This month has been spent in revision hell. I’m revising two novels and trying very hard to get them ready for a March 31 submission. One is a hard deadline; the other is self-imposed (important if we ever want to get our stories out there–there’s always a reason to not be writing if we let there be).

But there is no hell for the writer like Revision Hell.

I currently reside on the seventh level, the ‘this book sucks’ level where plot points and dialogue I thought were so cool in the first draft now strike me as vapid globs of desperation. Oh lord, deliver me from my woe!

–Writer Unboxed

Here’s this excellent post by Holly Lisle (my personal hero) on revising in one shot.

Here’s what she says on revision hell:

And let’s debunk one bit of writer myth while we’re here: Doing a seventeenth revision on a project does not make a writer an artist or move him above the writer hoi polloi any more than dressing entirely in black or wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches or big, black drover coats. These are all affectations, and smack of dilettantism. Real writers, and real artists, finish books and move on to the next project.

Because this is isn’t a real post, other than to gather resources I need (and you may need), here you go.

I hate revising more than anything in the universe. More than cleaning up cat puke. I am done with this book and do NOT want to work on it anymore.

This is where I’m at, y’all.

Once I do a first draft I, naturally, put the story away for a number of weeks to allow it to grow unfamiliar and, thus, fresh in my brain when I reread it. Then, I read it, taking notes on big picture problems. My last project, I ended up with sixty-five different notes and the list was about six pages long.

I’m preparing to go in this week and begin what I think of as deep revision. It’s a lot of editing, some rewriting, and a little adding whole new scenes. I’ll come out the other side with a new story on my hands; a deeper, more complete, richer story.

I wanted to give an example of what deep revision can do. I once wrote a post about the important elements of a sex scene. In it, I wrote:

Could you make the scene stronger by making them emotionally naked as opposed to physically naked?

If you go back to that previous post, you’ll see I included a first draft sex scene, but then ended up taking it out and replacing it with one that did just that (I’ll include a sample of it at the end; it’s from my book Infamous). Here’s why:

What I ended up replacing this scene with is one of connection, but the emotional sort. I finally realized that it’s too easy for my hero to make a sexual connection, but he never makes emotional connections. He pushed himself out of his comfort zone, he took a tiny step toward change. And she distinguished herself, in yet another way, as different from any other woman.

The reasons I made the change are described above, but it was also to increase the tension between these two characters, provide a richer understanding of their characters, and improve my story’s pacing.

Deep Revision can increase tension, characterization, and pacing--just for starters. Click To Tweet

For comparison purposes, I’m going to include a sample of that new scene below the signature. You can read it in its original form in the post about sex scenes. (It would make this post unnecessarily long to include both here.) I loved the new scene so much, it’s the main sample I used for marketing purposes. That is why deep revision is so important.

A sample from Infamous:

“Crap, now you’re going to be sweet? Now?” She tangled her fingers through the hair that covered her face and pushed it away. Next thing he knew, she’d wrapped her arms around his waist.

“Justine? Um… what are you doing?”

“I’m hugging you. Taking emotional comfort.”

“Like a leech.”

“Haven’t you ever hugged before?”

“I’ve never hugged anyone I wasn’t going to have sex with.”

“We’re not having sex.” She squeezed him tighter and rested her head on his shoulder. “Hug me back.”

Sawyer lifted his arms and wrapped them around her, his hands cupping her shoulders, pulling her closer. He dropped his head to rest on hers, and parts of him, so deep he couldn’t name them, pulled free and demanded his attention. Her hair smelled like fruit, the kind kids eat in the summer, juice dripping down their chins. “I’m fine with the hugging, but, just saying, I’m not responsible for any physical reaction hugging may induce.”

“Okay.” The word drifted out of her on a sigh.

He wasn’t equipped for this. There hadn’t been a lot of touching growing up, at least not the kind that didn’t end in a busted lip or a cracked rib. As an adult, there’d been lots of touching. But, not like this. The tighter he held her, the closer he wanted to be.

After a couple of minutes, he couldn’t take anymore. It seemed bigger than him, bigger and growing fast. He pulled back to look at her, hands still gripping her shoulders. “You look tired.”

“I haven’t slept since…” She tilted her head back, thinking. “I don’t remember. Couple of days.”

“So get some sleep.”

“I don’t know if I can.” She settled on the edge of the bed and looked down at her hands. “I have so many things running through my head right now.”

“I know what to do.” He slipped off the denim jacket he’d been wearing since some time last night. “Go find the least attractive thing you sleep in.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Why?”

“Because I said so. And because you need some sleep. You’ve got bags under your eyes big enough to hold your whole wardrobe.”

She lifted the lid of her luggage to pick through her clothes, grabbed something white she balled up in her hands, and dutifully went into the bathroom to change.

