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Revising from the Heart

I’m here to tell you about a revelation I recently came to-—revise from the heart. The epiphany happened last Monday afternoon when I was feeling disheartened by the state of my current WIP. I had polished the first 40 pages (over and over again in a constant but safe retread). Why? Well, going forward pushes my fear button. Because the next 170 pages are rough, need sand blasting, buffing and character massaging, just to name a few things. In fact, just recently, I cut forty pages from the end of the book! You say ouch and I say ahhhh because I find it much easier to chop then to do some of the hard rethinking and weaving of the chapter elements.

Buffing is fine too because those are the mini decision I find almost fun. Instead of “I walk down the hall” I’ll change it to “I slouch down the hall.” Then I might add in more colors and sounds or have my main character slouch past a tertiary character that I will briefly describe. All that is lovely and good, and if I’m in the right frame of mind and not constantly checking my e-mails or Facebook, then I get down to business and have such a good time that I actually move at a fairly rapid pace. Yes, it’s true, when I’m having fun with my writing, time speeds up.

But, unfortunately, the opposite is also true. When revising feels like a worse chore than taking out the garbage, time surely slows down. I know because I’m constantly checking Toggl, a time management program, and it will show me that I’ve only been working for twelve minutes when I could swear I’ve been working for an hour. I highly recommend Toggl as it’s free (in the basic format), and doesn’t allow for any self-delusions, which I am very skilled at, as well as getting off the subject. Ah, so many ways to procrastinate.

So let me self correct and get back on topic. That was revising from the heart. Okay, what to do when your WIP seems blah and not even close to as good as all of those authors you admire?

Well, choke choke cough cough. Don’t know anyone who might feel that way. Oh, right. Me. Yes, so on Monday my first impulse was to squeeze the suckiness of my writing by making it exciting and thrilling. So I spoke to my head. “Head,” I asked. “What do you think would be exciting and thrilling and make this story unsucky and unboring?”

And the head thought and thought like heads do, and came up with this answer: “More plot, Hillary. Need to ratchet up the stakes! More stuff needs to happen.”

And I believed the head.

But I’m writing a more character-driven novel, and the idea of a new plot stream felt untenable and complicated. But I soldiered on. Hmm, I thought with my head. I could do this and this and this and…

But then another part of my being spoke, the part located in my chest area. “You know,” the heart said, “Just listen to me. What does your character feel? Don’t be afraid of this. Listen to her heart. And it will get interesting. Promise.”

And I told the head, “Sorry. I appreciate, you head. You are needed in revision, and are often in charge, that is for sure, but I need to go with the heart right now.” So I started to look at my WIP line by line and simply asked this question, “what is my main character feeling here?”

And you know what? I started to revise with more ease. Steam no longer poured out of my ears. Taking out the garbage didn’t seem like a viable alternative.

So the next time you’re stuck revising, take a break from your friend, the head.

And ask the heart a few questions.

I think you’ll feel good about the answers.

Yours,
Hillary

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