The Agony of Revision

I’ve used this image before. It is the ships of the Pallbearers fleeing Earth after the Day of Transition. In The Peaceful and Just, book one of To See Many Stars, Arlat is about to show this image to Kavela and the rest of the companions. This is where they really begin to understand that they are pieces in a larger puzzle.

If you’re like me, every time you return to words you have written on a page, you critique them, reading them over, trying to find a new way to arrange them in your head. This process is what we call revision. I think of it like a sculptor. I have plotted out my creation with notes, and then perhaps drawn a few pictures of my plan, and now I am massaging the piece itself, taking off a sliver of material here, reshaping another part there. The problem comes with knowing when to stop. After all, if I keep cutting away at my work of art, won’t it eventually be stripped down to nothing? Then won’t I have to start over? When is the right time to say: “Enough! It’s done! World, gaze on my amazing gift to you!”

That’s part of the problem, of course. The world isn’t gazing. No one, except for my wonderful wife and a few friends, is gazing. No one cares, except me, and everytime I look at the damn thing I see something else I want to change. As the years go by I think about this with copyright dates. I put them on all my books, but when I go back in and revise something that I copyrighted 1996, shouldn’t I change the copyright to 2018? And does it matter anyway? It’s never been published! Also, now I can’t even remember when I actually wrote some of these stories, because I’ve changed them so many times.

I don’t really have any answers to these questions. What I do know is that writing is a series of revisions undertaken over time, to make the story the best it can possibly be. I also trust myself when I’m revising: if I get stopped on a sentence or a paragraph, that’s usually a pretty good sign that there’s something wrong with it. So in effect, revising can become subconscious: just read with a critical eye, and let your mind do the rest. There is, I think, a certain point where I forget that the story is “mine”, and it becomes part of the world of fiction out there. That has happened, for the most part, with Chivalry, my first novel. When I read it now it is like any other book, and it’s pretty good, but I don’t have the desire to change every word in it. I just want someone else to read it.

What I am doing now with To See Many Stars is really focusing on simplifying and explaining things that I know, but that the reader does not know. I have several readers jotting down notes for me, and when they have a question, I try to use a sentence or two to answer it. It’s making my YA fantasy better, more fun to read, and easier to follow, which in the end should help me get published. I’ve cut out twenty or thirty pages. I worked really hard on them, but enough time has passed that I don’t miss them at all. My work flows a hundred times better and that makes me happy!😁

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The Four Winds Woodshed

My favorite song is Astronomy. (Yeah, Blue Oyster Cult.) According to Wikipedia, it’s based on a poem by the band’s manager, Sandy Pearlman, called “The Soft Doctrines of Imaginos.” I first heard it (that I know of) in 1988 or ‘89 on the Imaginos album. That version had a different singer. I’ve heard that Joe Satriani worked the mixing board and ran errands for the band, so he probably played on the album somewhere. Anyhow, the song talks about the Four Winds Bar, and for some reason (probably because the song is so obviously a song about high fantasy) the Four Winds Bar always reminds me of the Inklings, a literary group that met at The Eagle and Child public house at the University of Oxford in England after World War II. Readings for the Inklings included C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Apparently their criticism of one another was sometimes harsh, but you can’t fault the resulting material.

So when I decided I wanted a literary group of my own, I thought about that song Astronomy, and about the bar affectionately known as the Bird, and old Clive Staples and John Ronald Reuel sitting around over beers saying, “you do one about space, and I’ll do one about time, and we’ll see what happens,” and then I thought that the Four Winds Bar was a pretty good idea, and I like the idea of a woodshed ‘cause that’s where you go to get schooled. So that’s the name of the group. You have to have  a finished novel to join in.

A few notes on the rules:

1) Copyright Law is strictly enforced.

2) The purpose of the Four Winds Workshop is publication. That is, we help one another get published.

3) We foster a community of support.

4) We engage in “open communication with an assumption of positive intent.” This requires work on both sides; when we review the work of others, it is with the purpose of learning and of teaching, and when we hear the reviews made by others, we understand that their words have merit, because they are telling us something that took them out of (or brought them into) our story.

5) If you say you’re going to do something you have to follow through. We all yearn to have our work read by another, so if you agree to read it, you have to read it. As unpublished writers (so far!) deadlines and promises are sometimes all we have!

If you are interested in joining the Four Winds Woodshed, please leave me a comment so that I can get in touch with you.