Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Revision--Shannon Style (Part Four)

Okay, I know I TOTALLY dropped the ball on this series. In fact, I'm pretty sure I was supposed to wrap it up about 3 months ago. #Shannonfail

But hey--since I spent the greater part of the last 3 months in various forms of Revision Hell--I've actually found quite a few new tricks to share, so ALL THE SLACKING PAID OFF---HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!

So...in case you missed the earlier posts (or have just forgotten them over the last three months *coughs*), here's links to PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE of my revision process. And now we're up to PART FOUR--which was *supposed* to be the last stage. But um...ha, it SO isn't.

Well...I guess it is, but I'm realizing I can't cover it all in one post. So there will definitely be a PART FIVE and maybe a PART SIX. I can ramble about revision for a long time. Especially this stage--The Agent Stage.

Now, all literary agents are different, and not all are hands on editorially. Laura happens to be VERY hands on editorially--one of the main reasons I wanted to work with her. But for some of you, this stage may not exist (though most of the things I will be covering apply whether you have an editorial agent or not. Just substitute the word "Agent" for "critique partner").

Okay, so to get to this stage I've written the draft, revising lightly as I go. I've gone through it myself, based on the "Things I need to Fix" file. I've revised again based on CP feedback. Reread the whole thing in one sitting to watch for consistency. And, finally decided: yes, it's ready to send to Laura! Which...usually means I write up the email and then spend 2 or 3 hours in the: AHHH I'M SCARED TO HIT SEND zone before I finally get brave enough to send off the bad boy.

We'll fast forward through the 2-3 weeks I then spend obsessively checking my email for feedback and whining to anything with ears (yes, that includes my cats) about how afraid I am that she'll hate it. (no need to give you THAT close of a glimpse into my neuroses).

And so we arrive at the moment a lovely email from Laura Rennert with a subject line that has my book's title and the words: "My comments" pops up in my inbox.

*cue MASSIVE stomach ache*

So...I've gotten several of these emails over the last year, and I've sort of developed a system for opening them--and it goes something like this.

*STARE at the screen*

*hubs walks by, sees pale wife. Asks, What's wrong?"*

*explain in shaky voice, "I got my Laura-notes"*

*husband hides*

*the cats flee with him*

*continue to STARE at screen*

*after many, many minutes of staring, click to open the email and immediately close eyes*

*sit there with closed eyes for...an embarrassing amount of time*

*Finally open eyes, but refuse to look at the screen*

*click "command + P" to print the email*

*immediately close the window*

*hold breath while listening to the printer print*

*count the pages as they finish*

*at 3 pages: ask husband if we have any vodka and tonic*

*at 5 pages: suggest that the hubs might want to also hide the sharp objects*

*at 7 pages: begin seriously contemplating fleeing to Mexico and starting a new life as a maraca dancer*

*at 8 pages: decide that career description needs to be amended to "tequila-drinking maraca player"*

*at 9 pages: make a mental list of Spanish phrases still remembered from high school. Feel severely disappointed when most of them are actually remembered from Speedy Gonzalez cartoons*

*At 10 pages: curl up in the fetal position and whimper*

I *think* 10 is my record--so I'll stop there. And sadly I'm only SLIGHTLY exaggerating the process. 

Is it because Laura's notes are mean? ABSOLUTELY NOT. In fact, several of the pages are always praise. But the thing about really in depth intense revision notes (whether they're from an agent, an editor, or an especially thorough crit partner) is that no matter how much praise there is or how nice the person is in their comments, there's ALWAYS that punched-in-the-gut-man-I-must-really-suck-as-a-writer-feeling that comes with them. 

No matter HOW thick your skin is (and believe me--my skin is actually REALLY thick. I couldn't have survived film school without it). No matter how prepared you are for the inevitable. It ALWAYS happens. 

And that's the reason I'm revealing all this Shannon Shame for you guys--to make sure you know: that's normal. It's NORMAL to get a little shaken up by intense notes. It happens to us all. We all handle it our own ways--some of us probably less pathetically than others *coughs*--but it still happens. And my advice to you is: surrender to it.

But only briefly.

I really do print the email without reading it and count the pages as they print. And if it's long, you can bet I curl up in a little ball and wallow in the fear and I-Sucktitude for a few minutes. Okay, fine, more than a *few* minutes. And then? 

I shake it off. 

I force myself out of the fetal position.

I grab my Red-Pen-Of-Doom and a soda, extra heavy on the caffeine.

I take that stack of pages off the printer, plop down in bed, and read them. 

And if the punched-in-the-gut-panic starts to come back, I shove it away. I already had my moment for insecurity and self doubt. Now it's time to dig in.

And I'll talk next week about how I go about doing that.

What about you guys? Any of you gotten a particularly intense batch of revision notes? (oh mans, why am I afraid of what my CPs will say about my notes if they decide to weigh in). How did you deal?


  1. Thanks for warning us. Yes, curling up in fetal position would be my first reaction.

    I don't have as thick skin as you so I would probably freak out for awhile before I could dig in. But I'd love to have an editorial agent that would help me like Laura does for you.

  2. I think my first reaction is defensiveness. Then I look at my writing, really look at my writing, and realize they're right and I can fix this.

