Because Maggie has been over at m-stiefvater.livejournal.com writing all last week about revision, we decided to join in with our Round Table chat for the month.
We mostly stayed on topic, discussed revision MF stories, how we begin, how we know when we’re finished, and lemurs. Because they, uh, help. With stuff.
Tessa: soooo revision. is there an angle you didn’t cover in your posts, Maggie, that you think we should attack?
Maggie: Well, people asked how I started my revisions and how I knew what the change. And I went over that a little bit, but it was very broad. And I still think a lot of people are confused about line editing versus actual revising.
Brenna: and I think everyone’s knowing is a little bit different
Maggie: Because when they talk about getting stuck in a cycle of revision, I don’t think they mean revision like I do. I think they are talking about picking at line editing.
Tessa: I always knew when it was done – even when I was wrong, I still thought I knew.
Maggie: See, I feel that way too. But I think we are aliens. Because a lot of people wanted to know how they knew when they were done. And now, I would say, well I’m done when you guys sign off on it. But I revised manuscripts before I had you as well, and I didn’t get into the neverending hamster wheel of revising doom.
Brenna: Sometimes I’m done when I’m tapped out. that doesn’t mean that months or years later, I can’t come back
Tessa: ok, so maybe we should get really basic: what makes a finished novel to us? a complete story arc. a complete character arc. a challenge met. So when I HAVE all of that to the best of my ability, I go through it, I get my readers to go through it, fix problems… and voila. It’s that easy. Haha.
Maggie: I think part of it is because that I write to that core that I talked about in my blog posts. The core that makes the story what it is. And when I’m done with that core, when I’ve pulled it off, I’m done.
Brenna: I think that’s a good way to put it
Tessa: I think that’s good, too. The core goal.
Maggie: I think part of it, now, is that I know that a manuscript can be sold with wildly wrong scenes in it. That if the writing is good, the characterization really solid . . . that if there is a scene in the gymnasium that doesn’t forward plot and its the exception instead of the rule, that won’t keep you from getting sold.
Brenna: it’s easy to get focused on the series of events, which are important, but I think they are interchangeable if you find an event which supports your core in a more efficient way
Maggie: What Brenna said. We’re done.
Tessa: ta da! shortest RT ever!
. . .
Maggie: I think it’s sort of a cousin to the fear of not having your manuscript formatted properly
or the right font
Tessa: Here’s how you know you’re done: “Have you told your story to the best of your current ability?” you’re done.
Maggie: At some point, you have to trust that you’ve told the story to the best of your current ability.
Maggie: Also we should stop using each other’s words. we sound like Borg.
me: it’s freaky. But yes. You have to trust in yourself.
Brenna: I think part of the problem is simply that trust. I think writers almost always run into self-doubt and it’s easy to start second guessing yourself
Maggie: I am trying to think of when I finished SHIVER. I wrote SHIVER and left the end off it at first — I took a two week break. And it ate at me — I knew I wasn’t done. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then I came and finished up the plot and I could put it down and walk away. I don’t know if that’s true for everyone or not. I also don’t know if that kind of knowing can be wrong
Tessa: I think it can be when you’re inexperienced. That’s what writing writing writing and reading reading reading and revising revising revising can teach you. ALSO: THAT is why you write a book and then WRITE A NEW ONE. To hone your instincts.
Maggie: That’s true, there’s nothing like writing another book to fix the one before it.
Brenna: that’s what I mean about being tapped out. Sometimes I can’t do more now. I need to leave it and do something else. sometimes working on something else teaches me how to fix my existing problem
Maggie: Well, it’s like the MF stories, right? They’re unrevised and everyone is shocked about that. But I think it would be virtually impossible to revise them. without letting them sit for two weeks or a month.
Tessa: AND I can tell you that some of the MF stories I write and post and walk away, bc I know that they were right. and done. and others I stress about because I wasn’t quite sure. but I had to post it anyway
Brenna: I think that’s true—I can write it and then maybe do a pass the next day, but it’s so immediate and so fresh that I know the structure isn’t going to change
Tessa: Remember when we did some revisions for that first anthology? I mostly remember revising Thomas All, and how I didn’t really change it so much as add things. like… clarify and put in a subplot that made other stuff more cool.
Brenna: yeah, that was actually pretty crazy, because I had a hard time with it, and usually I’m a hack/slash reviser
Tessa: right, most of the stories I changed like 10 words, bc it was line editing
Maggie: They are a bit short for real revising, too, though.
Brenna: I revised a couple stories well, and then others were word-tweaks
Tessa: because the stories were DONE or I wouldn’t have put them online and thought they were good enough to be in an anthology
Maggie: I don’t usually revise on a scene level. Oh, is that true? I think that is true! I think I’d prefer to hack out a scene that doesn’t work, instead of diving into it and doing small tweaking. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel the need/ ability to revise those little flash stories.
Tessa: I definitely agree with that.
Brenna: and I actually like reworking scenes on a line level
Tesssa: I suspect that has to do with the way you draft, too.
Brenna: yeah, I think it’s partially method writing a scene in pieces means that I have to feel pretty sure about the idea. It’s not trying the scene to see if it fits, it’s just trying out approaches. my first drafts are almost all intuition though, which means a lot of work in later drafts
Maggie: Though we do revise beginnings and endings a lot, Tess.
