New York Times  Bestselling Author

The Challenge of Revisions

 

“It’s never too late — in fiction or in life — to revise.”

                                                                  Nancy Thayer

 

I love that Nancy Thayer quote, but I’m not sure how accurate it is when it comes to either fiction or life. I have about a week left to go in revising After the Storm, and then I’ll have to set this draft free.   

 
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Maybe I say this with every book I write, but I swear, this is the hardest set of revisions I’ve ever had to make. Imagine putting together a 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle of, say, a stampede of horses, and you have an idea of what I’m going through.

What’s made this particular story so difficult, both to write and to revise? It’s a sequel, for one thing, which I naively expected would make it easier to write. After all, I already knew the characters and the backstory. That knowledge, though, created enormous problems. I couldn’t make anything happen in After the Storm that would be inconsistent with what happened in Before the Storm. Dates, always my bugaboo, (my long-time blog readers may remember my “when they need to have sex” post), tripped me up repeatedly. A second challenge was both intriguing and frustrating: viewing scenes that occurred in Before the Storm from a different character’s perspective in After the Storm. Oh my. The world can be a very different place when viewed through a different lens.

What do I mean by revisions, exactly? Here’s the way it works. I write a novel. I turn it in. My editor says “this is perfect just the way it is.” I faint. LOL. That has happened a few times, actually, but not with After the Storm. I knew something wasn’t working with the story, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. That’s where a good editor comes in. I think my editor is frankly brilliant, and she was able to zero in on the area that needed work. It’s a major minor problem. Yes, I said major minor. Minor, because the pieces of the story are all there and the characters are well-developed. But major, because it’s the pacing that’s off, and pacing can be a bear to fix. An absolute bear. In the first draft, for example, Character A met Character B on page 230. In the new draft Character A meets Character B on page 80. And that changes everything. That’s where the 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle comes in, because when you alter what happens in one scene, it impacts the scenes around it, and they impact the scenes around them, and quite soon, you’re surrounded by post-it notes and sheets of yellow lined paper and four different colored drafts and wondering if you will ever, ever be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

It reminds me of my previous career as a clinical social worker. I worked with families in my private practice, and one of the major principles in family work is that when you change one part of the family, it changes all the other parts of the family, so you must constantly be alert to the possible repercussions of every intervention you make. Ultimately, you want all the parts of the whole to function smoothly together. That’s the same goal I have for this book. I’m getting there. One more week of late nights should do it.

I can never gripe about writing without adding this caveat: I am so grateful for this career. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to create worlds that feel real, to tell stories that touch people, and to make a living from my passion. I’m truly living my dream.  

Finally, the first commenter to tell me how many different metaphors I’ve mixed together in this disorganized post will win an autographed copy of one of my books! Her (or his) choice. 

And now it’s back to work. . .   

 

27 Comments

  1. Margo on June 23, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Diane, I feel for you with all these revisions! Laura and I worked on this together and came up with 10 metaphors. We’ve written down what they are in case anyone wants to know. The challenges for you don’t sound easy right now but you are so fortunate to be blessed with a gift that touches other peoples lives. How many people truly live their dream and their passion? Your a true role model for everyone.

  2. Diane Chamberlain on June 23, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Wow, Margo, you are fast, and I think you found at least one metaphor that I didn’t even know I used! If you’ll list them here, I’ll pop the book of your choice in the mail to you.
    By the way, I’m feeling much better about these revisions today! Things look better in the daylight than they do at 2am.

  3. Margo on June 23, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Here’s the list with just simple words: draft free, puzzle, horses, pacing a bear, humpty dumpty, tripped me up, viewed lens, bugaboo, finger on it, zero in.
    Even tho I have all your books, Laura was kind enough to let me have my pick. KEEPER OF THE LIGHT would be my choice and even tho I have the hardbound, I believe a person can’t have too many copies of this classic. If this is not available, I would choose FIRE AND RAIN for Laura since she has never read this.
    Thank you SO MUCH!! (-:

  4. Margo on June 23, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    P.S. I feel guilty…Laura was a part of this and I don’t think I should take a book that I already have when she has everything EXCEPT ‘Fire & Rain’…even tho she insists I take what my choice is since you are my very favorite author, I don’t feel right about this…she should have the book she doesn’t have by you so plz, send me FIRE AND RAIN and I will surprise her with it.

  5. Diane Chamberlain on June 23, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    You two did a great job. I should hire you to catch all my mixed metaphors. Don’t worry–I don’t have any extra copies of Keeper of the Light, so Fire and Rain it is.

  6. Kathy Holmes on June 23, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Diane – I can only imagine how difficult it must be to do revisions on your complex books – and a sequel being even more challenging – wow! Keeping track of everything is one of my challenges and so I admire your abilities. You inspire me!

