Sunday, April 6, 2014

5 Keys to Surviving A Successful Revision by Amber Leigh Williams

New Author Headshot!
This month is all about success and failure so I’m going to talk about something I know: revision. A Place With Briar, my Superromance debut on shelves now, went through no less than five revisions before it was contracted by Harlequin last summer. Recently, I underwent more revision when they contracted two more books for the Superromance line, the first of which went through intense revision last month. (Special note: at the end of today’s post, I’ll be revealing the title of this book, which will be on shelves in October.)

Over the years I’ve learned that revision is oftentimes necessary. My historical romance, Forever Amore, went through major rewrites and revisions before it was ready for publication. Many authors who have experience with Harlequin have also been asked to do quite a bit of revision to make their work ready for their targeted imprint. It’s almost a way for the editors to test how your working relationship with them will be. Bearing this in mind, I cannot stress how important it is to learn to accept revision and roll with it.
Here are my five keys to surviving a successful revision….

#1 – Caffeine! Not everybody drinks coffee. I’m one of them. In the mornings, I’ll have some hot tea with my Wheaties and get cracking on my editor’s revision notes. During the day, Coca-Cola is my friend. Particularly since I am serving double-duty as writer and mommy at home with my little one during the weekdays. (I don’t know how in the world I got through the revisions for A Place With Briar. Most of them took place while I was either pregnant or nursing and tea and caffeinated soda were no-no’s. Let’s just say it was much more slow-going.) Even if you’re not a caffeine-consumer, it’s important to get the right amount of fuel at the beginning of the day by eating a healthy breakfast in order to super-charge those brainwaves. I’ve found that when I eat right in the mornings, my body and mind are much better prepared for the day – whatever it may bring…from revision madness to toddler-sized shenanigans.
 
#2 – Old Adages! I did a guest blog post a while back called “Writing Axioms That Work” at Prairie Chicks Write Romance. It lists the five writing adages that have gotten me through nearly ten years of full-time writing. They work for all genres and some of them could even be applied to everyday life. When I know I’m about to tackle a tough revision, I dig my adage print-out out of the filing cabinet and pin it to the bulletin board over my desk. The muse is not always there for me, especially when I’m up against a deadline and have to write with or without her. This list of adages really motivates me (in addition to the caffeine!) and inspires me. “Never, never, never give me!” I actually have this one on a plaque on my desk, but it simply cannot be said enough. The second is a quote by author J.R. Ward: “Plots are like sharks. They keep moving or they die.” When you’re trying to figure out how to rebuild story structure, remembering this tidbit is imperative. “Scientific workability!” This is a quote from Julia Child who was not just a famed chef but a devoted writer. She believed that in cooking and in writing no small amount of attention could be paid to detail. For me, this applies mostly to the editing process that comes after the revision. Before I let my editor see anything, I pick through the entire manuscript at least twice with a fine-tooth comb so that when I present it to her, it’s as grammatically correct and as professional-looking as I can make it. (I set aside at least three days at the end of the revision process just for editing.)
 
GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict
#3 – Character Driven Notes! Before I can proceed with a first draft or a revision, I must know my characters. Can you tell I’m an ingrained plotter? I think it’s important for any writer, plotter or pantser, about to undergo a character-driven story like any romance must know his/her characters. When I first began writing, a friend in the industry did me a huge favor that wound up being instrumental in my career. She gave me notes from a workshop she had attended called “Creating Believable Characters.” The workshop was modeled after the book by Debra Dixon called GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction. It gives you essential tools to figuring out your characters’ strengths and flaws and building your story around them so that they and the story as a whole are that much more believable. Believability is a big thing in the romance business, whether you write contemporary or historical, paranormal or sci-fi. Usually by the revision process, I’ve already sat down and written out my hero and heroine’s goals, their strengths and weaknesses (which in turn must line up or contrast with their significant other’s in order to create story conflict), their core needs (these also can contrast, creating conflict to drive the story), where their core needs come from, backstory, even their sexual history and secrets. For revision, I also go back and use these workshop notes to better adjust the important emotional high points, low points, and peaks like the all-important climax (or "third-act dark moment") of the story. Usually the reason I am forced to revise is because something with the characters doesn’t line up or because something just isn’t believable enough and I have to rework the story in order to make it so. It all goes back the hero or heroine and their GMCs (goal, motivation, and conflict). (If any of my writer friends are interested in these workshop notes, I would be happy to send you a copy. Just shoot me an email request for them at amber@amberleighwilliams.com!)

#4 – Back-Up Harddrive! However you choose to back up your work, DO IT! Do it every day. Let it be the last thing you do before you turn off your computer or work tablet and rejoin the real world. There is nothing more off-putting than getting well into a successful first draft or in-depth revision and losing all your work due to a system glitch or human error. Take it from someone who knows very well. Nothing makes me want to throw in the towel faster than having to start over from scratch. As much stress as a computer or data failure might be, knowing the bulk of your work and/or progress is backed up safely on one or two back-up hard drives or other devices makes it much less of a disaster.
 