Tessa: esp beginnings. I have like 60k of beginnings for a 35k novel right now.
Maggie: I think what it comes down to for me is I will do whatever I need to get to the core story, and if I am more sure of that core, it means less revising later. Like with Secret Novel that I am writing. When I’m quite damn sure what I’m writing about. I have a feeling revisions on that one will be a very small animal.
Brenna: and my first chapter for The Replacement is slightly scrambled around, but otherwise, it’s basically the first chapter that I started with
Maggie:I feel like we still haven’t actually .. . talked about how we start. Not in a non-abstract way. Concrete. That is the opposite of abstract. Also, lighter color than asphalt
Tessa: how we start what?
me: for each other? bc my first step on my own stuff is to email it to you
Brenna: concrete is difficult for me to think about, because it’s still sort if . . . intuitive. at least to start. But okay, that’s true. hearing from other people
Tessa: and stepping away
Brenna: even just having someone talk about your work to you can start to jumpstart ideas
Tessa: you have to get as much distance as you can spare with your deadlines. yes
Maggie: Sometimes even hearing one of you guys react WRONG to one of my scenes will jumpstart me.
Brenna: yeah, if someone gets something wrong, if they take it differently than you intended, that can tell you a lot
Tessa: yes, which is a good reason to have CPs you trust. bc if Random Chick reacts wrong, I don’t know anything. but if one of you does… then I know sort of what the problem could be because I know you, and you know me
Maggie: That is really true
Brenna: yes, not everyone’s reaction is of equal value
Maggie: Without trust, you’re going to feel bitter about your changes
**** insert inappropriate jokes that had to be redacted****
Maggie: hee hee. I’m not entirely certain we’re useful. but damned if I can think of how to get more useful. it really is intuitive
Brenna: it’s hard to talk about revisions concretely and broadly at the same time
Tessa: but you didn’t wake up with that intuition. The important thing is practice. READ READ READ WRITE WRITE WRITE REVISE REVISE REVISE
Maggie: Basically what it comes down to is I read a scene, ask myself, “Is Sam acting in character in this scene?” and then I shake the magic 8 ball and see if it says “try again tomorrow”
Brenna: I’ve done it differently for every revision, because each project needed something a little different
Maggie: so, all aspiring writers, get a magic 8 ball and some vodka. now go!
Tessa: I ask “is this scene doing at least two things?” “If it’s doing three you can have a martini.” *or chocolate
Brenna: yes, practice improves your intuition a lot, I think
Maggie: After this roundtable we should have a pop quiz “which one member of the Merry Sisters doesn’t drink any alcohol?” and give away a lemur to the winner.
Tessa: hahaha a lemur! it’s like this: I know grammar but i don’t always know what a gerund is. because I read a ton and soaked up the basic rules of writing by reading. that’s where intuition comes from, too. And it’s also why I need a copy editor.
Brenna: yes, I am awful at parts of speech, but I know how to use them. just don’t test me on them
Tessa: that’s why we can’t answer this question
Maggie: I am a genius at everything. I don’t know what you two are trying to get me to say.
Tessa: I’ll remember that the next time you’re all “omg can I email you this scene right now?!!?!?”
Maggie: That is my other personality. She’s not here right now.
Tessa: she’s hanging with drunken Tony
Maggie: Yep. Peeing in the Ironman suit. I think what it comes down to for me is I need objectivity, because I revise like this: I read the manuscript and see if it feels like a book. If it doesn’t feel like a real book, it’s time to find out why. the end. It’s why it’s easier to revise someone else’s.
Brenna: very true
Tessa: yes. and you learn how to revise your own by revising other people’s
Maggie: And unless you’ve read lots of books, you don’t know what “feels like a book” means. Also, you could get a lemur, because they take a lot of time to take care of, and you won’t have time to obsess over line edits.
Brenna: or, sometimes it feels like a book, but not the one you meant to write, and you’d still rather write that one
Tessa: haha yes that’s a good point “Does it feel like MY BOOK?”
Maggie: Which is where the whole core thing come sin.
Brenna: I’ve done that a lot, I feel like—written the wrong book accidentally, and then revision is going back and finding out where I can make it more like the one in my head
Maggie: Look at Brenna bringing it back around. SHE gets the lemur.
Brenna: I stay on message
Maggie: Well, I think I have imparted all of my wisdom on this topic. Basically, read hard, stay clean, be me.
me: I was distracted by this lemur picture I found on the internet.
Brenna: maybe we can move the first part of the chat to the end. that’s where we said the smart stuff
Tessa: oh man, no, I’m ending it with THAT
Brenna: okay, that’s adorable
Maggie: That Lemur? With the big eyes you could squish like grapes?
Tessa: with Brenna saying we should move the first part to the end when we were smart. Haha. He looks like an alien. And maybe his cute face will get people to read our RT
Maggie: I’ll be he eats people’s face off at night. like you, Tess
Brenna: I like fuzzy face-eating things
Tessa: I prefer eating faces off in the pre-dawn hours
Brenna: I like anything with weird hands and feet, too
Brenna: pretty much . . . ?