Good morning! It’s Friday Feedback day over on Gae’s blog, and today we have guest author Ammi-Joan Paquette visiting to talk revision. Joan is the author of a pile of books, from picture books to novels, including the latest in her Princess Juniper series, PRINCESS JUNIPER OF THE ANJU.
Into the Revision Tub We Go!
By Ammi-Joan Paquette
Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about revision. It’s sort of a love-hate relationship we have with this magnificent beast, isn’t it? (Hopefully that’s not just me!)
Quite honestly, I’ve always been more of a drafter. There’s something about the tangible heft of plowing through a first draft that satisfies my deepest writer-urges. (Or maybe my neurotic hyper-organization tendencies!) When you’re drafting, you always know where you’re at. Daily progress? 1000 words = great! 2000 words = awesome! 50 words = . . . um, points for showing up?
But revision is kind of like being in a bathtub with an octopus. You’re never 100% sure who’s scrubbing who’s back and whether by the end of the session you’re going to end up cleaner than when you started. (On the plus side, you’re probably getting some great sensory research in.) So revision and I have something of a patchy history.
But as I’ve worked my way through the Princess Juniper series, I’ve come to realize how important revision is, and how strongly I rely on it. The truth is: I love drafting, but my drafts are downright sloppy. At that stage I’m basically just churning out the raw plot. The end result is a quivering mash of around 35-40,000 words. There is no time when I am not deathly afraid that this draft will be the one that doesn’t come together. I thought it when drafting Princess Juniper of the Anju last year, and I thought it while drafting the third and final installment in the series, Princess Juniper of Torr, several months ago.
Each and every time, though, the messy draft is followed by a headlong dive into that ol’ revision bathtub. And gradually I’ve come to realize something: Revision really is where the magic happens. Drafting is rush and wonder and discovery; but revision is craft. Revision is where you pull out the magnifying glass and examine every aspect of your story. Characters? Deepen. Arcs? Launch. Stakes? Heighten. Language? Smooth. Voice? Enrich. And that (long, effortful) process brings a deep satisfaction all its own.
I’ve also learned to work within my own constraints. I am the type of result-oriented author that needs a tangible roadmap for creation. With drafting that’s a measurable word count. With revision, I’ve learned to make (what else?) a to-do list. All through the early stages, I keep a document open where I jot down anything I can think of that I want to follow up on later. When my critique partners send along notes; when my editor comes back with comments; when I begin my own read-through and start seeing blank spots. One by one by one, they all go on my list. During my recent foray into Princess Juniper of Torr, my revision to-do list capped out at 94 bullet points.—Everything from “show father’s reaction to Juniper’s short hair” to “add more emotion to her return home” to “build up the climax to give it more punch.” It’s all measurable, it’s all exciting, it all becomes immensely doable.
A couple months ago, book #2 in my series hit the shelves. Princess Juniper of the Anju first saw the world as a cluttered, messy, abbreviated draft. It’s now 62,773 words long, and just as rich and layered and satisfying as I have been able to make it. It’s far from perfect, I’m sure, but having gone down all my checklists and satisfied all my criteria (not to mention innumerable read- throughs), I can ultimately say that my wet tangle with the revision monster was worth it. And if I left the bathtub with a tentacle or two more than I went in with—who’s counting?
Happy revising, all!