Friday, August 16, 2013

Cookie Jar Bliss

It's done.

I just spent the world's happiest week doing revisions on my cookie jar book - the time travel book where the kids travel back to various exciting moments of Indiana history via the mechanism of an enchanted cookie jar. Earlier in the summer I revised it as best I could myself, printed out six copies to distribute to the six other members of my writing group, and awaited their comments.  I heard back from four of them; I'm still waiting on the other two. I went ahead and launched into the next round of revisions on the strength of the suggestions from the first four critics, knowing that there will be plenty of time for MANY more rounds of revisions as more comments come in.

It's hard to know which is more satisfying: the initial writing or the revising.  I do adore that initial hour-a-day, page-a-day writing of the book from scratch, where I'm the one who actually brings the world of this book into being with my daily toil. I'm the one who makes these characters breathe, talk, quarrel, cry, act. I write not knowing fully what is going to happen. I write in the hopes of finding out. I write with the same joyful anticipation of a reader, to find out what happens next. But initial creation is also scary. There is always the fear - ALWAYS - that I'll sit down to write and the magic won't happen (even though if you sit down faithfully to write, day after day, the magic is absolutely GUARANTEED).

With revision I have the satisfaction of seeing the already written book get so much better, sentence by sentence, page by page, chapter by chapter. The buried potential of the book is brought to the surface. Crucial themes area more fully developed. The characters can be made now to act more fully in character. The beginning of the story can be reshaped to anticipate what comes later (now that I know what comes later). Vivid detail can be added. It's lovely to see improvement, improvement, improvement, every step of the way.

Not that revision isn't daunting, too. Here the fear is that I'll know what I NEED to do, but not be able to do it, not be a good enough writer to make it work. What I do to help myself out here is perhaps backwards. I do all the easy things first. A lot of writers take the opposite approach and do the hard things first. But I like to start with low-hanging fruit to build self-confidence. So first I correct all the typos - how I love doing that! Then I work on awkward sentences flagged by my writing group. And then, and only then, do I work on larger issues of plot logistics, character motivation, adding and subtracting various scenes.

Well, now this round of revisions is done, and I sent the manuscript off yesterday - ta-dah! - to my agent to see what he thinks. This book is a departure for me - not realistic contemporary fiction, not a school story, not a single school scene anywhere in the entire 240 pages. Instead the children foil a robbery by John Dillinger's gang, help a slave escape on the Underground Railroad, get their portrait painted by Hooiser impressionist T. C. Steele, and take refuge during a tornado.

I loved writing every single word of it. I loved revising every single word of it. Now all I can do is hope that some editor somewhere loves reading the words I so loved writing. And start dreaming up what book to write next.

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