Thursday, June 10, 2010

Going around my elbow to get to my nose

When it comes to revisions, sometimes I resemble nothing so much as a plane circling an airport, waiting for a landing strip to open up.

A departure from my usual "this is step A, this is step B" approach, revisions are rather circuitous for me. Tawna Fenske, Nelsa Roberto and another critique partner of mine, Stephanie Bose, have been privy to my inelegant approach to starting revisions. I've nearly driven them insane with my mumbled, "No, no, THAT won't work," when they offered me a suggested fix.

For me, it's about as fun as being dunked in a croaker-sack full of itching powders.* I keep hitting the same walls, treading the same paths, knowing that there's something that I'm missing, feeling like an ingrate for not seeing the sparkling genius of my friends' fixes. And, most of all, feeling like a pluperfect idiot for having to fix the blasted manuscript in the first place.

My revision process starts with a lot of talking. It's absolutely critical that I rehash the plot with my CPs, preferably by phone. While they may feel that an hour's talk on the subject accomplishes nothing except getting dizzy from following me around in circles and hearing me say, "No, no, THAT won't work," it actually helps a lot.

During the phone calls or the volley of e-mails, I just keep saying, "But the reason he's like that is because ..."

When I have enough "becauses," I finally get a detailed job description of the revision, everything it's supposed to accomplish, every problem it's supposed to solve.

That's when a lightning bolt of a solution will hit me, and I will get tingles because it solves SO many problems that I was trying to figure out. Lovely, lovely tingles. Just when I had practically given up on myself. Of course, then I pound fist to forehead and ask myself why I went round my elbow to get to my nose.

*It occurs to me that I need to translate the idiom "a croaker-sack full of itching powders." A croaker sack is alternately known as a tow sack, a gunny sack, a burlap sack, or a feed sack -- picture the sack you'd be presented with if you were in a sack race. There's no such thing as itching powders, but you can imagine how you'd feel if there were, and it was a whole croaker-sack full and ...

Well, hopefully you get the pix. I'm off to scratch now.


Paul C said...

I enjoy your playful use of images to console writers through the revision process.

Piedmont Writer said...

Okay, not that I'm southern or anything but I thought a 'croaker sack' was the burlap sack the old southern boys used to catch frogs in. And didn't Mark Twain use itching powders in Tom Sawyer? I can't remember it's been so long ago.

As to revisions, sometimes it helps to go in circles, around and around just to make sure you haven't missed anything.

Kelly Breakey said...

Sometimes it's not the destination so much as the trip you took to get where you were going. Seems to me this process works very well for you, at least you get the tingles to tell you that you are on the right track.

Anonymous said...

I find revising to be fun and yet terrifying. I go in feeling like I'm walking blind, but at the same time I have fun sitting in my over sized chair with a stack of papers and red pen in hand.

Lickety Splitter said...

I always related croaker sacks to sacks that "they" must have used back in the day to carry croaker fish in. But, hey sometimes we just say stuff down here and don't even know where it originates from. Definitely a burlap bag whatever the orgination.

Lola Sharp said...

I have to slog my way through Revision Hell too.

And since, unlike you, I am not an organized outliner, I have to do hardcore plot hole fixin'.

I say the title saying just a little differently, using different body parts. ;)

I always love your blog, my dear.

Linda G. said...

LOL! *adds "croaker sack" to vocab*

I feel your revision pain. But at least you have a tried and true method, circuitous though the path may be. :)

Patty Blount said...

Noting "croaker sack" definition for future reference.

LOLing... Love the description. Is rounding your elbow to get to your nose much like going ass over teakettle? (Another phrase I enjoy.)

Great post.

You're fortunate to have people willing to listen to you think aloud. If I so much as mention "Dan" or "Julie" out loud, all 3 of my guys flee.

Mia said...

*moan* Every post about revision/editing is making me flinch today. I just changed my plot yet again, which adds yet another plot hole in the book. LOL. Ah, well. One step at a time, right? Get the book finished, then worrying about editing. That's what I'm telling myself right now anyway ;)

And a croaker sack? I know what it is, but I've always know them as just 'sacks'. So boring. I'm calling them croaker sacks now.

Cynthia Reese said...

Paul C, it's as much to console ME as it is to console other writers!

Anne, you know, maybe it got its name because of that -- frogs croak, and when they're caught in a croaker sack, they're on their way to BE croaked.

Kelly, oh, how I live for those tingles!

Posey, I don't crit in red. I inflicted too many red ink slashes on my poor students' papers. Now, I crit the work of fellow writers (and myself) in a nice, calm blue. :-)

Lickety Splitter, I can always count on you to know zactly what I mean!

Lola, when I have to do a major revision, plot holes develop like sink holes in Florida. (No offense to Florida). You fix one thing, you mess up two more ... sigh.

Linda G, glad I can help expand your language ... er, wow, who woulda thunk that?

Er, Patty, SOME southerners (not I, of course, never, never I) use that hienie over tea kettle to mean falling headlong. Going round your elbow to get to your nose is just a way of saying we take the scenic route for no apparent reason. :-)

Mia, we'll flinch together! I know the agony of pulling on one plot thread and seeing a gaping hole develop ... aaack!

Tawna Fenske said...

In the early days of my writing, my husband would get annoyed when I'd shoot down suggestions he'd make. I finally had to explain to him that while it's true I shoot down a number of his ideas, I also shoot down at least 95% of my own. It's just part of the process of getting to the RIGHT ideas.


Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I love revising. Especially the "He/she's like that because" part. The story always ends up so much better when I'm done.

On Monday you won a Magical Mention n my contest. If you'd like your prize please send me your address. :)

prashant said...

I have fun sitting in my over sized chair with a stack of papers and red pen in hand
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Ken said...

Cynthia, do you mind if I put a link to your blog from mine which is actually titled, Going Around My Elbow ( ).
It's about life's little detours and all that goes with it. - Ken