Friday, May 1, 2015

Does this revision make my ass look big?

Today is May 1st, which means that I'm going into my fifth month of active revisions on a book I first wrote and revised a year ago. Five months of 2-4 hours a day is a really long time. And I've been doing some serious noodling with this book. Even when I'm not working on it, it's in the back of my mind. Yesterday, I spent most of my son's baseball game pondering if I should include the epistolary wet dreams (Shut it, Carrie, I know how *you* feel about this already). I think I'm getting closer to being done all together. I mean, last week, I had ten full minutes when I really liked the book. Ten minutes! But I'm not sure yet.

Part of the reason I'm not sure is that I don't currently have an agent. And of course, part of why I don't currently have an agent is that I don't know if I actually have a sellable book. You see, there's a chicken and egg conundrum here, right? (Also, this is not a plea for agents, I'm figuring it out, I promise).

The thing about having a good agent relationship is that it's sort of like being married a long time. You show up for date night and your partner says, "You look really good and your ass is perfect, but let me just adjust your fake chicken cutlet boobs so you have this Kim Kardashian thing nailed."

When you don't have that relationship, you need to adjust your Kim Kardashian boobs on your own (or with critique partners, writing group, etc). And this can be really hard when you're trying something different. It can lead to a lot of insecurity and general feelings of "Why did I decide to be Kim Kardashian in the first place?" 

But then I realized something. It is actually very good practice to write books as if you're hunting for an agent all the time. I *know* this should seem like a no-brainer, but really it isn't. Because agents who you're in a long-term relationship with do a lot to bring out the best in your book, and they forgive a lot and are generally super helpful. Editors are too. So it's kind of easy to get a little lazy about stuff.

When I was twenty and (frankly) dumber, I stumbled on that book The Rules and decided to give it a whirl. It actually only lasted two weeks before I couldn't be bothered with the hassle anymore and realized that The Rules were probably not meant to help me win the heart of the girl drummer who I was crushing on at my Women's Action Coalition meetings. Live and learn, friends.

However, when I look at those rules now, I realize that given ample caffeine, I can definitely twist some of them into good writing advice. So, without further ado...

1. "Be a creature unlike any other." Well, this gets right to the heart of things. Write the book that only you can write. That is what is going to help you sell it more than anything else. Because it's going to be full of your heart and that is unique and wonderful.

2. "No more than casual kissing on the first date." (excuse me while I snort). This is what I like to call the don't shoot your whole wad in the first three chapters rule. My book has a lot of layers and I want to immediately dump all of them out so the reader can comb through and find their own treasures, but this is a terrible idea. It is not the reader's job to comb through your mess, it is your job to tease them through your story with a Hansel & Gretel path of treasures.

3. "Fill up your time before the date." You need to do other stuff, this includes good literary citizen stuff like reading, but also it includes having a life outside of this book. Even when I'm fully wanting to spend 12 hours each day revising, I am aware of my limitations (and my day job). I need to take walks and do roller derby and watch Empire with Julio. A rich other life will make your writing life richer.

4. "Be honest but mysterious." This is what an editor friend of mine would call keeping things below the water line. This goes beyond that show me, don't tell me advice and really gets much more into nuance and what you need to include in your book or not.

5. "Next! How to deal with Rejection." Look, here's the thing: publishing is hard. The reality is that this book might not land me an agent. The reality is that even if it does, it might not ever sell. The reality is that it might sell and it might not get shelved in bookstores. I might have just spent a year of my life dicking around on something that maybe 20 people will ever read. If that reality is not for you, you need to maybe not be a writer. Because you can't win every prize at the carnival. But for me, I just love that I'm at the carnival. If this one doesn't work out after all this time, then I move on to the next book. I still have other words in me.

6. "Don't discuss the Rules with your therapist." Okay, this doesn't have to do with publishing at all, it just made me laugh really hard because I can only imagine what my therapist friends would have to say about this.

Be bold, friends! Write on. And try to bring your A-Game to everything you do.


  1. Lol! All of this is so true and great advice. Plus, I've learned that the rules are often more guidelines...anything can and will pop up out of the blue.

  2. Excellent points covered here! Thanks for sharing your wonderful insight! Greatly appreciated! Cheers! S.J. Francis.