Saundra Mitchell, author of SHADOWED SUMMER, talks revision!

Remember that confession I made earlier this week?  About being downright addicted to revision?  Well, that applies not only to revising myself but also to hearing about other people’s processes. And today, I have a guest on the blog!  The talented Saundra Mitchell, author of SHADOWED SUMMER, shares her revision story, with a special offer for those of us who teach writing to kids.

DRESSING YOUR BOOK by Saundra Mitchell

I think it’s safe to say that most of us don’t get up in the morning, throw on some underwear, then go off to greet the day. So why should authors stop working when their story’s still in its skivvies?

No matter how carefully you plan, there’s still work to be done after the first draft. You can’t see the holes that need mending, and the spots that need more coverage until you’ve put down the first layer.

And sometimes, you can’t see the holes at all. Or you think that a particular bit looks fantastic- when somebody who isn’t color-blind points out that it doesn’t match. You also need time to reflect- anorange and green dress shirt sounded like a good idea at the time, but something less garish would have shown off the fine cut of the fabric.

Which is a hugely extended metaphor, but really: sending out an unedited first draft- whether to your teacher or to your editor- is same as going outside in your underwear. Technically, you’re clothed, but you’re not winning any points for class or style.

There’s a pervasive myth that talented people don’t have to edit. Maybe I’m not talented, but I need editing. I need notes from other people who
will tell me to get rid of the green and orange shirt, or that I need to add a nice blazer to get the full effect.

It wasn’t until the third, very last revision, of SHADOWED SUMMER, that I added the rest of one character’s story to the book. The book was
almost ready to be printed- but it wasn’t done! And I think the more willing we are to admit that talent doesn’t excuse us from hard work, the better all our writing will be.

To hammer home that point, if you’re a teacher or a librarian, I have an offer for you. Just send your mailing address to saundra AT saundramitchell DOT com, and I will send you a few pages from my working manuscript of SHADOWED SUMMER to share with your students.

These are the pages that my editor and copyeditor marked, so your students can see just how much work- big and small- goes into finishing a piece of writing. The offer lasts as long as I have pages left (it’s not a long book, so supplies are limited!) It’s a chance for your students to see a book in its underwear.

It’s not pretty- but it’s part of the process!

by Saundra Mitchell

In a town as small as Ondine,
every secret is a family secret.

In paperback June 8, 2010

8 Replies on “Saundra Mitchell, author of SHADOWED SUMMER, talks revision!

  1. editing

    I totally understand, but at what point do you stop revising and start sending it out? I never feel anything is done, even after I see it printed on the page. There’s always something I wish I’d changed or moved or shifted or said differently. I know once it’s published you need to let go, but if you’re still waiting to get published, couldn’t you ruin something that’s actually good by tinkering with it too much?

  2. Wow, your students are so lucky to get to hear some of Forge and then Skype with the author! That sounds so much better than an exam.

    I’ll be at ALA Sat & Sun for sure. It’s my first conference! I’m excited to meet you!

  3. Ha! That’s one of my all-time bad dreams, too, along with the one where I am back in high school and go to my locker, only to see a math book and think, “Math? I haven’t been to math class all year?”

  4. Re: editing

    I’m guessing Saundra may stop by to answer this, too, but I can share my thoughts for now…

    I know a manuscript is ready when I’ve done numerous revisions, when my very wise critique partners have chimed in and I’ve made use of their comments, and when I get to that revision pass where really, all I’m doing is changing “a’ to “the” and back again. Or when there’s a deadline and I’ve done all I can.

    And I never get it perfect. The author copy that I read from at school visits has pencil marks of stuff I’ve changed post-publication.

  5. Re: editing

    I finally stop when, like Kate, I’m sitting there moving “the” and “a” back and forth on the page- and honestly, when I’ve worked on it so long, I start to hate it. I stop at exactly the point when I’m afraid I’ll ruin it, or to put a more positive spin, when I don’t think I’m improving it anymore. Yes, there will always be regrets later because nothing is perfect, but those post-revision regrets are lessons I learn for the next story or the next book.

  6. I love the underwear metaphor. I think that my middle schoolers will particularly appreciate that! Nothing like the fear of utter humiliation and mortification to motivate you!