Because Maggie has been over at 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.

Brenna: 😀

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.

Tessa: hehe

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?

Maggie: Revisions.

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.

Maggie, out

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

Maggie: (coughmorrigancough)

Tessa: I prefer eating faces off in the pre-dawn hours

Brenna: I like anything with weird hands and feet, too

Maggie: (coughmorrigancough)

Brenna: pretty much . . . ?

25 thoughts on “ROUND TABLE ON REVISION!

  1. so, all aspiring writers, get a magic 8 ball and some vodka. now go!

    Done. And done.

    Sometimes I think I am the Ed Wood of writers. I’m all, once it’s on the page, I’m like, “PERFECT! MOVING ON! Plot hole? Whatever, it’ll fill itself! Where’s my pink angora sweater?” But my stakes are low, and I do not make the cash monies with the writing.

    I don’t trust anything with eyes that large percentage of its face, except maybe Sailor Moon.

  2. Even though I have been writing and revising books for years, I still don’t instincively know when my books are done. I mean, there are times where I BELIEVE they are done, but then about a year, or even just a few months, later I get this nagging worry that I’ve done something wrong-wrong-wrong and dive straight back into Revision Hell. (Or the neverending hamster wheel of revising doom, haha.)

    I think this is a case where critique partners come in handy. If I had some who understand what I want to achieve in my writing, they could give me a virtual head-smacking whenever I’m being unhealthily obsessive!

  3. “**** insert inappropriate jokes that had to be redacted****”

    You all mentioned drinking vodka and squishing the eyes on a lemur. I think we deserve the inappropriate jokes too. he he heh. ;P

  4. Maggie, Tessa, and Breanna.
    Great revision posts all last week and great discussion today. My favorite line: “Have you told your story to the best of your current ability?” Yes, I will be stealing it to use with my students. Now, how do I navigate that gap between what I know they are capapble of and what they believe they can do?

  5. LOL the Ed Wood of writers. What’s the equivalent of a space ship on a string? Tee hee.

    OMG it DOES look like Sailor Moon!!! Haha.

  6. Well, so, here’s the thing: taking time off SHOULD make you able to go back and revise again. Because during that time you should be gaining perspective AND improving your skills. so it’s only ever about “is it done now?” not “is it done forever?” The only thing that makes it done forever is if it gets to the point where you don’t want to work on it anymore for whatever reason, or you get it published.

    There isn’t anything wrong with done for now. But yes, CPs are good at tying you to the bed and forcing you to let them put a ms in a trunk. 😉

  7. I’d like for believing you can do something and being able to do something to be the same thing. In my ideal world. So it’s about convincing someone to believe in themselves, and then working to meet their own faith.

  8. That’s a lot of what I do teaching–convincing students that they can write, that they do have something worthwhile to say.

  9. Students will always do what they think they’re capable of. So even if they think that they’re capable of taking over the moon and it seems impossible, if they really believe it and work, I guarantee you, you’ll find students on the moon.

    So I think that the challenge is convincing them to believe themselves capable and willing to do the work it takes to make that belief concrete.

  10. I think it would be like that part in My Life without Me where a random nurse talks about holding this pair of conjoined twins whose parents didn’t want to see them. She said, “First the boy died … and then the girl.” Conjoined twins. Of different sexes. I … yes I’m back with the limp sea monster (not a euphemism).

  11. I have like 60k of beginnings for a 35k novel right now.

    Yeah, I relate to that at the moment. I’m having real problems finding the right place to begin my new book, which isn’t like me. Every time I think I’ve got it down and then plough onward, a few chapters later, it’s itching at me again and I need to have another Big Think about it. It’s driving me nuts. I can’t seem to focus on what comes next without having the right beginning!

  12. That was a nice round table…
    But I loved the lemur… Especially with the big eyes you could squish like grapes…
    I won’t comment much on the writing tips, just that they’re… helpful. And… um… true?

    Oh, and I know the answer to your pop quiz: NONE OF YOU DON’T DRINK (ALL OF YOU DRINK)… Or, maybe Brenna doesn’t… I don’t know… Okay, I’ll say it: YOU ALL DRINK…
    Do I get the lemur?

  13. I’m the same way — I have to know where to start from or I just can’t start at all.

  14. Talking of lemurs – well, it’s a slow loris so not quite a lemur, but have you seen this? I hope the link works, I’m kinda new to all this …

  15. I never know when something is done—I only know when I just can’t work on it anymore, so I have to work on something else until I learn the new trick that will help with the first thing. Also, crit partners. Because they show you what’s wrong, and sometimes they teach you the trick to fix it 🙂

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