Revision: God’s Work, or the Devil’s?

We had a lovely warm day on Saturday, and I got out the lounge chair to do a bit of sunbathing. Jackson elected to go with the package deal: sunbathing AND affection. He leads a pretty good life. Good thing I’m not concerned about my tan lines!

Otherwise I’m deep into revising THE FIERY CITADEL, sequel to THE ORCHID THRONE, the first two books in my Forgotten Empires trilogy. This is the series – totally new world and characters! – that I’m doing with St. Martin’s Press. I turned in the draft of book 2 in April and my editor, Jennie Conway, sent developmental edits back to me while I was at Nebula Conference. She’s a terrifically insightful editor and gave me great feedback on tweaking the story. That’s a primary reason to go with traditional publishing, if all goes right (and some of this depends on having a good agent and serendipity), then you get to work with a fantastic editor who really brings out the best in your work and helps you to grow and move the story into the next level.

But… you know what they say: growth is painful.

I’m one of those writers who loves drafting. I used to say I hated revising – and I did – but now my feelings aren’t so strong. I don’t love it as much as the freefall rush of drafting, but it feels like good, necessary work now. Some of that is working with a good editor.

I used to have a critique partner who was the opposite of me: she *loved* revising. She called it “God’s work.” For me, revising always felt like fixing the mistakes I shouldn’t have made the first time. I’d tell her she had the wrong deity.

What’s funny is, now that I’m writing full-time – and theoretically have more bandwidth, hours, and concentration for my stories – I’ve become less demanding of myself that way. I no longer regard revising as “fixing mistakes,” but as part of the process. If we compare sculpting to writing, then my first drafts now are the rough of the figure with the surrounding marble chiseled away. The figure is recognizable, perhaps even showable, depending on your standards. In the revision stage, however, is when I bring out the shadows and highlights, when I polish the features so they have the perfect expression. I layer in the surrounding details, giving the figure context and deeper meaning.

Huh. Kind of does sound like God’s work.

First Cup of Coffee – May 28, 2019

Talking about my towering TBR pile today. I pose a quiz question for my listeners, too. What should I do??? I’m talking about revisions, how I’ve changed my view of them, along with my progress on THE FIERY CITADEL. Also thoughts on Mary Robinette Kowal’s THE CALCULATING STARS and THE FATED SKY.

Cleaning Someone Else’s Kitchen

021A lovely vista at Cerrillos State Park from a hike last weekend. I mentioned before that author, critique partner and fab friend Carolyn Crane came to visit for a long weekend.

 She mainly came to Santa Fe to get out of the crushing Minneapolis winter. In fact, when she Tweeted that she didn’t know how she could make it through the endless snowstorms, I sent her a link showing how cheap plane tickets to Albuquerque were and reminded her that I have a guest room.

Ostensibly I was doing her a favor.

 But then she did me one. First of all, having her visit brought several days of nonstop writer convo into my life. Carolyn is one of my favorite people (and RWA roomie!) and we had the best time rambling over numerous topics, gossip, business and ideas. We even came up with an amazing brainstorm for a Sekrit Joint Project. Best of all, Carolyn got along great with David and even had him bringing out his guns to show her the different kinds. You’ll all be pleased to know that her Associates will have a much more varied arsenal now. 🙂

 At the same time, I got back my final set of line edits on an upcoming manuscript. For this third round of edits, my editor STILL wanted more on a particular scene I’d never wanted to put on the page in the first place. Her instincts are good on this kind of thing, but I felt so *done* at this point that I just couldn’t face taking another stab at it. But Carolyn – well, she cleaned my kitchen for me.

You all know what I mean, right? Or maybe this is mainly a female thing. I know a lot of guys cook and clean, too, but I’ve never heard them mention this. But my female friends and relatives sure have. And I know I’ve said it to them.

“Oh, let me finish the clean-up – it’s so much more fun to clean someone else’s kitchen!”

Because it just IS.

My own kitchen I’ve cleaned hundreds, if not thousands of times. I know every countertop stain, the persistent yellow crud in that hard-to-reach lip of the sink at the back, that one pan that never *quite* yields up that old burn on the bottom. Over time I give up on these things. I just don’t care enough and I’m resigned to these little, enduring failures to reach perfection.

In SOMEONE ELSE’S KITCHEN, however, I become a dynamo of shininess. I scrub those pans until they gleam. Those countertop stains cannot withstand my zeal to see them gone, gone, gone. My mother managed to get my glass-top stove cleaner than it was when we moved in – and was happy to do it.

So much more fun to clean someone else’s kitchen.

Likewise, Carolyn took up the torch of expanding that scene with excitement and enthusiasm. She wrote a page for me in no time at all – and had fun doing it. Once I had that from her, I was able to see past the old stains and revised it to blend with the story. What she gave me was brilliant. More, I don’t know that I had it in me to do myself. I might have just let that stain go, yet again.

A gift beyond price.

Best of all, she’s excited that I owe her. She’s got ideas for a scene or two she’ll ask me to riff on. And I’m excited to do it. I’d love to take her story and play with it. For the first time, really, I get what fan fiction is all about.

It’s all the fun of cleaning someone else’s kitchen – just once – without having to face it day after day.