  7. Julie on June 23, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Hmm, I have a sequel in mind for my WIP, but I also have another story that is begging to be told first. After reading this, I wonder how hard it would be to write the new story, then go back to the sequel!! Then again, I might find out more about the characters in book one while I wait.
    Scratching head and pondering the big questions in life … (haha!)

  8. Julie on June 23, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Oh, and did I remember to say that I finished BTS over the weekend and it was a page turner? I had figured out several of the little mysteries by the end, but there were still a few where you got me! 🙂
    Passing it on to my daughter for sure (almost 15). I’m learning she and I can have good conversations about her own future decisions when we read the same books, so I’m doing directed reading this summer. So far, I don’t think she’s figured it out. LOL I just say, “Hey, I think you’d like this book!” and off she goes.

  9. Margo on June 23, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Oh good…thx Diane! Laura will be so surprised. I can hardly wait. (-:

  10. Gina on June 23, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    Diane,
    I must say that I am grateful for YOU. You are a wonderful writer and you never let me down. Your books are amazing and I want the world to know about them and you. Thank you for all you do. I think I can safely say, that we, here, love all your books.
    I have to tell you a funny story, I went home (to NJ) this past weekend to spend some time with my niece and nephew. On Saturday, they wanted to go to the library to pick up some books (they love to read), and I thought to myself, hmmm, I wonder if they have any of Diane’s older books here. The only 2 I haven’t read yet were Fire and Rain and The Brass Ring. (I can’t find them anywhere in Houston.) Well, lo and behold, they had both books and ALL the others!
    I asked if I could buy them. LOL – They said I couldn’t. I explained that I lived in Houston and wanted to read these 2 books really badly. They told me that I could check them out (using my sister’s library card) and that I could renew both books 3 times which gave me up to 3 months to get them back to their library. Well, that’s what I did.
    I have them in my possession and will get started on them soon. My husband is going to NJ to visit his dad at the end of July, so he’ll take the books back to my sister for me so that she can return them. LOL
    Sorry, didn’t mean to get so long-winded here, but I’m just so excited. LOL

  11. brenda on June 23, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Gina-that is dedication!!!! Margo-I agree with you about D.C.
    As to the metaphors-as an English teacher-I didn’t want to WIN…I also believe I have all the books…
    Diane-I feel for you. I think a sequel would be difficult. When I read books by authors who do series…there are so many inconsistencies…drives me wild!!!!!!! Sometimes, I don’t think they care. Another thing that drives me crazy is when a story is set in a particular setting…sometimes the author uses names of real cities-other times he/she makes them up–it is difficult to know what is real and what is not.
    Good luck on the revision. I admire you for keeping the BLOG going, for reading, and having a real life as you WRITE…makes you human!!!!! That’s one reason we adore you on this website…
    Kathy-did you do a sequel on the Women-Red book or am I confused????

  12. Margo on June 24, 2008 at 8:01 am

    Gina, I loved reading your story. Both books by Diane are wonderful…I especially loved the unique story of FIRE AND RAIN and that is why I’m so excited to win this for my friend Laura who has read all Diane’s book except that one. Diane, I hope all is well with your revisions now…(-:

  13. Diane Chamberlain on June 24, 2008 at 9:51 am

    >>Another thing that drives me crazy is when a story is set in a particular setting…sometimes the author uses names of real cities-other times he/she makes them up–it is difficult to know what is real and what is not.

  14. brenda on June 24, 2008 at 11:54 am

    D-I think one has to MAKE UP places because if something does happen…I am referring to one author in particular (love the books) who writes about one location in all of the books-however, throws in a town now and then that is SUPPOSED to be real as are the others-and it is not. I still love the books.
    As to madeup and real-that has to happen…I think the places in the towns HAVE TO BE MADE UP–that would open all kinds of SUITS…I actually did some of that in my boring novel that needs to be finished.
    I am reading a book of an author-never read before-having trouble getting through it. The four girls left on the plane today…my son and I are doing chores and working (he)…I have a few days to rest before my flight Sat.

  15. brenda on June 24, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    I finally did what some of my friends have asked. I did a BLOG…for teachers, readers, etc. Go and comment and tell me if it works…
    http://www.freewebs.com/teachershelping (If you have a favorite teacher-a memory-you teach…home school…etc…favorite books…Of course, BEFORE THE STORM is already on there…
    The site will be nothing like this one…due to my time and lack of experience…be patient.

  16. brenda on June 24, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    P.S. DO not call me by name on the BLOG or guestbook…I want to try it first-I do not want angry students emailing me.
    Diane-I am going to put your dates on there for your books.

  17. Krysia on June 24, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    Can I say sadly I would never have gotten a single metaphor right. I’m still trying to figure out how I passed all my English classes, especially my senior year when I didn’t even open my book and it still had the plastic on it when i returned it. I managed an A, either I was a good bs-er or the teacher just wanted to pass me.
    I found out today that my little boy will be gracing this world on Tues around oh 8 am, lol. I can’t wait, I was hoping for Friday (I really don’t want to go back to work) but it didn’t pan out. I was told I’d never get to have a natural childbirth. Oh well. Margo-how did your friend’s birth go?

