Why I’m not a brain surgeon

The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile.     ~ Robert Cormier

I’m revising this month, together in spirit  with jbknowles and her enthusiastic January Revision Club: cfaughnan, eluper, thunderchikin, d_michiko_f, castellucci, ebenstone, dlanthomas, rj_anderson, lisaalbert, resurrection, jmprince, whiskersink, and beeleigh312.

I’m on my first revision pass on a chapter book currently titled PRINCESS MARTY FROG SLIME AND THE NUTCRACKER BALLET.  It’s too long in some places, too short in others.  The characters talk too much in some places, not enough in others.  It’s random and messy in some places, and there are two minor characters that I introduced in the second chapter and then left to rot. (I have a bad habit of doing that.  You never want to be one of my minor characters…) 

But you know what?  Parts of it are funny and true and almost wonderful.  I keep reminding myself of that while I revise.  I bet parts of your WIP are like that, too.  Revision is sort of like mining for precious minerals.  You have to hang out in the dusty dark hacking away at a lot of junk to find the good stuff.  Not a great strategy for brain surgeons, but perfect for those of us who write for kids.

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19 Replies on “Why I’m not a brain surgeon

  1. Kate, love seeing the sticky notes. I seriously get to a point with my writing that I will print it out, cut it apart and paste it back together in a better order. It’s not tidy, but my old fashioned brain just can’t seem to do it on screen!

  2. Kate, I’m in the middle of revising my novel too (in fact I met up with Jo Knowles today at Northshire Bookstore to revise and chat…but mostly chat) and I’ve found very little use for 15 different colors of post-it notes. Could you please explain that?

  3. I just finished slogging through seven pages — lots of words discarded on the office floor tonight. But I’m making progress. Hope your revision is going well!

  4. I’ve tried to revise without printing (being that I’m fond of trees and all) but I find that it just doesn’t work as well for me. I try to make one pass on the computer to catch obvious problems, but then I need to print out a copy to put through the wringer before I go back to the computer for a new draft.

  5. Here’s the official writer answer:

    I cut and change things right on my manuscript, in pen. I use the colored post-it notes when I need to make sure a thread or idea appears fairly consistently through the manuscript. I figured out two novels ago that I tend to introduce characters and then forget about them. Or at least not keep them in the story consistently enough. So characters like that get their own color. In this manuscript, blue post-its are general notes about all kinds of things that need to be added. Pink ones get stuck in places where I need to have the character write in her field notebook (she wants to be a scientist). Green ones are for two characters who need to appear more regularly, and I write their names on the post-its with notes about their role at that spot in the book. For whatever reason, the color-coding works better for me than just notes. It helps me to organize my thoughts.

    Which brings me to what’s probably the more honest answer:

    I have a short attention span sometimes, and pretty colors help keep me interested. (Ooohhh…a nice pink post-it on the next page…I’ll keep going…)

  6. As for me, I like to write all over the actual manuscript in the margins and between the lines and everywhere else. That way, I can flip back through it and feel as though I got something accomplished. I also doodle all over the thing and write on the back of the sheets. When I’m done revising a hard copy it looks like my 3 year-old got her mitts on it.

  7. Good luck with your revisions, Kate! I finished Part One of Ned and am a quarter of the way through Part Two.

    I also color code everything, but do it right in Word, as my printer is on its last legs and I want to save it for printing out the final copy. I even color code the critique suggestions right into the text so I have them handy when I revise.