Okay, if you have never heard Lisa Yee speak, do yourself a favor and get yourself to one of the many conferences she attends. She is smart, funny and down to earth--and she has wonderful practical advice about writing and the work it takes to write well.
Lisa began her discussion by introducing her friend "Peepy" (the picture to the right is an approximation of Peepy--the real Peepy is much more handsome and a sharp dresser to boot). She asked someone from the class to change Peepy into a different outfit. "This is revision,"
Lisa announced. Looks easy, huh? Hmmm. . .
Lisa then talked about her book Millicent Min, Girl Genius which started out as an episodic novel. She discussed the revisions of that book in which she pretty much threw the whole book away--only the character and her voice remained constant throughout the entire revision process.
Lisa asked the class to do a writing project. First, we were asked to list four things we might find in a child's room. Next, she asked us to write a descriptive paragraph in third person. She described this paragraph as a first draft which is essentially "barf on the page" that must be "hosed down and cleaned up." Then, we wrote the same descriptive paragraph in first person from the child's point of view. Finally, we were asked to write the paragraph in first person from the point of view of a mother whose child has died (the mother is describing her child's room after his death). Whew . . .this was a tough one, and many people in the room became emotional while writing this paragraph. At the end of this exercise, she had us go back and revise our last paragraph. Try this, if you have a chance. Emotions kicked up a notch with every exercise.
After our writing exercise, Lisa had tons of great tips for doing revisions:
*When revising, cut chunks from your manuscript and paste them into another document. That way, you aren't deleting them, and those chunks still exist if you ever want to use them. Remember though, if you don't miss the text you deleted, you didn't need it to begin with.
*Challenge yourself to cut your story by 20%. What could go? What would make the story tighter? Lisa mentioned that she can pretty much always throw away her first three chapters.
*Retain the emotional touch every time you revise.
*Change the font and margins to make your manuscript look like something someone else has written. This will force you to look at your manuscript in a different way.
*Read your book out loud!!
*Circle a section of your text that you really like, and that should be your standard. Everything in your manuscript should be as good as that section.
*Follow the advice of Anne Lamott and write that "shitty first draft."
*Set your book aside for a while so that you can look at it with fresh eyes. You really need to be able to turn it upside down and re-examine it
*First time you read a draft, it is for the impression. Revision is about detail. It is like watching a movie twice--you notice so many more details the second time.
*Try to write to a schedule and set deadlines so that you don't overwork a story. If you write a sentence five times--the best writing is rarely the first or the last sentence.
*Go to www.kcrw.com and listen to Tobias Wolfe's talk about writing--he keeps cutting down and is constantly asking himself "would the reader understand the story without this word?"
*Don't overexplain things--constantly move the story forward.
*Instead of saying "what am I going to cut?", say "what am I going to keep?"--look for the best and throw the rest away.
*You can revise as you go. Revision doesn't always happen at the completion of a draft.
*Drafting is play. Revision is the real work of writing.
*Lisa writes the ending of her novel first and works from an outline.
*Read plays to study how dialogue moves things forward. Stephen King says that dialogue should be like gossip--something you want to overhear.
*Never overwrite for the sake of a higher word count.
*Go physically to a different place to revise.