Words about waiting, writing, and revising

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve put out any official update on the *S.A.M. situation and, since he’s safely out of town now at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I thought I’d let everyone know that as of last Friday I’m not in the process of… waiting. For more instructions on…more revisions. Yes, that’s more waiting for more revisions. It’s the story of my life.

Actually, the waiting is good – this time it’s waiting for an ‘editorial guidance’ letter from a house which is willing to work with me on a novel they feel has potential, and since both of us are on the same page of wanting to see this through, I think in all likelihood that I will soon (“months-and-months-later” kind of soon, because publishing time is like eschatological time on a different sliver of the space-time continuum) have a contract that is a good fit for myself and for the house.

It’s been a pretty up-and-down process. Friends who have been helpful and supportive through the beginning excitement have begun to express dismay over how many times I’ve been asked to edit. Someone asked me plaintively if it’s really like doing work on a cadaver and if it’s like that, they don’t want to do it. Ever.

In considering – and taking back- (it’s not like autopsy, I just meant it hurt less now!) my rather drama-diva moanings about this, I realize that I believe this process has been worthwhile. a.) because it’s worthwhile seeing what other people have to say about your work, so the guidance/edit process is worth it, and b.) because it wouldn’t have been worthwhile had it come earlier than now because my work wasn’t ready. That might seem like something odd to say, but considering that I quit my last full-time job almost ten years ago now, I realize it has taken me that long to write and write and write and practice and try to hone my craft.

How crushed I would have been, as a writer, if I’d had so many people telling me “change this, change that,” at the beginning. I am so thankful that I had no agent at the start of all of this. I am also deeply grateful for the sharp and priceless grit of my master’s program and my writing group, because in these last years, I’ve been too busy writing to spend too much time submitting and revising for the eyes of the market. Instead, I’ve sought the appreciation of the eyes of my readers, and worked on honing my craft.

It’s crucial time, I think, this writing time. Literary magazines and conferences all talk about market, market, market. We get hives and hyperventilate over the almight submission letter, the query letter, the acquisitions editor over at so-and-so. We over-emphasize product in this world — we always want an end result, to the point where we commodify art into something that has dollar $ign$ all over it. We even commercialize ourselves as writers — we barely want to hold our heads up and admit audibly (much less loudly) that we’re writers unless we’ve had something published in the last five minutes. A vein in our head throbs that we’re only as good as our last sale. It’s amazing the things we tell ourselves don’t matter — stuff published in high school, college newpapers, collegiate literary journals, stuff published for work or church communities — we devalue our little ‘hobby’ down to where in the end all that matters is a publishing contract and a fat cheque. (I know we have help with that – the way people regard our occupation comes into it too, yes.) I don’t quite know how to stop that, but I want to go on record as making an attempt, at least, to buck that particular trend. I’m making it my daily mantra to say Je suis un auteur.

I’ve been a writer since my first Author’s Convention in the first grade, where I took home a framed certificate for Best Story. I’ve been a writer since I used to draw conversation bubbles in the J.C. Penny’s catalog (with special stories told by the ladies in bras and underwear – really hysterical stories, now that I think about it. Uses of irony, early on!). I’ve always been a writer. And, as long as I write, I’ll always be a writer.

…and now I shall climb down from my soap box.

(*Of course, the secret agent man!)

Now, here’s something exciting from our SCBWI NORCA list-serv that goes right along with my thoughts today. Historical fiction author Susan Lindquist is going to be speaking at the SCBWI Summer Intensive June 24th at Fort Mason on novel revision! She’ll be covering such writer thoughts as:

o I loved writing the first draft. It was creative, and fun. But now I’m overwhelmed by the thought of revising. Where do I start?

o An editor sent me a revision letter that I: a) don’t understand; b) don’t agree with; c) is so long and involved that I feel like giving up before I even begin; or d) all of the above.

o I’ve been thinking up ways not to revise just to make it easy.

o My critique group said they love my book, but I still feel it needs work.

o My critique group said the book needs work, but I love it just the way it is.

o I’ve begun revising but feel like all I’m doing is making things worse.

o I know the basics of editing, but now I realize that editing isn’t the same as revising. How do I do that?

o I don’t know what’s good and what’s not. I’ve lost my perspective and objectivity.

o I’m pretty skilled at fixing little stuff, but can’t seem to get a handle on the bigger picture.

o I’m stuck. I keep revising the same scene over and over and can’t seem to move forward.

o Sure, there are weak spots in the book, but if I’m lucky, maybe no one will notice.

o I’ve had a draft hidden in the back of my file cabinet for longer than I can remember. Maybe I’ll pull it out and revise it, but . . .

The purpose of this workshop is to learn how to revise without losing the essential bits of your story. At the conference, Susan promises to teach you to develop a revision plan that will fit your project and personality, so you can go home with tons of tips and tricks that will carry you through to “The End.” To enroll, send a check made out to SCBWI for $85 ($95 for non-
members) and name, address, e-mail address to: 2912 Diamond St., #326 San Francisco, CA 94131. Fee includes box lunch! Send questions to: [email protected]

Susan Hart Lindquist is the author of three middle grade novels:
WALKING THE RIM (Boyds Mill Press), WANDER (Delacorte), and SUMMER SOLDIERS (Delacorte). She has been on the faculty at a number of conferences, including the Big Sur Children’s Writers Conference, the SCBWI Asilomar Conference, and the William Saroyan Writers Conference. She is a former instructor at the Institute of Children’s Literature and a recently retired SCBWI Regional Advisor.

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