We’re almost finished with my Once More With Feeling Revision Series and, man, does this feel the same way I feel with all my books—I don’t want it to end, but I know it’s time to move on. It’s been such a joy reading all of these authors’ takes on the revision process, and to glean so much wisdom from all their blood, sweat tears. It’s a beautiful thing, the way we share what we’ve learned on our journeys. I’ve learned so much, and I hope you have, too. Bonnie’s is a perfect almost-ending (I’m interviewing myself next week to send this baby off for good) and you’ll see why by the last question. She’s the author of Aftercare Instructions—a debut novel that kicks off with abortion. It doesn’t get too much gutsier than that in YA, and that’s Bonnie for you.
Her work is brave and raw and the way she talks about the writing process both acknowledges the struggles of it (pets eating our work!) and the hark knocks joy of kicking ass and taking names in the face of the storm. I remember sitting in a workshop with her once and being like, fuck, she’s good. She really is.
Side note: if you need someone to officiate your wedding or write vows, or you just want to ogle her goth baby nursery, you have to check out her Insta accounts, as well.
To catch up on the whole series, you can head on over here.
And…here’s the authoress of the hour!
2 Part Question: How do you feel about revision? How have your feelings about revision changed over time, especially as you’ve grown professionally?
Like many of your responders to this same question: I love revision! And really, way more than drafting. It’s something gooey and messy to work with, play with, pull apart and piece together. It’s overused, but I like the lump of clay metaphor. When you draft, you dump the clay into a pile. When you revise, you make it beautiful. I like the big picture plot revision, but my favorite revision is sentence level. I’m a language lover. I also have weird syntactical tendencies when I draft and have to iron that out. As for part two of your question, I think I’ve come to see the revision process more clearly as the real art of novel writing. It became a tangible thing, a book thing, rather than just a philosophy when I saw Aftercare Instructions through to the bitter end.
Do you have any kind of revision process and, if so, what is it?
I like to revise on paper. (Thank you, beautiful trees, for your contribution to my process). I write something, print it, then go in and mark it up, add stuff by hand, cut stuff, draw arrows, write full pages on the blank back sheets, scribble, doodle, and leave it lying around for my cat to chew on and sit on (she likes paper, too). Then when I’m back at the laptop, typing in all the changes, more things get added and cut and finessed. The next step is to read it out loud and make changes as I do (remember, weird syntax? Being able to hear it really helps with this.) One of my advisors at VCFA, Martine Leavitt, said to me once, “Some writers write thin, and some write fat. You and I, Bonnie, are thin writers.” If you know what her voice sounds like, it sounds better. It’s true though. Fat writers write a lot and then have to trim it back into something. I, a thin writer, throw down the bones, then spend my time fleshing it out into something with a bloody beating heart.
Do you revise as you draft or do you wait until a draft is completed to go back in?
I wish I were not such a fiddler, but I am. I revise as I go. I do try to put the manuscript down and give myself space and time from it, but man, I spend a lot of time on the beginning of a book. I think I should work on this. It might be better to get it all out there first. More clay. I’ve been stuck in beginning land for over a year now, and it starts to feel a bit like limbo.
How do you know your book is as good as you can get it?
Someone else tells me this. I could go back in forever. I could probably go back into Aftercare Instructions and still make changes. But at various points in the process, and I guess this is instinctual, I take it as far as I can until nothing is getting better and my eyes are blurred and crossed, and then I throw it to someone else to see what sticks.
When I felt like Aftercare Instructions was close to done, I invited two friends over to my place and provided refreshments and lunch for them to sit and listen to me read out loud. We did this for two days. It was a real test for me to see what made me kind of cringe as I read it out loud to actual people. I could also get a real palpable feel when they were engaged or maybe losing focus. But I didn’t stop. If something felt off, I just made a mark in the margins and kept going. After that, I went in and re-worked those spots before sending it away for the last time (to be sold!). I will do that again with my next book for sure.
Many writers are totally freaked out about revision. What advice would you give to your fellow writers about re-visioning their work?
I guess I’d say it’s worth all the freak outs and pain to tear something apart and rebuild it. Think of how different of a human you’d be if everything came easy in your life. It’s our trials and tests that make us deep and real. A manuscript is not much different. Wounds and scars and tattoos and bad choices and everything are what make it beautiful. Be brave. Kill darlings. Re-type the whole thing just to see what you really want and need. Throw it all away and try to re-type it from memory. Attach and dis-attach yourself often. Don’t shy from the mess. We will feel these layers when we read your work.
Bonnie Pipkin believes in prose, performances, puppet shows, and public displays of affection. Originally from California, Bonnie now lives in Brooklyn. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, teaches literature courses at Kean University, officiates weddings, and looks after a very cute cat. Aftercare Instructions is Bonnie’s first novel.
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