Saturday, November 9, 2013

That Time I Was Stuck in Revision Hell

Stop the presses: I’m finally writing about writing. It’s been such a long time.

It’s the most important month of the year for writers around the world because, as soon as November 1st hits, the month dons its alter ego mask and cape and becomes… NaNoWriMo! National Novel Writing Month is for writers big and small, new and old, who rise to challenge of writing a full-length manuscript within 30 days. In order to do this, we writers forgo mundane activities like doing laundry, eating, and taking the dog for a walk.

Yes, this happens every year.

The official goal is 50,000 words – the minimum length of a complete novel manuscript. In my experience, my novels usually go way over 50k, but most novels do. Reaching that 50k is a true achievement anyway. Like winning a marathon. Only in this case, the gold medal comes in the form of your own hand patting you on the back. Or on December 1st, having your mother yell at you to finally start dumping your stinky clothes in the washer.

Although I’ve written my fair share of words each NaNoWriMo, I haven’t “won” yet. This is because I had been in graduate school the past three years where November is one of the most hectic months. Academia is always on the verge of chaos at this time. As a grad teaching assistant, grading and planning classes became more important than ever. Students burst into your office, demanding that their tardy sins be forgiven and that the A- they got on their last paper should bumped up to an A.

I had my own graduate classes to worry about too. 20-page annotated bibliographies don’t write themselves. My short stories had to go through the writing workshop mill, again and again, only to always come out in pieces. During my last year, when the epic movie that is Wreck-It Ralph was released, I adopted Felix’s “I can fix it!” mantra while staying up late at night, taking turns critiquing my students short stories and revising my own.

Somehow, I managed to update my piddling word count at NaNoWriMo’s hub every now and then. And each year, I felt proud with what I had accomplished.

Fast-forward to now.

Kind of. Because before I tell you what my current NaNoWriMo project is, I should probably explain my mental state leading up to November. Because I’m not working on Boys & Bees this month… despite the bees that literally plague the palm tree outside my front door. I know they’re looking for updates (or the fruit growing on the tree. Or both). I feel like a have the mafia, in bee-form, staking out my house until I finish that novel. Gah. Nevertheless.

Let me explain you a thing. Remember the novella I wrote and posted on Figment back in May – Stella Over the Fireplace? WELL, I hadn’t written anything new since then. That’s almost four and a half months of no new writing. What was I doing?

Revision. REVISON (it needed to be in caps).

After taking Stella down and submitting it, I found out that two publishers were having open door submission periods… around the same time. For those who don’t know, open door submissions means that a writer can, for a period of time, submit an unsolicited manuscript to a publisher for consideration. This is a rare, wonderful thing since most publishers only look at manuscripts sent to them by literary agents (hence, the term solicited manuscripts). Since my hunt for an agent continues on with all the endless mountain-climbing and orc-battling of The Hobbit, I jumped at the chance to take advantage of the open doors. But I had to polish my manuscripts one last time.

And then I quickly sunk into the dreaded pit of revision hell.

Now, normally “revision hell” means that a writer is stuck in an endless cycle of revising the same manuscript over and over again. Yet for me, it was more like being constantly handed another manuscript to revise after the previous one was finished. It began with Tread Softly. I wrote the final chapter that I’d been putting off writing for a while. And then I shouted “I’m gonna wreck it!” and tore down the first three chapters, only to rebuild them into a shiny, much improved version. Then came tweaking and reworking the rest of it. After tying Tread Softly’s shoes and sending it on the bus with the other manuscripts, I turned by attention again to Birdcage Girl.

The opening chapter still didn’t sit right with me. And, between a few revisions on Pocket Forest, I realized that Birdcage Girl would probably need another overall round of polishing. That’s the thing with writers. We keep changing. We keep improving. Which means that as long as your manuscript is in your hands alone, you’ll always find something to revise. I shut off the lights, closed my bedroom door, and listened to the Pushing Daisies soundtrack until inspiration flew at me, saying, “Yes, this is the beginning. Right here. You were close, but this is better.”

Yay for soundtracks!

And so, I continued revising BG again too. When I had spare time at work, I edited and reworked sentences. When I came home, I stared again at another mess of words on the screen and revised some more. By the time I sent BG out again (I buttoned its sweater and waved as it boarded a plane), I was left wondering what else I had to fix / change / revise.

But all that was left was the blank page. A new story. And I was scared for the first time.

Imagine spending months on end doing nothing but changing words already written on paper. So when someone hands you a blank sheet and says, “create,” it’s not exactly a shining moment of freedom. Trying to write something new was like waking up from surgery without the use of my hands. Sentences dripped from my fingers, dull and jumbled, and I could hardly stand looking at what I wrote. I deleted almost everything I tried to write.

Me on a good day.

The thought of continuing Boys & Bees was very appealing for many reasons, but I knew that I’d want to revise all 30k before writing new chapters. Which was bad. Because I’d only be delaying the fact that I had to face the blank page again.

I had to force myself to use the other side of my writer-brain again. Turn off the internal editor. Awaken the dreamer. Nothing could shake me out of this stupor like starting a new project:

This title is shiny.
Planning WCFiL was fun because this new set characters are just… something. Really. They have interesting backstories, a stake in the novel’s main conflict, and when they talk to each other, I hardly know what to expect. Even though my writing is always fiction, the topic of this project is near and dear to my heart. I feel like, while I’ve been gaining back my writing-creating skills, I’ve also been exploring my own feelings about the topic. Expect magic, heartache, humor, and goose chases.