Sawyer looked at the closed door and then turned to the bed. He turned down the covers on one side and turned out the lights, except for the lamp beside the bed.

When she came out and flipped the bathroom light off behind her, Sawyer wanted to tell her to try again. Her choice was anything but unattractive. She’d slipped into a gown that settled halfway between her knees and…well, places he had no business concerning himself with. The gown flounced around her, touching her nowhere except under the arms and across her chest with a black ribbon gathering the material.

She lifted one foot and slid it behind the other. “Poppies.”

He dragged his gaze to her face. “What?”

“The flowers on the gown are poppies. They make you drowsy.” She slid her gaze to the side. “I found that amusing when I bought it.”

He held up his hands. “It’s fine. Get in the bed.”

“I don’t do pajamas. I have a thing against sleeping in pants. I like the way the sheets feel, cool and slippery, on my legs.” She looked past him to a corner of the room. “I talk a lot when I’m uncomfortable.”

“It’s fine.” He shifted toward the bed and then paused as her words sunk in. “Wait, you have panties on, though, right?”

“Of course.”

He tilted his head to glance at her with a frown, trying not to look at her bare legs. “Are they hot?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Right, no. Doesn’t matter. Lay down.” She stopped beside him at the foot of the bed and they stared at the down-turned blankets. “I want to make sure you get some sleep. You get under the covers, and I’ll lie on top so I don’t invade your not-pants-wearing space.”

“You’re volunteering to give me emotional comfort.”

“Shut up, Justine.”

She hopped into bed, twisting to pull the covers to the top of her shoulders, and lay on her side. He climbed on top of the blanket, scooted close. “Do people send you designer nightgowns, too?”

“Trying to sleep here.”

Her body moved in the rhythm of breath, slowed down, as her muscles softened and relaxed. He wanted to kiss her shoulder, to press his lips against it, to find out if it was as soft as it looked. And what was that scent? Her hair fanned across her pillow and it smelled like… watermelon? Strawberries? Apples?

She interrupted his fruity thoughts, her voice soft and blurry. “Thank you.”

“I’m an ass.”

“You’re okay right now, though.”

“I’m using you, right now, because I like how you smell. I’m an ass.”

She didn’t speak again, and he realized she was out. He should get up. Go to his own room. Get away from the bare legs, under the covers, and the shoulder, and the hair. Try to put whatever had awoken during that hug back to rest. In a minute, he’d get his jacket and go.

I know, subtle title, right?  So, I’m revising because I realized I need more sexual chemistry.  And how do I get that?  Subtle sensuality.

It’s not that I’m an idiot when it comes to writing the sex.  Some people have told me I’m quite adept at it.  It’s just that, sometimes, when you’re trying to get a hundred other things right, like plot and characters and goals and motivation–you get it, it’s easy to forget that people who just jump into bed aren’t sexy.

I started thinking about personal space.  I’m married with kids, so people are in my space all the time.  We hug, we kiss good night, we hold hands.  I forgot, for a moment, how sexy personal space could be.

Because letting someone in your personal space, past that bubble, is incredibly intimate. Click To Tweet

A touch on the hand, a massage, a hand brushing the thigh–tell me that couldn’t send your blood pressure through the roof with the right person.  So, I’m focusing on showing sexual chemistry and attraction by showing that secret, tingly sharing of personal space and putting off the payoff as loooooong as possible.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  Maybe even posting a sampling.

Love scenes are not all about the physical act, they are more about the characters and the story. What happens to change them and advance the plot?

via Writing the Love Scene in Fiction Stories: How to Add Heat to Romance Novels without Turning the Reader Off.

The site is gone. But the thought is still fab, right?

I’m editing right now, as well as participating in a crit group.  I’m thinking this book would help catch a lot of those mistakes.  It’s on my wishlist, anyway.

Last week, I took my husband up on a challenge/offer of great love. He would take care of everything except going to work for me, I would edit my finished manuscript.

It was an incredible process and a learning experience for me. First, I learned how I write. I’d already done a lot of work on the first two acts. So, I learned that when I edit, I have to do one pass for structure. I have to look at the whole thing, what’s happening, the arc of that act, how it fits in the story, what the characters are doing and how they’re moving toward the turning point at the end of the act. It’s not about a chapter, or a scene; it’s about the whole. The first draft I frame the house; the second draft I hang the drywall, cut out the windows (I can only take this example so far, I’ve never actually built a house); and then another draft to look at scenes and make everything mesh together. I guess it’s actually more like a pyramid. I plan on doing another pass to check that I have a good variety in my sentence structure, plenty of description (for some reason, when I first write, it’s almost all action and dialogue. I don’t think it’s because they come easiest for me, but because they’re hardest, and I’m working on nailing that.)

