Before I start answering the questions, I just want to give a BIG shout-out to my fellow writer, Diana Peterfreund, whose book Secret Society Girl is launching TODAY!! Yahoo! I've pre-ordered two copies from Amazon (one for me, one as a gift), and given the great reviews it's been receiving, I recommend you do the same.
Now, down to the nitty-gritty. Thanks, first, for all of your questions, both on the blog and off! I'm going to answer a few a day, contingent on how much other work I have, and contingent on whether or not I know the answer right away. If not, I'm turning out outside sources (agents, other pubbed writers), and will post when I hear back from them. Also, I'm not necessarily answering in the order received: if you've asked five questions at once, I'll probably break them up so I can satisfy a few different folks per day. But fear not, I PROMISE that I'll answer them all! And while I'm placing some ground rules, go ahead and shoot me any magazine questions you might have. We'll do a little mix and match with the Q/A...and I'm just going to keep the blog focused on this until we all get bored. (Or run out of questions!) :)
The Revise: How to Make It Less Torturous
How much of the book changed during the revision process? (And if you have any tips to make it less painful ...!) (From Swishy, who's blog is side-splittingly funny. Check it out!)
This question made me lose sleep last night. Seriously. The second part doesn't have an answer, but I'm tackling it right out of the gate. I'm going to stick to talking about THE DEPT LOST/FOUND because that's the one that sold. TDLF went through, I think, two fairly decent rounds of revisions. When I say "decent," I mean adding in an extra side-plot, making the heroine slightly more sympathetic, tidying up the ending, and (drumroll) cutting the first five chapters (yes, really!) and restarting the book right in the thick of the action.
NOW. That sounds like A LOT. But, and this is partially where the answer gets complicated, along the way, not too much of the story itself changed - I knew the story that I wanted to tell from the beginning, and I refused to be swayed from that. But from a reader's (not author's) perspective (and these are often two very different things), certain elements were missing. My agent helped point those out, and I was able to go back into my creative well and figure out how to fill those holes. (And I should add, learned how to write a better novel in the process - I surely won't repeat those mistakes the next time around.) For example, my Type A heroine needed to be more relatable, so I created an obsession with the Price is Right. I think that if you're sure of the story arc and the saga you want to tell, the revisions will only strengthen the book because you'll think, "oh, aha, of course, that makes perfect sense, and I know how to do that pretty easily." It's only when you're UNSURE of where you want the book/story to go that you run into problems and the revisions get messy. Does that make any sense at all? In sum, with each revision, the book grew stronger, more honed, less expository, and a better flowing read. But through it all, it was still the same story of a young woman who is thrown into chaos and is forced to overhaul her life.
Now, that said, how do you make revisions less painful? Beyond having a clear idea of who your characters are and what they would or wouldn't do, and a clear idea of your story (as mentioned above), I think it's critical to take your ego out of the equation. As a magazine writer, I'm used to constant edits, so revisions for me weren't that big of a deal. I never took them personally, and I never (well, rarely) grew so attached to a paragraph or scene or set of words that I couldn't edit or cut them. And this is key. If you're too attached to what you've written, you likely won't see it objectively, and objective is exactly what agents and editors are. What you might see as brilliant insight into your heroine's mind might be boring the pants off the rest of the readers. And if they collectively tell you that, you know what? Lose the section. When you go back and reread it a few weeks later (which is important - put down the ms for a while, then go back to it with a refreshed mind), you'll recognize that your book is stronger for it.
All of this said, there are certainly times to put your foot down. Agent #1 wanted me to cut a diary element of the book. I knew the diary was inherent to understanding what my heroine was going through, and I refused. The book wouldn't have been the same without it. But on just about everything else -smaller things that really didn't affect the overall scope of the book - I was willing to hack away. And I suggest that you do the same. More often than you realize, you can cut something out and lose nothing.