And….here’s the next in my Once More With Feeling Revision series! Two whole months of weekly interviews with authors I love on their revision process. What a treat, right?
There are still a few more weeks to sign up for the revision retreat I’m leading this October with Ingrid Sundberg, so head on over here for all the details. We’ve already got a great group of women signed up and it’s going to be FABULOUS. Bonus: I’ll even teach you how to meditate. 🙂
This week we’ve got one of my favorite souls, Camille DeAngelis, a jack-of-all trades authoress (jill-of-all-trades?) who’s got lots of great stuff in the bag and some really cool projects that are coming up. I first learned about her when I picked up a copy of her MUST read, Life Without Envy: Ego Management for Creative People. Y’all, I needed this book SO BAD. I still need it. It’s a keeper. Her new book, The Boy From Tomorrow, is a “spellbinding” (Kirkus) magical novel for children. She also has loads of fiction for adults, and even wrote the Moon travel guide for Ireland. Now, she’s working on a book about the connection between veganism and creativity. I got a sneak peak and it’s delish in every way.
I love how Camille talks about craft and process, and I know you will too. She gets into all kinds of good hacks for drafting and revision that I’m excited to try out ASAP. To get more awesome from her, you can sign up for Camille’s newsletter here.
To catch up with the rest of the author interviews, you can check out the whole series here.
Without further ado, here’s our chat!
2 Part Question: How do you feel about revision? How have your feelings about revision changed over time, especially as you’ve grown professionally?
I’ve heard so many writers talk about how grueling they find the revision process that I had to ask myself why this stage is almost always joyful for me. Two reasons: first, I spend a long time (years, even!) letting an idea gather itself before I begin. By the time I sit down to write, the plot has assembled itself and the characters are fully formed and ready for action. I don’t have to write my way to the answers the way I would if I were working on a brand-new idea.
And two, I’m a dedicated “imperfectionist” until the heavy lifting is done. I’m still detail oriented all the way through—the setting and timeline have to work, of course, and the characters need to behave more or less consistently—but because I see my first draft as a delightful mess I get to play with until I’m satisfied, I’m not wasting any energy torturing myself with “this is garbage” kind of self recriminations. It’s totally fine if my characters sometimes talk in cliches, or if a descriptive passage doesn’t sing the way it should.
That’s not to say I haven’t ever spent what felt like much too much time on multiple revisions. The Boy From Tomorrowrequired a great deal of trimming and rewriting over a period of years, partly because I was still learning how to write for children. But in general, I’m committed to nothaving to cut dozens of pages at a time if I can possibly help it, and doing that back-brained imaginative “pre-work” enables me to write with efficiency. That’s the difference I see between my early career and now: I threw out or completely rewrote much more of the first draft of my debut novel than I did Immaculate Heart(the novel I published in 2016, which I actually wrote several years after The Boy From Tomorrow).
Do you have any kind of revision process and, if so, what is it?
In a way the revision process starts before I’ve put one word down, and I feel like I should emphasize that knowing how the story is going to end doesn’t diminish my enjoyment in the writing of it. I’ve started using spreadsheets as an outlining tool, which keeps me organized in more respects than I realize at first. How much do my characters know at this stage? Oh yes, they don’t get that crucial piece of information until three chapters later. In one glance over the spreadsheet I can see all the moving parts and anticipate any discrepancies, and I can easily rearrange chapters if need be. You can also keep track of your word count by chapter, if you’re concerned about that. A calendar can also be very helpful, especially if your story transpires in a short period of time. You want to have every action and its effect lined up as neatly as possible before you write.
And then I draft without judgment, confident that I can eventually fix whatever needs fixing. The big essential changes occur in the second draft, fine-tuning in the third. I used to make a ritual of printing out my drafts for marking up (sometimes I’d even cut up the pages to rearrange scenes), but these days I’d rather save a tree. After five novels (plus two unpublished and two nonfiction manuscripts), you can imagine how many printouts are taking up space in my closet! (Now that I’ve finished a sloppy first draft of my next middle-grade novel, I should finally take some time to sort and recycle…)
Do you revise as you draft or do you wait until a draft is completed to go back in?
At some point during the first draft I start a revision memo and add to it as ideas occur to me. I might also add them to the master document in yellow highlighter at the start of the chapter in question. If I want to make a change in a chapter I’ve already drafted, I’ll continue writing as if I’ve already executed it and go back and rewrite that bit later. The first draft doesn’t need to make sense to anyone but me, and these habits allow me to feel completely prepared for round two.
How do you know your book is as good as you can get it?
Resign yourself to the fact that it is nevergoing to be as good as you can get it. But you don’t want to be like that guy in Camus’s novelThe Plague, rewriting your first paragraph over and over again until you die. I’m trying to make a living at this, so I can’t spend years on a single project. It’s as fine as I can make it at this stage of my creative development, my agent and editor are satisfied, and that’s that.
That said, it’s essential to put the draft away after you’ve completed it. Catch up on housework. Focus on other projects. Come back to your manuscript a few weeks (or even months) later so you can reread with as much objectivity as you can, given that you’re the one who wrote it. 😉
Many writers are totally freaked out about revision. What advice would you give to your fellow writers about re-visioning their work?
For anyone who tends to see the revision process as tedious (or worse), I’d encourage them to reimagine this stage of work. Your book is a garden, or a carpentry project, or a hardcore amusement park ride or arcade game. I often joke-on-the-square about “reject-o-rama” (just keep playing and EVENTUALLY YOU WIN!), but “revise-o-rama” is much less taxing on the psyche. Drafting can be really enjoyable, too—as long as I’m in flow!—but for me, revision is the consistentlyfun part. Be determined to see it that way, training yourself to notice whenever your mental ticker-tape’s getting punitive or otherwise unreasonable; if you feel stuck or overwhelmed, just put it away and do something fun and nourishing to refill the well. Give yourself treats for reaching your goals (mine are usually vegan cupcakes), even if you don’t reach them as soon as you’d hoped. I almost never meet those goals, but I still need to set them. I finish a draft two weeks or a month “late,” and then I take a little time to feel good about that before moving on to the next round.
Camille DeAngelis is the author of several novels for adults—each of them as full of impossible things as The Boy From Tomorrow—as well as a travel guide to Ireland and a book of nonfiction called Life Without Envy: Ego Management for Creative People. Her young adult novel Bones & Allwon an Alex Award from the American Library Association in 2016. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
Aggghhhhhh! So great, right? Man, I love hearing her talk about all things writing. If reading this has your wheels turning about revision and you want some more, be sure to sign up for the retreat I’m running this October – sign ups close on August 1st! Click the image below to get the PDF or go here for info.
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