need clarification, time-line consistencies, etc. will be examined in the line edit stage. An editor will see if house style issues need to be addressed. I think of this as looking at a garden patch. Are the rows straight? Are the identifying signs in place?

Revisions aren’t copy edits (sometimes called proofreading). Grammar, punctuation, spelling, typos, etc. will be examined in this final editing pass along with other details such as fact-checking and verifying consistent spelling of words and names. This is the nitty-gritty, get-down-on-your-knees view of the garden where we get our hands dirty pulling weeds.

What Revisions Are

Revisions can also be called Macro Edits, Substantive Edits, Structural Edits, Content Edits, or Developmental Edits. This is the big picture look. In this case, the garden would be viewed from the top of a hill so a person takes it all in at once.

Major issues are examined in the revision stage:

Character development
Plot structure
Story arcs

Often, the fixes require a significant amount of rewriting, which is why some people use the terms revisions and rewrites interchangeably.

Facing the Realities of Revisions

I won’t sugarcoat the truth. Revisions require hard work. We may have to make judicious use of the delete key. Cutting words we worked hard to produce can be painful. We may be forced to make sweeping changes such as eliminating entire scenes, chapters, subplots, or—gasp—even beloved secondary characters. Or we may be asked to add some.

One of the best ways to prepare for dealing with Revision Notes from an agent or editor is to subject our work to constructive criticism beforehand. Contests are one way to get objective feedback. Working with critique partners is another. A third option would be to hire a freelance editor. Any of these will help us learn to receive comments with an open mind, determine which are helpful, and act on those we believe will improve our stories.

In my experience, and that of other novelists I know, once we have our Revision Notes, we’re pretty much on our own. My agent isn’t holding my hand through my rewrite. She conveyed what she saw as weaknesses in my four-page, single-spaced Revision Notes. My job is to use her input as a guide while I rewrite my story. She wants to see what I can do.

Rachelle offered some encouragement as I grappled with the enormity of the task before me. She said published authors go through revisions the same as unpublished ones. I’m sure you’ve heard many novelists talk about working on their revisions. Have you heard any say they didn’t have to do revisions? I did. Once. A novelist posted on Twitter her amazement that she’d turned in her manuscript and found out her editor didn’t ask for a single change. She then added that this was her 80th book.

The Rewards of Revisions

Dealing with revisions is a major part of a writer’s job. If we learn to face them with a good dose of reality and as much objectivity as we can muster, we can prove to the publishing professionals that we have what it takes to succeed in this business. In addition, we’ll improve our work, sell better stories, and gain that all-important readership.

Revision Stories?

Have you received Revision Notes? If so, how did you react initially? Did you see things differently after some time passed?

If you’ve yet to receive Revision Notes, how do you go about getting feedback on your work?

What’s been the toughest—but most helpful—advice you’ve received?


Keli Gwyn writes inspirational historical romance and is represented by Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Keli was a double Golden Heart® finalist in 2008 and is a current finalist as well. She and her husband live in the heart of California’s Gold Country in a small town at the base of the majestic Sierras. When not writing, she enjoys taking walks, attending Toastmasters, eating at Taco Bell, and dreaming of her next Coach handbag.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Rite of Passage - Italy

Various cultures and religions celebrate their youth rites of passage with solemn regard, religious interpretation, and/or ecstatic celebration. In the general U.S. population, I can't quite put my finger on what is the rite of passage for the youth. If you count the prom, then that's the teen going off on their own to celebrate independence and hopefully not in ways that would make your eye twitch. But, to me, a rite of passage is when there is a transformation from one stage or status to another in the presence or help of the parent/guardian.

In this case, the elder, that would be me, takes the young grasshopper, that would be my daughter, and accompanies her on a life-changing journey.

What better way for this rite of passage to begin than with a trip to Milan!

First, I shared the decision with family and friends. For some whose minds couldn't grasp the scope of this adventure, they were told that I was accompanying my daughter to Italy so she could go to a rock band concert. Of course, they probably also thought that was a bit much.

But for those who didn't waste time casting judgment, or rather wasted time on sharing their opinions with me, they knew that I was heading to Italy to see one of my new, favorite German rock gods--Tokio Hotel--and I was taking my daughter. She would miss school, but how often would she get this opportunity on my dime.

Our trip to Oz, as it took on that dream-like quality because I couldn't believe that I was going to Italy within the month, had a cast of characters. The group consisted of three other women with the added twist that we'd never met each other, except online in the fan forum. However once the decision was made to head to Italy, we organized beyond my capabilities. One woman created an Excel spreadsheet with every piece of information minus our bra sizes. She then had weekly conference calls with us, using webinar technology so we could see her screen as she moved through each tab on the spreadsheet to fill in any missing information and delegate further duties. I was on hotel assignment. I spent two intense days finding selections of hotels, we stayed in four hotels. Another woman was like the general of the group. She made sure we ate, were hydrated, etc. She would have been great as a chaperone on a senior class trip. The third woman was low keyed, had toured with other bands, and had mad skills with her professional camera.

