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Friday, December 19, 2008

How I'm Spending My Holidays

This is how I'm spending the holidays. Imagine it's a postcard. On the bottom it would say Greetings From Revision Land!

A couple weeks ago, I received the revision letter from my lovely MTV Books editor Jen Heddle for my forthcoming novel BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. Deadline January 7th. No holiday break for me. Other than working three nights a week, my life is devoted to revising and writing and making this book freakin' perfect. Right now I'm pretty thankful that I work at a bar because it feels a little bit social and it gives me an opportunity to see some of my friends. (I have no idea how I did this with my 9 to 5 job last time. I think I've blocked out how crazy I felt.) The friends who don't come and visit me at work out of luck until January. I feel bad about this. I miss them. I also feel bad for my boyfriend and my cats all of whom are missing out on cuddle time. I'm also sure Scott wishes I could hold conversations without stopping mid-sentence and staring into space, then going, "Oh sorry... I was thinking about the book." But this is what I do. Scott understands. The cats not so much.

So let me tell you about this picture and walk you through what my routine now.

The photo is taken in my dining room. I relocate to the dining room when doing revisions because I need more space to spread out than the desk in my office provides. Also when spending such long hours writing, I need more window than my office provides. I say window and not sun because it's winter in Chicago. There is no sun. I must say the up side to working on revisions in December instead of October like last time, is I don't long to be outside at all. I look at that snow and am very content to be in front of my computer. There are a few plants in my dining room brightening up the place and that's all I need.

After the first week of working uncomfortably in one of the dining room chairs, Scott was kind enough to bring my office chair down for me. You can see one of the dining room chairs positioned nearby though. That's for Sid, my eldest cat. He never used to be a lap cat but now that he's 13 and it's cold out, he wants to be on my lap. Unlike Lars, my kitten-sized two year old cat, Sid is too big to comfortably type over. I try to accomodate him, get frustrated and put him on the chair. He glares at me and hops up onto the pile of papers at my left.

"Please get down."

He edges toward my lap.

I sigh and place him back on his chair. "This is your chair. Right next to me. You should be fine there."

He glares at me and hops up onto the pile of papers... This process repeats with me raising my voice and feeling guilty about it until eventually Sid settles in or moves onto the living room couch.

He is better behaved than the other two cats. For some reason when I work in my office and am not on urgent deadline, they sleep all day in the bedroom. Now that I'm downstairs, they feel the need to run around, cause a distracting ruckus or hop up onto my stuff. Not pictured is the purple spray bottle that I squirt them with. If I attempt to eat and work, Kaspar is all over the table. He runs from the squirt bottle though. Lars likes to jump on the table just to be annoying. He doesn't care about being squirted until he's really wet. This results in my papers getting wet. Sigh.

Lets talk about all that paper. The manuscript to the left of the computer has my notes scrawled all over it. Mostly I just transcribed the things that my editor put in her revision letter (that's the smaller stack of papers above the manuscript to the left, you can't really see it) and made quick notes about changes I wanted to make. I spent the first day of revisions doing that. It's a process that involves different colored pens and highlighters for different things ie. places where I need to be more descriptive, places where my phrasing is awkward, places where the flow of time is confusing.

There are two manuscripts to the right of the computer. Those are from my lovely critique partners, Jenny and Aaron. They live nearby and we have a writer's group every week (they are the only other people besides Scott, my mom, and people who come to the bar who see me right now), so that is why I have actual printed copies with handwritten notes from them. My other lovely critique partner Vanessa lives in Australia, so she sends her notes back in the Word document. I keep that open on my computer screen and flip back forth between it and my working document. When I make major changes to a draft, I save it as a new document. So I'm on BALLADS draft 6 at this point (IWBYJR had 8 drafts). Though I am calling this Ballads Final Revision... in hopes that it is (Editor will kill me if it is not!).

The stack of paper behind the computer is mail. It's there so that hopefully I will remember to pay the bills. Sigh.

Then there are the notes I make as I go. You'll notice sticky notes along the top of the computer screen. Those are the things I need to remind myself to do throughout, such as "Describe Kara, Cass, and everyone through out" and "Describe places throughout and how they change." This picture was taken a couple days ago and those sticky notes have since multiplied.

To the right of my mouse pad (which you can't see but it's a Nirvana mouse pad, I'm such a fangirl dork) are some notepads and sheets of paper where I wrote random notes when I wasn't by the computer. The pink notepad on top of the stack is the notepad I keep by my bed. I'm an insomniac and I tend to figure things out when I'm supposed to be sleeping, so I sit up and write in that or take it to the bathroom and jot things down so as not to disturb Scott. There is also blue paper beneath the pad. That's from work. I managed to figure out some things while bartending last week. There are some more scraps of paper from when I figured things out while cleaning the house a two weeks ago (and the house has not been cleaned properly since. Thank god there will be no guests besides the Writers Group who understands that words take priority over clean floors and countertops. Soon I really will need to do laundry again though...).