I learned that I can buckle down, work 8 hours a day, come home, throw in a load of laundry, and work another 6 hours at night. This would drive me insane for a prolonged period, but sometimes writers are called on to suck it up and meet deadline (or so I hear–could be all reading lovely books and sipping cocktails–kidding!). There was a lot of work to be done, but I was able to keep going, and not become intimidated by the sheer amount of it by keeping my eye on my goal. Much like Dori, in Finding Nemo. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” I may tape that to my monitor, except replacing the word “swimming” with “writing.”

I learned that eventually you will become so sick of your own work, you really don’t care who reads it or what they think. I’m pretty sure there’s a small window before the stage fright comes back, but I’ll take what I can get.

I learned that I have a tendency to overwrite. Which sucks, yeah, because I’m going to have to go back (again) and cut like a ruthless serial killer. But, as a person who used to laugh at the idea of writing 100, 000 words of anything, even “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” that’s awesome. I actually wrote (and kept–so far) about 110,000 words. Stephen King says cut ten percent, so that’ll work out fine, gives me a goal, anyway. (Yeah, I don’t know why I have referenced Stephen King twice in this paragraph… dunno). But, hey! I won’t ever have to write filler! Not on purpose, anyway.

I learned that I am a writer. And I am fabulous. Not necessarily both at the same time, but still. I really believe you should write for yourself, first. It’s just too hard to not be writing what you love to read. In between those times that you want to bang your head on the desk or toss the monitor, you deserve to be in love with your story. I love my story. I love writing. Everything else, anything else? It’s just gravy on my mashed potatoes, baby.

I have finished the first rewrite on the first act of my fist novel. All those firsts, they just kind of sing disaster, don’t they?

And yet, oh my god. I felt the same rush I did finishing the thing. The first act, about 140 pages, needed a lot of work. It was mainly written back when I had little to no clue. At all. There was infodump! There were scenes with NO conflict! None. Just… here’s an event. And another. And another. They serve no purpose, but… there they are!

Most importantly, though, I was extremely intimidated by doing those rewrites. I just didn’t know if I could make it into anything better.

So, it’s still rough. It’s still a WIP. But it is no longer a piece of crap. It is a shiny, well-polished piece of crap.

I’m editing. Yes, still. And I’m having one of those moments, you know, when you want to smack yourself on the forehead, but instead of saying, “You could’ve had a V8!” you say, “How could you not have known that?!”

Backstory.

Oh, sure, I had backstory. I knew all about my heroine’s childhood, her parents, how she lost her virginity, and how she lost her true love. She’s 30. That’s up to about 20. I had even less for my hero.

See, here’s what got me: the story starts when the action begins. That’s one of those Rules. Notice the capital R? Rules. The Rules that cripple you.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good rule. I get it (now). But what the novice writer in me read was: nothing happens, except what is relevant to the story, until the story starts. Which is just silly.

First of all, who sits around doing nothing for ten years? Nobody I want to read about, that’s who. And really, once you get to know your characters and your story, it’s a lot easier to explore their history. But, take it from me, this is something you should do before you’ve written 400 pages and realize that the first 130 pages are going to need serious work, which means the rest will need serious work weaving in all the new things you’ve discovered.

Second, how do you know what’s relevant if you don’t just sit down with a pen and paper or a laptop or a wall and chalk, if you don’t dig in and find out? I don’t think you can make things up to fit your story. I mean, clearly, you’re writing fiction–you’re making it up. But, if you just comb through, pull this out, that out… and then you’re character says, “See! That’s how I got in this spot. And, you know, later, when that other thing happens? Think how that’s going to just rip me apart.”

Meh. I’m off to dig. And to write twenty times, “I will not blog in the second person.”

I’m editing. I have (once again) hit writer’s block and decided this would be the perfect time to edit… or totally rip apart… my first novel. Except, of course, I still don’t feel like writing. So I’m pushing my way through. And feeling like a petulant two-year-old: “But it’s hard!”

It’s so scary, looking at something like this again, something I spent years working on, something I was never really sure I would finish. And, it’s finished. Except it needs a lot of work.

I’ve learned so much, and I guess that’s good, but it makes it so much easier to see what I did wrong, especially in those scenes that I wrote when I first started. But, with this story, I don’t remember a piece of it I worked on that I didn’t think this is hard. This is scary. And then I would push through it, and I remember being a little in awe at myself, at the process, at writing because it was hard and scary, and I actually did it.

I guess this entry is a little pep talk for me, for whoever reads it. Writing is scary and hard. If it’s not, you’re not doing it right. Or, you’re definitely not doing it well. But, what a rush.