Friday, December 10, 2010

SUGAR ON SNOW SUGAR AND ICE: A REVISION STORY

So you've finished your novel. Maybe even rewritten it once. Or twice. Is your job as writer done?

Probably not.

Middle grade author Kate Messner (THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z.) is here today to talk about the revision process for her fourth novel, SUGAR AND ICE.

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When I visit classrooms to talk with kids about books and writing, I always tell them this:

“The book you see on your library shelf is not the same book I started writing.”

And then I tell revision stories…stories of writing anywhere from eight to eighteen drafts to get the book where it needed to be.  Their mouths hang open.  They always thought that authors of kids’ books were GOOD writers, and GOOD writers didn’t need to keep fixing things all the time.  And then I tell them a secret I’ll tell you, too.

I’m not a very good writer.  I’m just really good at revising.

Here’s a glimpse inside the revision process for SUGAR AND ICE.  The draft I sent my editor was actually draft #4, after I’d written two on my own, gotten some help from my critique group, and written two more.  My editor wrote me a letter with a list of suggested changes, including things like:

•    Add more school scenes; it’s a big part of Claire’s life.
•    Show more of the relationship between Claire and her mom.
•    Maybe Claire and Natalie could have an argument? Add tension here.
•    Write a better ending.  (Okay…she was nicer about it than that, but that was the idea.)

I sat down with the letter and my to-do list and opened up the document in Scrivener, the writing program that I use on my Mac. 

The color-coded index cards you see on the screen are all scenes in the novel, and different colors stand for different things.  Green is for scenes set on the maple farm.  Orange is the Olympic Center. Turquoise is school.  And red…red cards show the scenes with the most tension.  This allowed me to look at what I had and figure out how to make it stronger and more balanced.

Then I attacked my to-do list, line by line and scene by scene.  I scribbled notes, outline thoughts, more to-do list ideas, and character sketches in my orange notebook, and I drank lots of tea.  I wrote new chapters and deleted some scenes that weren’t working.   Finally, I sent the manuscript back to my editor.

And she sent another letter with ideas to make the book even better.

Even the book’s original title, SUGAR ON SNOW, had to be reconsidered.  I brainstormed and brainstormed, trying to come up with something that captured the spirit of the family’s maple farm and still gave the idea that this is a book about skating. 

I even tried putting all my concept words on little slips of paper and rearranging them on the kitchen table to come up with something new.  Finally, we agreed on a title that seemed to do a perfect job capturing the book’s sweet spirit and its sharp edges, all at once: SUGAR AND ICE.

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Thanks, Kate, for this behind-the-scenes look at your revision process.

Want a personalized, signed copy of SUGAR AND ICE?

The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid is hosting a SUGAR AND ICE launch party from 3-5 pm on Saturday, December 11th, so please consider this your invitation if you live in the area! If you can’t make it but would still like a signed, personalized copy, just give the bookstore a call at (518) 523-2950 TODAY, December 10th. They’ll take your order, have Kate sign your book after the event, and ship it out to you in plenty of time for the holidays.

22 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

Thanks for sharing. I recently started using Scrivener - and love it so far!

lotusgirl said...

Writing is rewriting.

Quinn said...

Since I just wrote about revisions today, it was really interesting to read this. I loved it!

Carolyn V. said...

Wow. I'm not sure if I should be happy to be on the revision side of a book or sad. But it's all worth it. =)

Kristan said...

Another Scrivener lover, eh? Hehe, one of my crit partners would marry that program if she could.

Thanks for the insight to your process!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love Kate Messner and this book is on my wish list. I may have to call that bookstore! This was a fascinating look at revision. :-)

Melissa Gill said...

Sounds like a great book, and a great revision process.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

So glad to hear that other authors revise as much as I do. It's just part of being a writer. The book is never finished until it goes to press.

Great post!

Traci Van Wagoner said...

I love Scriveners and revising. It's always good to read about another writer's process. This book looks like a great read.

Elle Strauss said...

I always love hearing an author's process, and awesome to learn a bit about Scrivener--might have to break down and buy that one day. Thanks for sharing!

Susan R. Mills said...

Thanks for this. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who rewrites a dozen times!

TerryLynnJohnson said...

My copy just arrived! I'm digging into it.

Jai Joshi said...

Jackee just let me know that you'd signed with an agent! Congratulations! and many best wishes on a long and fruitful relationship!

Jai

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Thanks for showing us your revision process. It was really interesting. :)

Have fun at your launch party!

Amber Cuadra said...

Been doing a lot of studying on how to revise lately. Those post-it's on Scrivener look amazing! I'm waiting for the Windows version to come out so I can get it.

Sarah said...

I'm going to have to check out Scrivener! Great post.

Christine said...

I have never used colors to note different scenes. I have only used them to note character changes. But I like the way you did this in your Scrivener program (which I have as well). I'm so glad I'm not the only person who has to work a lot to get to the point where it is good enough to send out.

Oh, revisions. Yay!

Theresa Milstein said...

I love hearing an author's editor feedback and her revision process. Great lesson for students who really don't get the concept of or the work that goes into a thorough edit.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Only four drafts. I'm impressed. Mine are usually in the teens by the time I query.

Kristin said...

Great interview and super book! :)

Julie Musil said...

Love her comment about not being a good writer, but good at revising. That's something I need to remember.

I keep hearing about Scrivener. Still dragging my feet on checking it out.

Thanks for the great information!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

What a wonderful peek into the revisions process - I'm glad it's not just me that has to write better endings. All. The. Time!!

I'm wondering now if I should have put the Scrivener-for-PC on my wish list ...

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