Lastly, we have my supplies. There are the essential books: Dictionary, Synonym Finder (which I prefer to the thesaurus), and Baby Name Book (usually I wouldn't rename characters so late in the game, but a couple of them just weren't right.) There is also a date book. I've broken down my revising time by the day. My book is in four sections (I like breaking books into different acts, I'm not sure why, the inner theater geek?), so I broke the calendar into five section. Equal parts for each of the four sections and then one last week where I read the whole book aloud at least once and make sure each word is perfect and necessary. Basically that's how I do my line edits. Also I send the lovely critique partners the revised MS as I finish each section and they will give me final notes on where something is still lacking or where things can be cut (which is what I really need cause this sucker is getting long!)

I also have nourishment. This picture was taken in the morning so you see my tea cup (I try not to drink much caffienated tea due to the insomnia, but during revisions I drink whatever kind of tea I want), my yogurt (Silk cause I'm vegan) and breakfast bar. There is also the water glass that advertises my favorite sports team (I don't really like sports except I'm a die-hard Chicago White Sox fan). The kitchen is a few steps away (you can see the cabinets in the background of the photo) for when I need more nourishment.

My routine is basically this: Wake up around 9 or 9:30, quickly blog or respond to email, workout on my elliptical in the basement for 30 min (during which I catch up on my guilty pleasure TV, the soap opera One Life to Live. When I'm not revising, I take a "lunch break" and watch it, but there is no time for lunch breaks now), shower, chant, sit down to write with breakfast by 11:30 or so. If I have to work that night (I work from 7:30 pm to 2 am or 3 am on Saturdays), I stop writing around 6 to cook dinner and get ready for work. If not, I write until I'm hungry. Then eat, then possibly write more. Around 10 pm, I'll finally stop and veg with Scott. We watch TV shows together from Netflix. We've watched Californication and now are getting into Weeds. Since Weeds is about the seedy side of suburby and so is my book, it's been working out well. And I'm so in love with Californication, I may just subscribe to Showtime before the next season starts. I've never paid for premium cable in my life so this shows a very serious devotion.

Anyway, those shows and bartending are pretty much my only break. I'm constantly thinking about the book and to keep in that mindset when I do manage to cook and clean, I listen to the 30 song playlist I created for BALLADS.

And while part of me misses having a life and wishes this wasn't happening over the holidays, part of me totally thrives on it. I do my best work under these sorts of intense conditions. At least I hope it's my best. In the midst of it all, I can't really tell. I have days where everything clicks and I think I've never written better and I have days where it feels like total crap and I'm convinced no one will ever pay me to write a book again. This book means more to me in some ways than IWBYJR. I kinda feel like it's the story I've wanted to tell the world since I was 16 and writing short stories about kids sitting in diners. So the pressure is really on and it mostly comes from me.

That's my life right now. What about you? Tell me about your fabulous holiday break plans so I can be jealous. And writers, share your revision strategies and routines. I might tweak mine if yours sound better!


Authorness said...

Steph, Revision Land sounds tough! I'm sorry the cats are totally unsympathetic.

No need to get jealous over my holiday plans, because I don't have any holiday plans! I'll be writing one book, trying to revise another for the billionth time, and working at the day job.

It sounds like you and I have a similar revision process (though you're *much* more organised and disciplined than I am!). Post-It notes are among the world's greatest inventions as far as I'm concerned!

x Vanessa

Danielle Joseph said...

Wow, Steph I am impressed with how organized and comprehensive your revision process is! It is cool to see how other people work. When I got my ed letter, I pulled out my highlighters and worked on all the minor changes first. Each time I completed one, I'd highlight it. When all the small stuff was done, I moved on to the bigger stuff. I jumped around but I actually feel like that helped me make sure that I fleshed out all the characters/scenes that I needed to. Good luck with everything!

Jennifer Echols said...

I love doing revisions and I giggle and rub my hands together with glee when I get a revision letter--so I'm very jealous right now!

Jan Blazanin said...

My cats don't bother me when I'm writing, but the dogs are a different story. If I'm at my computer too long, Gizmo whines and Sassy puts her front feet on my lap and slurps me until I pet her. Unless I'm willing to be slimed from the elbow down, I give up and take them for a walk. That usually buys me a couple more hours of writing time.