Say hello to a town that believes in the powers of love charms. The people of this town trust in their fortunes so fervently that they never question the mysterious woman handing them out… and how she can possibly know everyone’s romantic fate. A few hapless teens band together to form a rebellion bent on overthrowing the woman, but in the end, whose side is Love on?

However, like all of my projects these days, this one has a deadline too. So I don’t think I’ll be able to share it on Figment without taking it down quickly after. Hang on tight because you’ll be able to read this story soon, one way or another *cue evil laugh*

So this is NaNoWriMo... and I'm going to kick butt this year. I've got my headphones, Charlotte Bronte muscle tee, cup of earl grey. Today's NaNoThon is going to rock.


  1. OH my gosh, Kim, this is FANTASTIC. Your David Tennant Much Ado gif is killer! And oh-so-appropriate. :) I love reading about your writing and revising process—it's so relatable, and the parts that aren't quite for me YET (*cough cough* agent queries... oh God) are still so interesting to me! Honestly, I feel as I though I was in almost the exact same boat as you before I started writing Cure Me. Revision hell is a terrible but wonderful but terrible place to be. I find that the more I revise something, the more I start to hate it, and I know it's time to stop/start something new when I look at a page of an old chapter loathe it so much that I have to resist the urge to delete the whole thing. Haha even though it can be terrifying (I think you put it best) to "turn off the internal editor" and "awaken the dreamer," in the end, I guess every writer will come back to creating something new. It's in our bones. It's who we are, deep down.

    Speaking of new, We Could Fall in Love sounds SO WONDERFUL and I am FREAKING OUT just reading about it! I cannot wait to read it! *flails* Good luck with the NaNoThon today!! I can't participate today, due to being obligated to running around Los Angeles like a chicken with her head cut off, but I will cheer all of you WriMos on from afar. :)

    1. Ahhhh, I had no idea where that Tennant gif came from. Now I'm sorely tempted to find a way to watch Much Ado (is that possible?).

      Yes, it is wonderful / terrible / wonderful. I love the changes I made to each of my manuscripts, but switching back to writing something new is like using a weak muscle. It's amazing (in a bad way) how weak the creative part of your brain gets when you revise for a prolonged period of time.

      Right-o. I can't imagine not writing new stories - and perhaps that's what makes the shift back to creating to hard. It's like, "What? Why is my keyboard producing awful sentences? AHHH." But as writers, we go through cycles too. This is just a long one with a definite end.

      Thank you! NaNoThon didn't turn out quite as well as I had hoped, but I'll just have to make my own word sprints this week to make up for it :) Sounds like you had important things to do. You'll find the time to write... *wakes up at 3am*

  2. HEY GUESS WHAT, KIM! I'M DOING NANOWRIMO FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS YEAR. :O I've been meaning to tell you, so we could be buddies on the site or something? (Link if you want to add meee:

    It's been waaaay too long since I've been on your blog. I've missed it. And you. So when your blog update popped up on my goodreads I had to come visit, even though I wasn't planning on visiting blogspot until I was ready to write a new blog post. But meh, screw that.

    It's so good to catch up on how you and your writing are doing! I'm officially excited for We Could Fall in Love, ooh!

    (I've found the Pushing Daisies soundtrack to be excellent to write to, as well! I can't listen to my usual musical soundtracks because that's like listening to a story while writing a different story... so the Pushing Daisies soundtrack is a nice compromise. XD)

    1. WAHOOOOOO! *throws confetti and breaks out the mint juleps* That's awesome news. I just added you as a buddy on the site - my name's thumbbird on there. You do realize that you're going to have to share this lovely work in progress with me at some point. Because you're writing is wonderful.

      And a novel-length version of your work? Woah. Help. I need it, haha.

      I've been trying to maintain the blog, even though it's tough to come up with topics (and time) to write about. I need to catch up on reading my fav blogs (yours included, of course).

      Ooooh, cool! So glad to hear that you find the Pushing Daisies soundtrack to me as inspiring. I love how fast-paced and quirky each track is - it practically begs you to make your characters do something.

  3. Revision Hell. I got you.

    Shifting back and forth between editing, revising, and creating fresh material is tricky. Sort of like learning to walk with a third leg, then having to whack it off, then reattach it when needed, and you're in this awkward fumbling cycle...

    I wish you the best of luck with your Nanowrimo project! I've never been able to do a full Nanowrimo before either — academia always got in the way.

    On a random note, I have a large collection of Japanese good luck charms, and several love-oriented ones. All of them are colorful little bags with slips of paper inside with the shrine's name, the guardian deity, or a special prayer. Some places are said to be more powerful than others... I'm excited to see where you go with your novel.

    1. OMG. That is probably the best simile I've ever read regarding our predicament. I'm going to imagine a third leg now. That's going to make getting through this process so much easier. Thank you :)

      Thank you! I know, right? Academia demands nothing less than your soul. It's hard to get a novel written in that time limit.

      Wow! You should do a blog post about them, or share photos. They sound very cute! I've read about how the shrine charms work and I kind of wish we had those types of practices here. It's nice to set a good intention out there. I was hugely inspired by the manga I've read when dreaming up the charms in my story. With so many choices, it's exciting (and a little frustrating) to figure out where to go next in the story. But that's what first drafts are for, right? :D

  4. Kim, you are perhaps the most prolific writer I know, and I truly admire you for it. I've never had the guts to give NaNoWriMo a try!

    We Could Fall in Love sounds very intriguing. I can't wait to see what you do with it.

    1. Awww. Thanks, Amy! You really should try NaNo sometime. And there's always CampNaNoWriMo in the summer - I usually do a lot better with word count then, myself!