Revision Scream Queen

jamie lee curtis screamsEvery now and then, I reach out to writing friends and classmates I haven’t talked to in a while. Part of the reason is to ensure they’re not dead on the toilet*. None of them are dead, they’re just busy slogging through their particular version of writing or revision hell**. Some are querying agents, some are eating Cheetos and watching Buffy reruns. When they ask me that dreaded question in return, “so how’s your book?” my answer to their question is always the same: I’m working on another revision.

Their response: Horror.

Makes sense. Only masochists keep ripping and shredding their novels apart after all these years. Amidst another round of revision, I can’t help but feel like I’m in a horror flick. Observe:

  • For revision, I wield an axe, a chainsaw, a machete. This should not give you the impression that I’m either prepared or badass. If I were smart, I’d use one of those fancy knives that you can get sharpened at the special kitchen store. If I used an object meant for precision instead of mass murder, my manuscripts would resemble intricate paper snowflakes instead of the vomit bomb that Bob Ford (my cat) left on the floor that one time after eating wrapping paper.

  • I have vices that prevent me from making it to the end. They’re called Facebook and Tumblr and lots and lots of science and random knowledge articles and essays that I MUST read. You never know when that information will come in handy.

  • Some critiques of my novel startle me like the creepy but ultimately lifesaving bystander who jumps out at unsuspecting souls in a dark hallway. Other critiques have gutted me.

  • There’s a right path and a wrong path in horror films. I can’t say for sure that there is a right or wrong way to attempt revision, but I can guarantee you that I’m bound to take the long, if not the wrong, path. Even after a lot of instruction. I’m a slow learner. But I am also that girl who decides to go off the trail, into the woods, without a flashlight or a care — the girl who wants to see the stars without the city sky — but ends up falling into a hole and scraping her fingertips to nubs of bone and blood in an attempt to claw her way out.

How many revisions does it take to get to a publishable novel? Hell if I know. All I can do is keep at it like the time my friend, Jenna, and I called in sick one dark winter day to play American McGee’s Alice. With Chris Vrenna’s soundtrack pumping through the subwoofer and fire imps trying to kill us around every corner, we navigated poor Alice into pools of lava over and over. Many character lives were lost that day. But with each new life, we got smarter. Or, rather, we remembered not to make the same mistake we made in the last life. I like to think of novel revision like that: A chance to keep going and to get it right.

There are a lot of people who encourage writers to quit, to put the draft in the drawer forever, to start something new. I’m sure that’s good advice for someone. But who would I be if not the girl who does everything the hard way? I’m stubborn, and I like to finish all the things. I might be covered in blood and in therapy for the rest of my life, but I will beat the bad guy. I will be the Final Girl, like Jamie Lee Curtis and Neve Campbell. And when — not if, the Final Girl gains confidence along the way! — I finally stop working on this first novel, I’ll get to work on the next one with the same dewy optimism as when I first looked into those pretty woods and thought, “Oh gee! I’ll write a novel! Tra-la-la-la-la!” And I’ll go through it all over again because I’m a Scream Queen. There’s always another novel waiting in the shadows to haunt and taunt me.

* If you’ve seen the emotionally scarring, yet fascinating documentary “A Certain Kind of Death,” you know what I mean.

** Insert standard disclaimer here about this being a luxury problem. I can hear your tiny violin over the interwebs.

 

2 comments

  1. Rob Wilstein

    You go, horror girl; just don’t go into the house when everybody else is going the other way and the ominous music has started and then lock all the doors so the axe-guy can’t get in, but…
    And it takes 17.3 revisions to get a publishable novel, according to Poets and Writers.

  2. Carol Gray

    “When they ask me that dreaded question in return, “so how’s your book?” my answer to their question is always the same: I’m working on another revision. Their response: Horror.” Boy, can I relate! I’ve horrified my entire family, including my own children.

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