Now that it’s almost time to go back to school, it’s time for me to set aside my cat’s-eye sunglasses, SPF 200 sunscreen, spy stories (both real and imagined), and turn to a writing topic I usually avoid.
There, I said it. Now that I see the word sitting there on the page all by itself, I see it’s not such a bad word after all. In fact, it almost sounds pretty.
Still, I avoid it.
Whenever one of my stories doesn’t work out I prefer to simply move on to the next idea—the next journey. To me, what’s interesting and fun about writing is inspiration, discovery, and self-expression. Sometimes I think the best part of writing is that exciting first moment—the moment you wonder WHAT IF…?
What if that guy I’ve been staring at in chemistry class suddenly broke up with his girlfriend and asked me out on a date?
What if I suddenly sprouted wings during my sleep, and when I woke up, I could actually fly?
What if I discovered that I could hear everyone’s thoughts?
What if my best friend and I ran away to join the circus?
Compared to the “what if” stage of the writing process, the revision stage feels like the moment your mom announces that you aren’t allowed to attend the best party of the year. Instead, she hands you a toilet plunger and a broom and tells you to get busy cleaning the bathroom.
But before you stop reading this blog in disgust, I have a secret to share. Unlike cleaning the bathroom, revision actually gets EASIER if you wait a few days, weeks, or months before starting the job. Can you believe it? A case when procrastination actually pays off?
In fact, whenever I’ve just finished writing a fantastic story that I’m dying to share with Wendy and my English teacher, I stop myself. Even though I’m imagining everyone turning cartwheels, congratulating me and slapping me on the back, I remind myself that I could probably improve the story just a teensy bit if I wait a few days and then read it again. So I hide it at the bottom of my sock drawer (where nobody would ever bother to look) and take it out after two whole weeks.
When I re-read the story, I usually still love the characters, but I still find a bunch of things I could improve.
“What are you talking about, Gilda?” I can hear you asking me. “I don’t have two weeks to stick my writing in a sock drawer! My paper on the history of origami is due tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM!!”
In that case, I admit that the revision tips I’m about to share probably won’t help you very much. Instead, you need to read the recipe for “Gilda’s Up-All-Night Chocolate Cookie Surprise,” which I will post as soon as I find myself sitting at the computer at 10:00 PM with an English paper due the next day. Once school starts, you won’t have to wait long to read that one!
But for those two or three of you out there who have NOT waited until the very last minute to do your writing homework—or for those of you who are working on an independent writing project to make your New York publishing debut—do yourself a favor and check out the following GILDA’S GUIDE TO REVISION MADE EASY:
*GILDA’S GUIDE TO REVISION MADE EASY
Remember—your sock drawer is your friend.
I know: you’ve just finished your first novel and you’re so excited, you can’t even sit still. Your grandma loves the old lady character. Your dog can’t stop licking the pages in appreciation of all the popcorn you ate while writing that fifteenth chapter. You have the envelopes addressed—ready to send off to J.K. Rowling’s publisher, the president of the United States, and the Queen of England. In short, you’re sure your story is the best thing since whipped cream in a can.
STOP. Just stick the manuscript in that drawer. Not forever, of course! Just for two weeks. Okay, at least a few days. I promise it will still be there when you go back to look for it (unless, of course, a fire, flood, or snooping relative destroys it).
“But why would you say that, Gilda?” you ask. “Wasn’t it you who encouraged me to write? Nay, and share what I have written?!”
“Because,” I answer, wiping the crumbs of frustration from the corners of your mouth, “you have no emotional distance right now. You’re too close to what you’ve written, and you’re likely to punch anyone who dares to tell you that your baby isn’t perfect. Days from now, when you pull those pages from the drawer and clear away the dust bunnies, you’ll have more mental stability. You’ll either love that story or notice things that could actually be improved.
Two weeks later…. (Imagine that last line narrated in a French accent.)
Okay, now that you’ve had a chance to look over your own work, you’re ready to share it with a trusted friend or teacher. You’re ready to actually consider any constructive comments they give you. (For more information on how to find this elusive, helpful person, see my forthcoming blog entry on “ANGELS AND EDITORS.” And sorry – I haven’t posted that one yet either. Look, I can’t solve ALL your problems in one evening!)
But before handing it off for comments, first read through the story yourself:
Do you see anything that should be clarified?
Did you notice anything that sounded hard to believe?
Are character motivations believable? Is the dialogue colorful or boring?
Now take the plunge—pick a page and start writing: see and experience the work from a renewed perspective. (I personally love to scribble in the margins of my typewritten work, but you might prefer to get a new notebook page.)
That’s right—I said writing.
“But Gilda,” you say, “I just FINISHED writing a whole manuscript. I’m DONE.”
Listen, I know just how you feel when you hear me say you are definitely NOT finished with your work. You feel like Cinderella in the castle. It’s like you just worked your butt off to finish your housework, but instead of throwing a party to celebrate your effort, the world tears down the castle walls with a wrecking ball. You’re standing there with nothing but pieces of broken plaster, a glue stick, a vacuum cleaner, and of course that same old toilet plunger your mom gave you. And of course, you’re wondering how on earth you’re going to clean up this huge mess.
Don’t despair! There’s still hope! This is the moment that separates the A papers from the C-minus papers and the professional writers from the “wanna-be” writers. If you can bite the bullet and dig in to the work, a fairy godmother of inspiration may turn up to illuminate your darkest hour. Now just put aside your tears, seize that inspiration, and push through to the end of your revision.
Repeat the process as needed.
One more tip: a funny thing might happen if you’re actually brave enough to revise your writing. Once you reach the point where your teacher is actually writing an “A” on your paper or the point at which your publisher actually wants to throw a party to celebrate your book, you’ll be happy—but not as happy as you thought you’d be.
Why? Because it’s kind of like saying “great job!” to someone who’s just finished climbing Mount Everest. The journey speaks for itself. At this point, you’ll already take genuine pride in your work no matter what comments you get.
*The author of GILDA’S GUIDE TO REVISION-MADE-EASY does not guarantee results of these habits or claim to consistently adhere to any of the above guidelines.