I recently discovered, or maybe admitted is a better word, that I enjoy revising more than I enjoy the initial writing. If the entire act of writing, beginning with an idea and ending with a book or at least a booklength manuscript, can be distilled into basic steps, mine would be:
1. Brainstorm. This is great fun! I use a Levenger notebook with the Circa discs so I can easily rearrange my notes, and I write down the overall aim of the piece as well as the general order in which I will proceed, ending up with a fairly loose outline/bullet list for each chapter. Some pages contain notes in mind-map web formations, some contain unrelated phrases, some have tables or charts sketched as I consider, with each book, including graphs or charts but so far I haven't done so. (I'm thinking maybe I'll incorporate graphs and charts in book #3, which is wavering between steps one and three right now.)
2. Create a cover. More fun, and artistically stretching as I can barely jot my name in a legible manner. I usually manage to doodle something usable, then re-create it on Publisher. I might start writing the cover copy at this point, but I might wait until the book is more focused.
3. Write the first few chapters. The number of chapters written in this step depends on the overall length of the book, the logical places to take a break, my momentum, and my non-writing schedule (all the tasks I must do each day, such as work at my full-time job and keep track of my child and spend time with my husband and help run his business). When I get stuck, I go back to the notebook and re-read my brainstorm notes, adding to them as much as possible so I feel like I'm really working on something. I've read many books on this subject and most authors tell aspiring writers to write a minimum number of words per day (2000 is a common amount; the last book I read, Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See, suggests 1000 per day) but I've concluded this regimen doesn't work for me. However, I don't make a living from my writing! If I did, I'd probably have to strap myself in and crank out a few grand per day.
4. Revise the first few chapters. I can't help myself, I've got to revise as I go! I try to force myself to wait until I'm finished writing the entire first draft but my revision tendencies are clearly stronger than my inital writing tendencies so I give in and revise at whim. As I'm revising, I keep my brainstorm notebook close by and jot down all the new ideas for future chapters. This is how and when foreshadowing of future events can be inserted, creating a more even and natural flow in the final copy.
5. Write the next few chapters.
6. Revise the next few chapters. Revisit the cover, consider the cover copy and make sure everything promised on the cover is contained in the book and the most important things in the book are included on the back cover.
Keep repeating steps five and six until the work is done.
7. Re-read the brainstorm notebook. Check everything off as you go, or just draw a diagonal line through each page if the entire page is either a) already included in the book or b) unusable.
8. Revise the entire book! Yes, revision isn't over! It's possible to revise until your eyes fall out, but it's not necessary. I generally revise (as in, re-read with a highlighter, post-it notes and a pen in hand) two or three times immediately after finishing writing the book, then I have someone else read it over and give me some feedback. I have four people who usually read my work before it goes anywhere else, and while they're doing that, I'm relaxing with the brainstorm notebook, in case any other little ideas spring forth. I'll frequently have about 27 new things to add to the book by the time I get it back from my readers.
9.Take a break. Take as long a break as possible, at least two weeks, up to several months. Let the book get dark and dusty.
10. Revise one last time. Read it with fresh eyes and incorporate the pertinent feedback and any other brainstorming notes generated during the respite. Enjoy the satisfaction of a finished job. Pat yourself on the back. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Read a book, written by someone else, and notice that yours is just as good (maybe better).
When my first book, Bookworms Anonymous, hit the shelves (the Amazonian shelves, anyway) I immediately established a Google Alert so every time the phrase Bookworms Anonymous hits the internet, I am notified.
It's amazing how many people use the same phrase. Usually the Alerts point me to a book club's website or chat room, where I peruse entries from various bibliophiles such as myself waxing digitally about the latest, greatest book they've read. Today I was lucky enough to stumble upon a blog (http://adprincess-hn.blogspot.com/ ) written with style and panache, with today's entry titled Bookworms Anonymous. The author lives in London, a city on my short list of vacation destinations, so the blog is all the more intriguing. And she has a job at Christie's! So cool.
So set up your Google Alerts--enjoy the notifications about everything interesting, or everything containing your name and watch the world expand and shrink at the same time.
I recently attended a writer's conference in Madison, Wisconsin where I was lucky enough to hear Janet Burroway speak. I'd never heard of her before, but loved the way she talked about writing and the struggle to actually sit down and start writing. She gave all of us permission to write to our lowest standard, which is better than writing nothing at all.
Of course I bought two of her books on break. Of course I had her sign them. And she doesn't merely scrawl her name across the page or write a stock phrase wishing the reader well. She opens the book to a random page, selects a phrase wherever her finger lands, and inscribes that particular phrase to the reader. She said it's like a horoscope. Nifty! One nice thing about this method, besides giving the purchaser a personalized inscription, is the time it takes. It's nice to spend three or four minutes chatting with the author rather than being rushed off, pushed aside for the next reader in line.
So far I've read one, Bridge of Sand, and loved it. It's going around Bookworms Anonymous right now, and I'm confident everyone will enjoy it. Ms. Burroway is most well known for her text book, Writing Fiction, which is the preeminent text used in Universities across the United States, but this latest novel is a well-crafted story. As a reader I enjoyed it, as a writer I learned a thing or two.
I once lived in a car. I was only 17, so there were no worries about personal safety or suspicious shadows because I was still immortal. Sleeping while sitting up in the driver's bucket seat of a 1977 Ford Pinto caused no physical repercussions as I leapt out the door every morning, fresh faced and full of energy, performing an abbreviated personal cleansing ritual before working all day as a waitress in a busy medium-priced restaurant. My tips amounted to $100/day, but I was reluctant to spend any of it on lodging. Who needed a bed when I had a perfectly fine and comfortable Pinto, and generous friends whose showers I could use? Life was simple then.
When I mention living in the car to my children (this happens only rarely and after I've had a couple beers) in an attempt to illustrate how rough I had it, the kids are always skeptical. "I doubt it, Mother. You can't even sleep in a tent, let alone a car." It's true. I can no longer sleep in a tent or on a blow-up mattress. If I sit for too long on any kind of chair, hard or soft, reclining or straight-backed, my back and legs stiffen up and require an embarrassing sequence of Yoga moves to loosen sufficiently to walk like someone my age (40) rather than an octogenarian.
Maybe living in the car caused my muscles to begin petrifying prematurely. Sometimes I blame the car-living for my restlessness--I have never, before or since, been able to literally wake up and drive. One time I was reading by the dome light and fell asleep and had to push start the car the next morning, popping the clutch just before the on ramp (did I mention I lived in the car at a rest stop along the freeway?). It was quite invigorating to jump out of the car and immediately perform intense calisthenics and strength training. Again, I was 17. I remember all of these events clearly but can't imagine feeling energetic after sleeping in a car.
Everyone's question, upon hearing of my car-capades, is: How long did you do that?
This is where the story disappoints. I should have stuck it out, stayed in the car longer. Think of the adventure--the stories I would tell! I could have slept the whole summer in that Pinto, relying on my little battery-powered alarm clock (this was in pre-cell phone 1987) to stir my brain every morning. And the creepy shadows? I barely noticed them.
So how long was it? "One week," is my standard answer, unless someone probes or expresses doubt, at which time I confess "five days". Five measely days I now look upon sometimes as high adventure, sometimes as teenage folly from which I was lucky to escape unscathed.