If you're a writer, then someone has probably said to you: "So, are you done with your book yet?" If the person who you are talking to loves you then he may say, "How's the book coming along?" Which is a softer, kinder way of saying the same thing.
Either way, most people who are not in the writing/publishing world have NO idea how much writing and re-writing goes into creating a book. And either way, you'll feel a little defensive as you try to explain why it's taken years to create a finished product.
Revision happens on so many levels. There are drafts when a writer is just getting the story out. There are big picture revisions when a writer has to re-vision her entire novel. And then of course, there are a host of "minor" revisions to make your characters and story authentic.
|A page of side notes on Kate's character development.|
I've blogged about the revision process several times. Here is one from the Free Expressions workshop I took ten years ago. And here is a blog with Harold Underdown's advice on not submitting until your work is ready. Mary Jane Nirdlinger wrote an excellent post about revision for the SCBWI-Carolinas region. I highly recommend it.
I started Half-Truths over 15 years ago. I knew I could write, but I'd never written a novel AND I took on a topic that was much bigger (and more difficult to write) than I realized. Here is the updated blurb for my middle grade book:
In the Jim Crow south, thirteen-year-old Kate Dinsmore meets two people who challenge her world view: a small-town newspaper editor determined to stop the KKK and a young Black maid who proves to be her second cousin. Told through narrative, letters, newspaper headlines, and poetry, Kate comes to grips with her identity, decides what she will stand for, and takes risks to become a journalist who will make a difference.
Although I imagined the girls' relationship since the book's inception, I went off in many different directions as I wrestled with writing the book. Rebecca Petruck, one of my early critiquers, kept encouraging me to return to that relationship--even when I included murders, boyfriends, and information about the Korean war. (Did I say this was my first novel?)
Joyce Hostetter, a wonderful historical middle grade author has been my mentor throughout the process. Under her guidance, I researched widely and found tremendous experts who informed my knowledge of the time period and the plot. I visited places on the Charlotte African American tour. I talked to people who went to the same high school as my characters, Meet My Experts III- Vermelle Diamond Ely and Meet my Experts.
In 2016 I sent the manuscript to beta readers (check out the picture of of my technique for plotting my book). I incorporated their feedback and kept on going. Along the way I received editorial advice to write the book from both girls' POV's. I was reluctant to do that since I'm white, but Rebecca encouraged me in that direction. By the time I was ready to submit that version, the publishing industry had changed and that was no longer an option. In 2017 I made the difficult decision to start over from Kate's POV.
It was hard to give up all the work I had done to write Lillian's story, but it was the right decision. I re-outlined the book and started a new version focusing on Kate's journey. In doing that, I still went off on too many rabbit trails!
Finally, last year (based on Joyce's encouragement) I took Kathy Temean's whole novel workshop. I received excellent feedback from three peers, incorporated their suggestions, and then sent it to an agent who read the entire 78,000 word manuscript.
The agent's insightful feedback provided a TON of things to work on--including deciding if this is a middle grade or young adult book. Ittook several months to incorporate her suggestions--including showing more of Kate's life before she moves to Charlotte. After re-writing the beginning, I realized that I had painted an overly optimistic ending and that needed changing! I decided the book needed to stretch out over an entire year and that required rearranging chapters.
Yesterday, I reached another milestone. I sent the revised 64,000 word manuscript to Joyce. She will go through it with a fine-tooth comb and I will revise it again.
And only after that--will I send it out.
So, that is why this book has taken me so long to write!
Yesterday I texted Kathryn Frye, a Charlotte videographer who produced and directed the documentary, African American Album: Charlotte, NC Mecklenburg History. She and Vermelle Ely, have been cheering for my book ever since I met them. I told her I feel that it's risky for a white woman to write about race, She responded:
"It’s a great story from its creator, no matter what shade of human she is! We have always been fully confident that we will hold the book one day."
HOW ABOUT YOU?
Do you have a revision story? Please share in the comments!
Congratulations to Terri Michels for winning Janine Yordy's book, Jellyfish Wishes and Poems About Fishes. After entering my giveaways many times, she finally won!
ON A PERSONAL NOTE
I have grandchildren coming to visit so I'll be taking a short holiday from blogging. But I'll be back in your inbox soon!