Tina and I are both known for our picture books. Tina's recently released Hanging Off Jefferson's Nose: Growing Up on Mount Rushmore, is getting rave reviews and just won a 2012 Eureka Award for Nonfiction from the California Reading Association. My imaginative picture books, including Jitterbug Jam: A Monster Tale, The Secret Life of Walter Kitty, and Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli, have all been well-reviewed and won numerous awards.
But did you know that Tina and I are both novelists as well? I'm thrilled that Tina is once again working on a novel she's had in a drawer for four years now. Dear Joe (working title) is a middle grade historical novel set during the sixties with a unique and very moving take on the Vietnam war. I loved the manuscript when I first read it years ago, and I can't wait to read it after another round of revisions and four years of artistic growth on Tina's part since the last revision.
As for me--I wrote romance novels before I turned to picture books. The rights to a number of these have reverted to me, and I've already revised and published two novellas as e-books (Tea for Two and Cupid's Chase). Revising and publishing several old novels is on my To-Do list. The books were published over a decade ago, and I think (I hope!) I've learned a lot about the craft of writing and grown as an artist since then--so I'm looking forward to the revision process.
Which brings us to the question: what's the best way to approach a whole-novel revison?
I've always made revisions in a word processing program rather than by hand, but I'm liking Tina's idea. I tend to focus too much on the words instead of the Big Picture when I revise that way. I also tend to get stuck on improving the language--the poetry, if you will--and have a difficult time moving forward with the plot. And if I remember right, the novels I'm thinking about need a lot of plot revisions--precisely because when I worked on initial revisions for the manuscripts I did it the word-by-word way.
I'm currently remodeling a house. I'm thinking there are similarities to what I'm doing there and what I need to do to "remodel" my novels. I started out on the house with one new purchase--a lampshade I fell in love with from IKEA. Then I took pictures of all my favorite things--artwork, home furnishings, fabrics, flowers, even my shower curtain! Patterns emerged: colors, shapes, textures I'm obviously drawn to.
But I realized early on that I was putting the cart before the horse. My house needed changes in structure, "revisions," if you will, to honor the needs of the people who will live and visit there. So I put away the pictures of my favorite things and pulled out the house plans and started looking at what I needed to do to make the structure itself work the way I needed it to--before I started decorating it. First things first!
The "decoration" in my novels is the narrative flow--the words and turns of phrase, the color and texture of the poetry, the scenes that reveal character and communicate emotion. But all that lovely "decoration" needs a stronger structure to hang on than I gave them a decade or so ago--something to support the poetry, to give form to the scenes. I need to pull out the "house plans" for my novels and figure out how to make the structure suit the needs of the story. A read-through with plenty of room for notes, like Tina's binder, sounds like a great place to start.
What about you? How do you approach revisions on a completed draft? How do you get to the structure without being sidetracked by the decoration? When you get to the actual rewrite, do you hand-write? Compute? Cut and paste--either literally or via word processer? Do you have secrets you're willing to share? We'd love to hear!