Revising a novel is a lonely business. It gets overwhelming.
Last Friday I went to a reading at Skylight Books, a Los Feliz neighborhood gem, and in their sparse but well-curated Writing section, I found James Scott Bell‘s book, Revision and Self Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells.
In my experience, books on writing can be full of fluff, throat-clearing and nattering to beef up content that might fit into a half-hour PowerPoint presentation. This one, happily, has almost no non-nutritive filler. Mr. Bell’s tips start in the introduction—including a great little exercise on how to sharpen your sense of plot.
Books on writing sometimes contain only uninterrupted prose, paragraph upon paragraph with few bullet points, sidebars, or headings. This one isn’t like that. It’s got headings and bullet points aplenty, so you can read it front to back, or you can scan it for the bit you need right now.
And the prose is beautiful, with lots of varied sentence construction. I really appreciate that. If you can’t write great prose, please don’t try to teach me how to write.
I also love all of the examples from books and movies I already know. And, if you don’t know these examples, Mr. Bell lays out the plot or sets the scene so you will get it.
I was around page 24, and I already felt so grateful that I tweeted the author to thank him. He tweeted me right back. So this guy is also savvy about social networking. A definite plus.
This revision stuff scares me like Mrs. Brody is scared of Quint. There is much to do. I have to delete delete delete sections and stitch the remaining scenes back together in a way that doesn’t leave the manuscript all effed up like the skin of the Frankenstein monster. I can get into a downtrodden frame of mind about it. Mr. Bell’s book tells you up front that this dark mood will come. It gives you several techniques to help combat it, like a little post-it somewhere in your space that says ‘I can fix it.’
Yes, darnit! I can!
I think this book is going to be my best friend as I tromp all Hobbit-like through the revision marshes toward the distant burning mountain of Draft Four.
Hooray, I say!