Friday, February 10, 2012

I've Got the (Revision) Blues

Status update on Sacred Fire: Revisions are going much the same as they did seven months ago

I started making a to-do list like I did last time since it worked so well: I organized items on the list from biggest changes to smallest, starting with scenes to add and ending with technical stuff like "watch out for head-hopping." If this round of revision is anything like before, this should go pretty well. 

Yet, oddly, I have a heavy sinking feeling. Something's wrong.

Why do I feel so awful? Why do I feel almost... bitter?

For a long time, I couldn't understand it. I don't mind the work. It's not a blow to my ego or anything. I knew I'd have to rewrite it when I got an agent, so I don't mind making changes. I still enjoy the novel. I'm excited about making the book better. I'll admit to feeling a little lost and overwhelmed, but that's not what's making me squirm inside.

I finally realized what's bothering me; it's this constant sense of deja vu. The individual changes are different, but the process I'm going through is the same as it was seven months ago. 

Every step I take, my mind says, "Haven't we done this already?"

I know how much I've progressed as an author since my last revision seven months ago. But I don't feel like I'm progressing at all. I feel stuck. I'm ready to move on to a new stage, or a new novel. I feel like Sacred Fire is a bungee chord attached with a hook to my side, and it'll let me run forward just a little ways before snapping me back.

I shouldn't present you with my list of regrets. I shouldn't even be thinking about them myself. I can't help it. 

You see, there's a reason writers rarely publish their first books. Writing novels is impossibly hard, and you have to write a few to learn how to do it. I look at how much better Hunger and Fierce are than Sacred Fire in so many ways, and I wish -- with all my heart, I wish -- that my first book was one I didn't care so much about. I wish I was sitting here with a mediocre novel that I could throw over my shoulder and say to you, "Well, that's not going anywhere, but I have this idea about Vestal Virgins that should be good."

Instead, I'm stuck with a manuscript that I'm willing to put as much blood, sweat, and tears into as it needs, come hell or high water. I want this book to succeed. Not the next one, or the one after that, but this one.

I guess love is like that sometimes. It can feel imprisoning, and it can feel freeing. It just depends on where you're standing at the time.


  1. I sure can sympathize. I've written four novels and I figured each one was better than the last. My first one was junk but the second to last one was really good, I think. The problem is that I'm now blind to it; I can't see it's strengths and weaknesses anymore. I'm currently taking a fiction critique course with one of the most renowned writing instructors in our area and its interesting for me to see my work through fresh eyes. Maybe this is something you should consider.

    By the way, I thought of you when I wrote my latest post. It deals with the Boca della Veritas in Rome, which I bet you know quite well. Have a great weekend


  2. Totes understand. I was almost done a second round of revisions (literally on the last chapter) when I had a realization about how to fix the problems that were still nagging me. Which involved going back and axing an entire plot line and creating a new one. So now I'm working my way through from the beginning. Again. It's totally like deja vu. But if you've rewritten Sacred Fire so many times, I don't really know if it counts as your "first" novel. With each rewrite, it's like a completely new novel, so even though it was your first idea, I'm not sure you should call it your first novel. (Or at least that's what I keep telling myself with my "first" novel).

  3. YES, I KNOW what you mean! "Haven't we done this already?" rings in my brain, too!

  4. totally feel your pain coming off another rejected query as i revise, edit, repeat!

    go visit peggy and get some uplifting editing quotes and a cookie =)

  5. sorry!

  6. Stephen: I totally went to the Mouth of Truth and put my hand in. I have a picture of myself screaming because I was pretending that I had told a lie and he bit my hand off. Then I went inside and saw the skull of Saint Valentine's. It was awesome because my birthday is the day before Valentine's, so he's kinda my patron saint.

  7. What if...

    You don't revise it?

    What if you set it aside, don't look at it, don't glance at it -- and rewrite it? But only allow yourself to make it 1/2 as long?

    Btw, is the "head-hopping" thing about lice? 'Cause I hear they can be quite annoying.

    I'm just thinking about this possible plan of attack because I've heard several screenwriters say that's pretty much how they do it. They read the book a couple of times that they're adapting. The script is probably going to be at most 1/4 the length of the book. So they figure the parts that really stand out, the parts of the book they remember, those are the parts that will go into the script - that's the spine of the story.

    Can't remember how long you said it was. But it did sound like there were stories or sub-plots or maybe not even sub-plots, more like additional plots, that could be jettisoned. (At least for this book, maybe put in later ones.)

    The other thing I'm thinking, and this kinda goes back a bit to the Donald Maass kinda stuff, is that if you want this to be the first book in a series ... then this is the book that you want to make absolutely certain is the most difficult for the reader to put down. In a way, the first book of your series is to the series like the first paragraph of your novel is to your first book.

    I dunno. Just some thoughts. And, of course, I'm going through the whole editing thing on mine right now too. Spent about 2-1/2 hours the other night rewriting a section of about 4 paragraphs. Just felt too long and too clunky to me. So after that time I think it read quite a bit smoother, but I'd only pared it down from 313 words to 297. (Still that could be the right # for that section.)

    The other thing that came to mind after working on that: when I originally wrote it, those few paragraphs probably took me about two minutes.

    So good luck with it!

  8. I really appreciate the honest, heartfelt truth of your post. I think that first novel must often have something in it we care deeply about, because it is the one that finally got us to take on the enormous task of writing a novel. Abandoning it would be like abandoning your child just because they have birth defects. I am rooting for you.

  9. Hi Cynthia,

    You know, you must really like your novel if you spend so much time and effort on revision. I think your dedication will pay off, one way or another. And by the way.. what a cool idea to write about vestal virgins!

    Are you reading any books on writing/publishing? They might give you an idea of what exactly the agents want to see in your story.

    Wishing you all the best,
    -your newest follower

  10. Thanks for this post - I'm illustrating right now and finding it difficult to work out the niggles to get to the end. Mostly it's about self doubt and fear. I know that when I release this everything will work just fine. So I've stepped away for today and came to your blog - and I found you searching in a similar way! funny.


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