For the entire trip, I couldn't believe that I was going to Milan for a rock concert. Who does that? Well in Europe we met lots of people who travel from one country to the next with no hesitation. I guess it would be like going from New York to Florida to Texas. However, our little group seemed to fascinate many of the parents whose inner child seemed to be on hiatus as they patiently sat in the middle of the screaming fans unfazed by the music or the surrounding energy.

That didn't stop us. I'd already taken my daughter to her first rock concert last year to see Fall Out Boy, so she knew that I could rock out with the best of them. At the first concert in Turin/Torino, she and I screamed and danced shoulder to shoulder. We showed a group of teeny boppers standing near us what rocking out really meant. We would scream and then they would lean over to look at us before screaming (and never at the same decibel). If we danced around, they would look, analyze, and then copy. I took the whole thing as a form of flattery.

By the second concert in Padova, we were exhausted, but determined that we could do this all over again. This time my daughter opted to head for the seats because standing on the floor with her small stature would not have given her a good vantage point. She later learned that the seats weren't better when people stood to see the stage.
By the end of the concert, when we reunited (I stayed on the floor and went into my own euphoric zone), she couldn't stop grinning. Her expression was priceless. Immediately we headed to the vendor. I bought a poster for my new office. She got an oversized flag with the group's image.
We shared our thoughts about this concert, which was even better than the one in Torino. The crowd came ready to engage with the group and celebrate. Somehow, our little group bonded over this concert as we tiredly and quite noisily made our way back to our hotel.
My daughter loves hanging around adults more than her peers, so being in the middle of the fab over 40 group talking about any and everything that came up suited her. Now she got to hear the same messages from other women than me. It was the modern version of tribal elders imparting wisdom to a young one.

The trip wrapped up back in Milan where we shopped. I'm not a shopper because I don't have the patience. If I like an outfit, I will buy it. I'm not going to ponder, comparison shop or anything. As we wandered through the fashion district, we'd enter a store, I'd pull out a couple things that I thought she'd like, she'd shake her head and we'd move on. I realized that her penchant for random, mismatched, tomboyish styles had morphed into a bolder, edgier fashion style of layered, textured fabric with odd patterns. Her eventual wish for a nose piercing and tats would complete this young, alternative rock look. When I found the perfect black leather jacket and described the all black outfit that would look good with Converses or ankle boots, I knew that we'd reached the finale level to the rite of passage.
After nine days, my daugher under the tutelege of four females of varied backgrounds and experiences had elevated from just a regular teen to young adult. Her fashion sense had emerged with its own flair crafted in the designer paradise of Milan.

Keep your head up, Little Bits. The world is waiting one fashion item at a time.
Michelle Monkou
Trail of Kisses - Available now

Kimani Romance
RT Review - 4 stars

Going for the Gold

RWA's Golden Heart award has been on the minds of the Rockville 8 pretty much since we entered last fall. Two weeks ago, we had a celebration to toast our nominee--yay Keely!!--and to salute all who entered. That started me thinking about the final Barbara Walters Oscar Special I saw a few weeks ago which included a retrospective of all past shows.

I noticed a trend as I watched. Barbara asked several of the nominees a variation of the same question--"Did you know that you would be successful?"

When she asked Denzel Washington if he thought he would be nominated, he answered, "At the risk of sounding egotistical, I expected to be nominated." Mo'Nique described how as a child she would thank the Academy holding a hairbrush in the bathroom mirror. Barbara asked if she really believed that it would happen. She answered, "If I didn't think it, why get in the game?" And Oprah said, "Somewhere I have always known that I was born for greatness in my life."

These people believe in themselves. They didn't let obstacles stand in their way. They didn't let being knocked down keep them from jumping back in the race, skinned knees and all. They kept pushing and believing.

Barbara asked Glenn Close if she thought she deserved to win, even though she said it was a terrible question to ask someone. Glenn answered, "I don't think it's a terrible question because I think I do deserve to win." But she didn't win then, even though it was the fourth time she'd been nominated. Glenn didn't stop acting. And though she's been nominated five times for the Oscar, she still hasn't won. But she has won three Tonys, three Emmys, and two Golden Globes.

That brings us to another point. Robert Mitchum told Barbara Walters, "Never look back because something might be gaining on you." Put your failures behind you, learn from them and don't destroy yourself because of them. As Susan Sarandon told Barbara, "If you're not making mistakes you're not doing anything." Allow yourself to fail. Give yourself permission to turn over the dirt, plant your seeds and stain the page. Then go back and clean it up.