  18. Diane Chamberlain on June 24, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    Gina, have we discussed NJ, my home state? I can’t recall. I’m from Plainfield.
    By the way, I love the inter-library loan system! It’s fantastic for getting local material on areas I’m researching. Thanks for being such a faithful fan!

  19. Denise on June 25, 2008 at 12:05 am

    I feel quite enlightened about several things after reading the posts here. For instance, I did not know why authors make up the names of places and locations in novels. Now I understand! I don’t really mind when locations and places are fictional unless they have really silly names. Lol!
    I imagine doing the revisions of a novel is somewhat like writing and revising a research or term paper but even more complicated because of the characters.
    One thing I have never understood is how spelling errors make it into books. It always surprises me that spelling errors could sneak past so many eyes prior to final publication!
    Krysia, remember: Tuesday’s child is full of grace.

  20. Margo on June 25, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Krysia, all 3 babies arrived into the world yesterday (Tues) at 11:30 a.m., 11:31 and 11:32 a.m.! Beautiful babies and each is over 4 pounds. 2 girls and 1 boy…mother and father are doing great…father visited with me this a.m. and is so ecstatic…they have tried for so long to have children and finally succeeded in what you’d call ‘immediate family’. They are so blessed and I am on the way to the hospital as we speak to see mommy and babies. (-:

  21. brenda on June 25, 2008 at 10:49 am

    Denise-I can remember growing up in the 50’s and 60’s when doing a term paper meant typing on a typewriter–no mistakes were permitted…I sometimes had to type so many times…now–my students have it made-they run into class just having printed it off-high school and college-what gets me is when they want to hand me a flashdrive-get a life here-I am not printing off a million papers…
    Krysia-good luck…it is the most wonderful experience-I had to take fertility drugs to have my children…they are worth it…spent 9 months in bed and ill each time…they are still worth it…
    Margo-did you find THE AWAKENING??? You will love that…
    I TOO have learned more from Diane than any other author…

  22. Denise on June 25, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Brenda, same here! And remember that nasty carbon paper? And the sad thing is that they did not even make “White-Out’ products back in the old days. Haha
    Margo, congrats on those new little gifts!

  23. Diane Chamberlain on June 25, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    Krysia, I can tell you’re ready even if your little guy is not! He’ll be in your arms very soon enough.
    Margo, what wonderful news on the triplets! I hope that family has lots of support.
    Brenda, when I finish revisions, I’ll check out your new blog.
    Denise, I don’t understand the spelling errors either. When I see them in my own books, I just can’t believe they were in MY perfect manuscript and I’m certain someone at my publisher maliciously stuck them in. . . until I check my manuscript and discover the mistakes were mine alone. It is amazing how they get past the editor, copy editor, proof reader etc. But they NEVER get past the readers!
    My first book, PRIVATE RELATIONS, was written entirely on a little electric typewriter, using carbon paper. Unimaginable to me now. Every change required an entire rewrite. Ugh!

  24. brenda on June 25, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    I’m not sure the BLOG will work-any advice from you guys will help me.
    Diane-does Maggie remind you of Holden Caulfield at all???
    I think most of us have NOW read the book-hopefully, we can discuss it soon…
    Carbon paper-yuck…I had one teacher who made us do a huge huge paper…no eraser marks…nothing…I was a good typist but already had the arthritis…whew…another teacher let me use the electric typewriter to help me.
    As to words that are not spelled correctly-when I grade papers-a ton of them-I am sure I miss words-probably the same with the editors…Not only do I grade my students-I help others write theirs.

  25. brenda on June 25, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Margo-if you have time, look at the BLOG and see what I can do…I am not experienced at this

  26. Margo on June 26, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    Brenda, I’m the last person to ask about websites and blogs (LOL)! I’m sure what you have is very good…I only comment on Diane’s website. As for my own, I don’t even have one yet…I basically stick to painting and drawing and that’s it. Brenda, I will look for the AWAKENING next Wed. I saw the triplets yesterday and they are all just beautiful little babies. Diane, my friends mother-in-law will be helping her with the little ones but I know she has alot ahead of her. I really think she and her husband are the perfect candidates for triplets…they are both strong people and live on an acreage and will give their new family their all.

  27. Denise on June 28, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Diane, I can not imagine writing an entire book on a typewriter with carbon paper! But I suppose that is how everyone did it. Revisions must have been a major project in those days!
    Gosh, when I look back, I can’t remember photocopy machines. All I remember are those old ‘mimeograph’ machines the teachers used to make copies that had a funny smell.
    I actually get a kick out of reading publisher advance copies of books because all of the spelling errors make me laugh. Some authors must not use spell-check. Ha! I never go back and read the final published copies of the same books and often wonder if all of those errors were caught.

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