Old Moon

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Confession of a Revision Addict

Recently I put together yet another packet to send to a publisher, this time in an effort to find a home for a collection of short stories. I've been trying this once or twice a year for perhaps three years now, so to fulfill instructions for supplying a sample, I merely copied the first three stories in the group, printed them, and sent them off in the envelope. I've read and spell-checked until I'm heartily sick of those pieces, even if they are among my first-born, so to speak.

Then I found another possible publisher who requests the whole ms. with the query. This time I began to re-read the whole thing(maybe 67,000 words) just to make sure I hadn't missed some ridiculous syntactic gaffe or confusing transition. And there I was again, back at the stumbling block that made me quit trying to write altogether until we got a computer, namely: the compulsion to revise.

When taking art lessons, I heard my instructors repeatedly warn against "overworking" and urging the students to "know when to stop." What my problem seems to be, at least in part, is that I can't figure out how to do that with words. How do you know when to stop? The first story in the group was my second sale, heavily edited when it was published (not by me), and written over 25 years ago. And there I sat, re-wording, cutting, tweaking. Then I did it again for the second story. Now I'm launched on the rest of them. I have other things to do! Why can't I decide to leave well enough alone? Is it because of some book I'm reading for fun this week? Have I been influenced by the blogs I'm becoming addicted to that are written by professionals who put me to shame? Have I taken a new perspective from which to view the original story? Have my cutting and pasting done it any good at all?

In Snoopy's incomparable word, "Aargh!"

6 comments:

kitty said...

I blogged a book of 10 very short stories several years ago. I printed my book on my computer, which I describe here. (By the way, that post is dated 12/21/05, the day before my mother had a heart attack. She died 9 months later from cancer.)

To date, I've printed 6 copies and have given them to friends and family. I now have my mother's copy, and occasionally I get it out and read the stories again. I still love them. Yet, I'd nit-pik them to shreds if I could.

I discovered your blog from the comment you left at Byline's blog. I've e-mailed them, and even called and left a message, and have not received any reply. I want to know if my stories posted on my blog are eligible for consideration by Byline. (They've got some great contests listed!)

Because some markets do consider my stories "published," I've blocked its access. I don't want to delete the blog, but I'd consider it if I could get them published.

I can truly empathize with your editing compulsion. I suffer from it, too. It's a curse, isn't it.

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Nancy said...

Joan,
Thanks for passing along your website. I have the revision bug myself. I have a manuscript that is finished but needs "just a little more tweaking" before I'm ready to send it out. I think for me it's another form of writer's block: I can't start something new until I finish this one.

Regarding the idea of online book club, I think there are so many of us that can't be pinned down to a regular meeting time and place but still want the interchange about books. I'm learning a little about wikis--webpages that allow input from lots of people. I want to incorporate this in my teaching but I think it has lots of potential for online discussion outside the classroom as well.
NP

Nancy Simpson said...

Joan, I got your blogsite from Glenda Beall. I especially enjoyed Confessions of a Revision Addict. I got thinking maybe you are a poet because that is what poets do- cut, tweak, revise, revise, revise. And we do not think it odd to do so.
It is as normal as breathing. My only suggestion is
keep submitting but keep good records. Keep an at the moment definitive copy. With short story, I believe the writer is the agent. It is hard to get anyone to do that job other than the writer. Since you have published a novel already, you have a head start, but I think you may have to be your own agent. For short story, It is my understanding publishers look at the acknowledgement page, so it is good to get as many of the individual stories published as you can. Then send the manuscrit with those published listed on the acknowledgement page. I wish you the best in getting your work published. Nancy Simpson

JLC said...

Dear Kitty:
Who knew there were so many of us out there? I have tried Byline many times, though never with any success. It was all many years ago, so maybe now's the time to try again. I'm of two minds about putting "creative" writing up on the blog. I did put up one story, then took it down. Have to rethink that now. Please, keep in touch!

JLC said...

Nancy P:
What a great idea the wikki thing sound like! What level do you teach? English? Please, tell me more.

JLC said...

To Nancy Simpson:
You're so right about short stories! It never occurred to me to do anything but peddle them myself. Onward. One thing I've discovered recently since writing a regualr column of reviews and some essays is how much easier it is to write nonfiction than fiction. Thanks to Glenda, and now the people she has referred to my blog, I feel so much less alone in all this. Please stay in touch!