  3. You are awesome for sharing. Still building my thick skin, but it's coming right along. :)

    Oh, and my stomach is clenching for you. :)

  4. Expecting some comments this week....yikes!

    Mexico sounds kind of good....


  5. Umm ... holy friggin crap! How am I just noticing now for the first time your "art samples" page? You're amazing! That sketch of the little cottage is particularly incredible.

  6. Your whole process of dealing with the stomach-wrenching feelings of inadequacy sounds very close to mine. Tequila's not my drink, though. I usually go with a glass of cheap wine. :)

  7. I'm totally getting all that right now with an awesome CP. It's frightening and I want to hide when I see the email but the notes are SO good. I can see how my story will get stronger with it. Of course, that's after I've minimized the document for a good while before daring to open it again :) Thanks for sharing.

  8. This is when my friends Ben & Jerry are especially comforting. Criticism goes down better with a spoonful of sugar :P

  9. I always feel a little punched in the gut when I see notes from my agent in my inbox, but usually, I'm expecting them. And I'd probably die from shock if she told me everything was perfect.

    Once I read through all the comments, I have to take a day or two to think before I start addressing any concrete concerns. This gives me time to be more objective about her notes, and less defensive. And by then I realize that she's absolutely right, and I have a better idea of what to do next.

    I'll be honest, though, the last letter of comments drove me to trash basically the entire first half and start over from scratch. But I think it's all for the best, and I've already got 40K words.

    Just another 50K to go! ;)

    Good luck with your revisions, Shannon!

  10. Shannon,

    This was a great post, particularly your advice that this feeling is normal. I think that's easy to forget when you stroll through the bookstore and see all the books in their edited and revised and polished perfection. I once had an editor mark through an entire chapter and write the word NO at the top. That is my gauge now - if there are only notes and not a complete axe, I can proceed (not that I don't also start looking for the occasional vodka.) Sort of glad I had that experience early in my writing life. Ha Ha!

  11. Just reading about your reactions made me pull my knees into my chest. I don't know what I'll do when that happens to me. Eek!

  12. Waaaaa-hooooooo! You know how I love my Shannon Style posts!!! :-)

  13. I just got my first CPs, three of them! And the work they've sent me so far has been out of this world. So I'm not sure what will happen when I get my first crit notes. I've already run through possible scenarios again and again, terrifying to say the least. Possibly curl into a ball and then pull it together and attack my revisions with a vengeance. Loved this post! ;)

  14. As torturous as it sounds, I'm actually looking forward to the day when I get comments from an agent or editor. But I'll be sure to have plenty of Ipsolon on hand! ;-)

  15. It's taken me a while, but I've finally gotten to a point where I accept critique pretty easily and am willing to work it in. My beta reader has helped me do amazing things to my MS

  16. Oh, I know EXACTLY what you mean...and it's not just when I get notes form my editor. Ask Roni Loren, who just simply critiqued my query last week....she held my hand through my latest pity party. But it is now over and I have emerged with a new motivation and enthusiasm! Lots of luck to you!! :)

  17. Wow, that gives me the shakes just thinking about it. *ack*

  18. Oh boy, been here before. But if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  19. Dude, I have so been in that fetal position. Good thing I like it? Ha! Yeah, right.

    I deal by donning the headphones and diving in. What else is there to do, really?

  20. Oh goodness--I get this! Oh, do I get it! The worst is the anticipation. The actual feedback--from crit. partners or my agent--is never as bad as I anticipate!

  21. Hurray, another post in this series! I really enjoy reading them. :)

    I have to echo what Shari said--I have no idea what my reaction would be if that happened to me.

  22. All of the above. I'm still in CP stage...and there's a place inside that naively hopes the message will be "Gosh - LOVE it. Perfect." Even though I know that's not possible, and why we pick the critique partners we do....to make me better.

    "somewhat" nice to know it's normal....a little bummed to know it never goes away LOL!

    Good luck with the next round.

  23. Though I'm always nervous to see what the notes are, I can't handle waiting any longer than I already have, so I usually jump right in and start reading the second I get them. I love what you said about having thick skin. It's so true. No matter how thick your skin is, there is always at least a few moments of "wow, I really suck" thoughts that happen when you get notes. But the best thing for me is to dive in and start fixing it. I always am so happy when I can see the end result pulling together.

  24. It's SO nice to hear that other people have more work to do even after their work is "ready" to send off. Lately I've felt as though most writers/authors write only strong, clean, nearly perfect drafts needing only some tweaking here and there. SO THANKS for clearing that up for me. (whew, i'm normal.) christy

  25. I'm currently working on some heavy duty revisions but hope to be ready to send to crit partners soon. And will be anxiously awaiting their comments. I am kinda torn when it comes to feedback. I always want it to be gushy and OMG, I loved it! but the feedback that means more to me is the feedback that points out what works and what doesn't. I can't fix what I don't know is broken. Not that that makes it easier to receive though.

  26. I think it is amazing you have an agent who gives editorial. 10 pages would make me curl too but it's honest-make-your-story-stronger help. I'm jealous.

    I have some crit partners ripping my story right now. It's nerve racking but they always catch stuff I miss. Chocolate generally saves me.

  27. Good to know... so when I finally get an agent and am still crippled with self doubt I can feel normal about it :)


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