Many times, when someone decides to act, they do it because they can't picture doing anything else. It's the same with writing. You wouldn't do it unless you loved it. Unless you absolutely had to do it. Unless it wouldn't leave you alone. The times in my life that I haven't, when I've pushed writing aside, I've been miserable. The story ideas, scenes, metaphors, bits of dialogue keep pushing at me. I think that's true for anyone who writes.

You can have a lot of ideas. You can love to write them down. But until you believe that you're writing for more than just your own enjoyment, it's a hobby. Until you can say, I believe that I deserve to be published, you likely won't be.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Managing Expectations: The Golden Heart, Depression, and a Resurrection

On March 25, 2010, a pretty spectacular event occurred in my life: I learned I am a finalist in RWA's Golden Heart (R) contest in the Paranormal category. Far out!

Making the finals of the Golden Heart (R) is kind of like receiving a nomination for an Oscar (R) - maybe you felt like you'd done some good work, and maybe your friends and family thought so too, but this is proof that people completely unconnected to you respond to your creativity and just how cool is that?

In the shower that Thursday morning, I tried to keep my anticipation in check. I listed all the reasons why I wouldn't be a finalist. Didn't let myself think, really, about the possibility of making the grade. It had been so many months since the contest entry deadline, I think my hope-well had run a little dry. Instead, I concentrated on the typos and data-dumping and clunky world-building and complete and utter obviousness of my writing. Surely these had beaten the judges down, and my score too.

I had friends and critique partners still in the race. A sliver of sparkly eagerness left, too. So I dressed appropriately. Gold blouse. Bronze wolf medallion from the Renn Faire in honor of my werewolf hero, Joe. When I read the email informing me of my spot in the finals, I think I glowed more brightly than the blouse. I called family, I emailed friends and colleagues, I posted on Facebook.

As the day unfolded, I kept waiting to hear that some other key folks had finalled as well.

But they didn't.

So in the midst of my high, I felt awkward and lonely and just weird. Like maybe I didn't deserve the honor. Like - why me and not them? Why me and not all of us? I know their writing. It's excellent work. So, why? In the aftermath I started feeling like the fickle finger of fate had stepped in and I was in the line-up not for merit but from chance.

And it occurred to me...

Was I really having a pity-party for being a finalist?

Um, yeah. In fact, I've been pity-partying about it all this weekend, alack, alas. Which leads me to part two, section two of my blog post title: Depression. I'm always a bit dumbfounded about what triggers a bout of depression for me. In looking back on various episodes, it becomes clear that they nearly always involve a victory. Graduation from high school and college? Check. Upon the completion of two marathons five years apart? Check. Buying a home? Check. Typing "THE END" on my first novel? Check, check, check, check, check.

Navel-gazing about the why of the depression-linked victory is a topic for another post (Hallelujah!). Instead, I want to move onto part two, section three: Resurrection. Somehow Easter Sunday seems like perfect timing to slough off the emotional blues and ring in an improved attitude. How? Aha! The million dollar question. Part of the secret is action begets emotion. You've heard people say they are going to write once they feel "inspired" and then you never see them writing? Cuz they've got the cart before the horse. I felt pretty yucky all weekend but I knew I had to make this deadline. I didn't feel inspired to write when I logged on. But I feel renewed by what I've written and will take that into tomorrow with me as part of my emotional resurrection. I am inspired because I have taken action to make mincemeat of my depression.

Are you wondering about the managing expectations part? My suggestions follow below. Would love to know yours, too. Please share!

1) "I can do anything for two minutes." A phrase I took to heart during marathon training. Yes, you really can get through 7.5 hours and walk/jogging 26 miles if you break it down into two minute intervals.

2) "Tomorrow is another day." Whether you're a Scarlett fan or not, the simple truth is at some point the crisis of the moment will turn into yesterday's old news. Keeping that in mind helps enormously to put things in perspective.

3) "It's always darkest before the dawn." Okay, so I'm drawn to cliches. Sue me. And this one may seem pretty similar to the second, I'll grant you. But if you are awake and alone in the middle of the night and thinking scary thoughts, this is a good mantra to have in your back pocket. [listen, if you are thinking REALLY scary thoughts, CALL someone right away - no kidding and NO DELAY!!] Things DO improve in the light a day, if only your ability to reason, to laugh, to take a chill-pill, to reconnect with the realities of your life, to take some kind of ACTION.

Winning the Golden Heart (R) will not give me an auto-pass into published author status.

Not winning won't mean I have to throw in the towel and power down my keyboard for good.

I've journeyed through a bit of a dark night of the soul around this topic, given my anxiety enough "two minute" bon-bons and I'm done. No more dwelling.

Yay! I'm a Golden Heart (R) finalist! And it's awesome. And I get to keep writing my stories regardless. A contest does not a career make. Depression is a part of my life, but one I get better at handling as the years go by. And tomorrow, which is another day, my reality will include Spanish class, work, MS revisions, and (hopefully) responding to your comments.

Latching onto the affirmative,
"Honor Bound"