Is there any better feeling than accomplishment? Oh, I know, there’s crazy hot sex, chocolate covered potato chips, and that first sip of ice cold chardonnay at the end of a tough day. All pretty good stuff, but for me, meeting and beating a daunting challenge is one of life’s ultimate highs. That’s why I’ve been walking around with a loopy grin for the past few days, punching my fist in the air when I’m not patting myself on the back.
I just finished revising a manuscript. Sounds simple enough, right? A routine accomplishment for a career author, especially when you consider that this was my 30th book. But nothing about this revision was routine. A few months ago, I blogged about fast drafting this manuscript, which is titled Barefoot in the Rain and will be the second in my new Barefoot Bay series. My editor loved the story, I’m happy to say, but also had some absolutely brilliant insights on how to make the manuscript stronger. One of her suggestions had to do with the backstory and the idea really resonated with me…even though it changed the entire book.
Okay, the revision note maintained the the essence of the story — we never even had to rework the sales catalog copy I’d submitted — but “how” that story unfolded changed completely. Revisions tend to have a domino effect — every change can mean another change and all those changes impact characters, motivation, story arc, plot points, conflict, scene order, emotional revelations, turning points, and darn near every line of dialogue and introspection. Still, I wanted Barefoot in the Rain to be all that it could be, even if that challenged me on every level.
I started the rewrite on February 1 after an editorial call to clarify some points and several hours of highlighting and annotating the revision letter. I took the marked up manuscript, laid the first ten chapters out on the floor and shared it with one of my readers. “Bow wow, Bacon Lady,” Pepper said to me. “You need a whole new opening scene. No, scratch that. You need a whole new book.”
You know how that felt? Well, have you ever been mountain climbing? Have you ever stood in the foothills and looked up at the summit of a mile-high mountain knowing you’d committed to reach the top and you’re just not sure you are made of the stuff you need to conquer that climb?
Neither have I. (I mean, really, have you met me? I don’t climb mountains! I shop!) But I imagine the climber is thrilled, scared, anxious, and pumped at the beginning…then ragged, exhausted, lost, and ready to quit about half way through…and finally high on altitude and the sweet taste of success as the end draws near.
That’s pretty much how the last 39 (but who’s counting?) days were for me. Some days were exhilarating because I knew I’d nailed the emotion; some days were dark and difficult because I veered off the path or stumbled into scene after scene I had to cut. I admit to a few tears, a lot of prayers, and the occasional bad word. But when I dragged my sorry behind up to that summit (AKA the Epilogue) I felt I’d finished one of the most powerful, most emotional stories I’ve ever written. I reveled in that marvelous sensation of having accomplished something extraordinary. When I stabbed that flag of glory into the highest peak (okay, I just hit send, but you get the idea), I was on top of the world.
Throughout this difficult climb, I learned a lot about myself, about storytelling, and about these characters. For example, I learned that I can not write a love scene until I truly understand the hero and heroine’s deepest, darkest emotions. I realized last week, when I was rewriting a love scene for the bajillionth time, that in my last five manuscripts, the scenes I revised the most were the love scenes. I change the point of view multiple times, adjust the setting, restructure the dialogue, even alter what they do and how often they do it. Because that scene isn’t about sex, it’s about the character’s fears and hopes and a lot of times I just don’t know what those are until I’ve finished the book.
I also learned I’m good for one chapter a day (about 12 -15 manuscript pages) — in revisions, not fresh writing. After that, my brain is mush, my vocabulary is the equivalent of a second grader’s, and anything I write will need to be completely rewritten the next day. But that means a thirty-four chapter, 100,000 word book can be done in six weeks. (No days off, ever.) For those of you trying this at home, remember: this was a revision. I’d already written the equivalent of a 65,000 word synopsis.
I learned that the journey cannot be undertaken alone. Unlike the “fast draft” which I did (twice) for this manuscript, a true revision requires at least one other set of eyes to help you see where you may have veered off track and/or suggest ways to fix story problems. Ideally, this person is an editor, but a rock solid critique partner or beta reader can be an excellent guide up the mountain, even if all they do is carry the water. With me on this climb was my beta reader, our own MSW regular commenter Barbie Furtado, who did far more than water duty. She read scenes, chapters, and A WHOLE MANUSCRIPT (minus the last two scenes — how mean am I?) overnight.
And you also can’t climb that mountain without some really understanding, funny, supportive and loving friends who will let you call or email daily (hourly?) to
quit cry for help drunk dial talk about how great it’s going. (I beg you, please buy every book ever written by Louisa Edwards and Kristen Painter. Ever. Go, off to Amazon, now. I’ll wait.) I also kept a running commentary/update on my FB author page and got a ton of encouragement from readers who shared the ups and downs of this process.
I also discovered I have some serious writing crutches. Like the word just, and the over use of italics, and the phrase “He just stared at her.” Oh…and…ellipses. Sometimes I think my name should be Roxanne St…Claire and my default reaction line is: He…just…stared at her.
Lessons learned, mountain climbed, and the difficulties of the journey are forgotten while the sense of satisfaction lingers. Now all I have to do is get down the other side…also known as copyedits! Another blog!
So let’s talk triumphant achievements! What is something you’ve done that’s given you that deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction? What challenge have you faced that felt like a climb up the Matterhorn, but you made it? Let’s celebrate success!