How to revise your story

Pretend it isn’t yours.

Maybe this method only makes sense for me, because I’m also an editor and I’m used to marking up (carefully and compassionately, I swear) other people’s work. But it’s worth a shot, right?

So here is what I did. I printed my story out and brought it with me to my son’s appointment. (I get a lot of work done in waiting rooms. Also during gymnastics. Sometimes during the commercials of TV shows. Any downtime is fair game.) I pretended it wasn’t my story and that I’d never read it before. And I grabbed a pen and just marked the heck out of it.

This line, too long. The pacing is off here. This word should be replaced. Needs more action here. 

I made the story better, I tightened it up and I knocked down the word count, always excellent things to do when you’re writing a picture book. There are one or two more things I want to fix before I send it out into the wild, but all in all, a most productive waiting-room visit.

And for my next period of downtime? I’ve got another story printed and ready for marking.

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Revise, revise, revamp, renew

I’ve been on a tear lately with first-draft ideas (picture books, that is), which is all kinds of exciting. Also, apparently it is possible to scribble out a draft while in the car. In the passenger seat, of course. Writing while driving seems less doable, though all the texting drivers out there might disagree with me. Also? Dear texting drivers, please use whatever highways I’m not on. Thanks.

It is also possible to write while sitting on a beach, although that probably defeats the whole purpose of being on vacation. In my defense, it was still relaxing. And I wasn’t going swimming anyway. And if I’d fallen asleep on the beach, I might have gotten sunburned. So really, writing was the better choice.

And now of course I have to start revisions. I’ve been trying to figure out the right rhythm for that. Write/revise/write/revise? Write, then ignore the story until I’ve forgotten its name, then revise? Write two stories, revise one, then write two more? It’s like some strange sort of mental dance.

The advice I frequently hear is put the story away for a bit, then take it out again and reread with fresh eyes. But how long is “a bit”? Sometimes I think of a better word or cleaner story arc five minutes after I’ve put the pen down. Sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes I need someone else to suggest improvements first. (Critique groups are wonderful.)

Maybe there is no one right answer. But regardless, I’ll keep working to find the right rhythm and groove. Though I am sure it would be very helpful to go back and sit on that beach for inspiration. (She said, pipe dreaming.)

The focus group has spoken

And they don’t like revisions. They like me to keep the stories exactly the same. When I change things — and I do tend to change things — they always notice. And then they get annoyed.

Mean Mommy. Changing the words around.

One of the first children’s stories I wrote a while back was about a boy who dreamed he’d stolen the last cookie away from Mommy, and felt bad about it. This came from my son, who dreamed he’d stolen the last cookie away from Mommy, and felt bad about it. He woke up and apologized. (I know. Aww.)

But the story itself — well, there wasn’t much to it. I hadn’t really started researching picture books yet, and didn’t know about average story lengths (500-800 words, more or less, if you’re wondering) or that it was better to have the children in a story solve the problem themselves. So once I started writing other stories, I back-burnered the cookie story.

Finally I thought up a way to rewrite the idea into a proper picture book. I started on that last week. I hope to have a draft banged out soon.

My daughter and I were sharing the oversized chair over the weekend, reading books together, and since my laptop was handy I pulled it out and read her my troll story. She liked it. Then she requested the cookie story.

“No, I’m rewriting that one,” I explained. I’d prefer to finish the rewrite and read the kids that version.

“Mommy!” She was most displeased. She tried to talk me into changing my decision. I counteroffered with a different story. She ended negotiations by dismissing my work altogether, and insisting on one of the library books instead.

Truly the focus group is fickle.