Tools for Revision :-)
#5 – Wine Time! Yep, you heard me. For me, it’s a nice, cool glass of Pinot Grigio. For my latest heroine, it’s a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Whether you’re a fan of red or white, chilled or room temperature, at the end of a frazzled day of revisions, nothing quite does it like wine…and, if I can sneak it in amidst the little one’s bath time and prepping dinner for the family, a warm bath. Ah…detoxing. My favorite part of any hard writing day in the office. Just remember: it was Hemingway, I believe, who said that you can write drunk so long as you revise sober.... So for revision's sake, definitely save that glass until the day's end :-)
 
So there you have it, readers! My 5 Keys for Surviving a Successful Revision! Writers, I hope you found it helpful in some way. Now for the fun part – the title announcement for my next Superromance novel, the second book in my hometown series that will follow A Place With Briar in October 2014. The name of the book is MARRIED ONE NIGHT! If you’ve had a chance to read A Place With Briar already this month, you’ll remember the heroine Briar’s cousin, Olivia Lewis. Married One Night will feature her and a charming, British hero who is very Tom Hiddleston-esque. Intrigued? Stay tuned for the back cover blurb and cover which are in the works!
 
On Shelves Now! 4 Stars from RT BOOK REVEIWS!
Amber Leigh Williams lives on the Gulf Coast. A southern girl at heart, she loves beach days, the smell of real books, relaxing at her family’s lakehouse, and spending time with her husband, Jacob, and their sweet, blue-eyed boy. When she’s not running after her young son and three, large dogs, she can usually be found reading a good romance or cooking up a new dish in her kitchen. She is represented by Joyce Holland of the D4EO Literary Agency. Visit her on the web at www.amberleighwilliams.com!

14 comments:

Jannine Gallant said...

Great tips, Amber. Especially the caffeine. (She says as she chugs down her 3rd cup of coffee!) That works with revisions and first drafts both. Very cool about the additional books contracted by Harlequin. Huge congrats on that!

Margo Hoornstra said...

All good information. Keeping in mind GMC is key. Best of luck with the releases and thanks for sharing.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Excellent list, Amber. Sounds like your big five are working for you just fine. Congrats on the new title! The thing about revision...it never feels like it's over...sigh!

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Jannine, ah coffee. I wish I could still drink it. Back when I was a certified barista, I could drink it all day long. Then the headaches set in and I switched to Coca-Cola. Thank you!

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Margo, thanks for the lucky vibes!

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Rolynn, thanks! And no, revisions aren't done until the editor tells me it's time for line edits. Then I breathe a huge sigh of relief and buy more wine :-)

Betsy Ashton said...

All good reminders, Amber. I particularly like Hemingway's comment about writing drunk and revising sober. I had an editor once who thought all good ideas came at the bottom of a wine glass. Fired her butt, because she couldn't edit after finding the bottom of said glass. And now, I need another jolt of caffeine to keep me going this afternoon. Cheers.

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Betsy, no, drinking and editing definitely shouldn't go hand in hand, LOL. And I'm with you on the caffeine bit. Pouring myself a glass of sweet tea as we speak :-)

Alicia Dean said...

Loved this post!!! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. I am totally down with the caffeine and wine thing, caffeine at the start of the day, wine at the end. :) My caffeine is strong coffe, my wine is Reisling.

And, I am SO with you on the back up. About a week ago, my flash drive became courrupted and I lost all the work I'd done on my two latest WIPS, not to mention some I'd done on other authors' edits. Just sickening. And yes, it is very difficult to motivate yourself to start from scratch. I do have old versions of these stories, but it's still like starting over.

A friend told me about OneDrive if you have a Microsoft account. I'm using it now, and I love it!

Huge congrats on your success with Harlequin. It appears your writing process has served you well. Thanks again for sharing the wonderful tips.

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Alicia, thank you! And I swear losing writing or revision work is the worst thing. Keys and credit cards I can replace easily. A month's revision work? Not so much.

I'll have to check out this OneDrive. I'm not satisfied with my current hard drive. Thank you for the tip!

Leah St. James said...

I'm a big fan of Dixon's GMC as well. I gave my copy of the book to a friend but have been thinking of buying another! As for edits, I love Margie Lawson's deep editing system. It's a huge amount of work, but it's worth it to me (and I get to play with different colored highlighters!) Wishing you much success with the new book!

Glenys said...

Lovely informative blog, Amber. It is so important to have the ms clean and professional looking before an editor sees it, with all loose ends tied up. And to remain friendly and courteous no matter how many times you're asked to do edits on your 'baby'. Editors generally want your book to be the very best it can be when it goes out into the world. Having just finished revisions, I'm waiting for the caffeine high to subside, then I'll be right with you on the wine. And chocolate - who can edit without chocolate? Wishing you much success with the new and upcoming releases.

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Leah, I loaned my copy of Deb's book, too, and never saw it again. It's definitely time for a replacement! I'm unfamiliar with Margie Lawson's editing system. Thanks for the tip!

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Glenys, good luck with the caffeine high! And having just found out I'm done with revision for this book, I have finally found the bottom of that wine bottle I was talking about, lol. Usually I save the chocolate for writing the sad scenes, like the third act dark moment from A PLACE WITH BRIAR. Ah, brutal. *stuffs face*