When Revision Becomes Starting Over

I began my summer vacation last weekend. Yes, I know, you all realize that I’m a teacher and have been on break since the end of June, so what gives?

Since June 16th, when my agent sent me an email tearing my Work In Progress to pieces, I’ve been mulling over the remains, trying to figure out how to repair my story. My conclusion: Rewrite the entire thing.

This is not typical for me. Yes, a first draft is just that, a draft, something that will inherently be rewritten. But pieces of it, or strands of the story. Large segments, yes, but not close to 300 pages’ worth.

Because that’s what happened. In the end, I saved maybe five scenes from the original draft.

Prior to that, I analyzed the story like I was back in college. I created over 30 pages of notes on character motivation, plot structure, theme, and on and on. I researched aspects of the story that needed more detail, and once that was all in place, then I got to work.

Around the end of June, with the expanse of summer fully before me, I closed myself off in my office and wrote, on average, for five hours a day. All brand new material. That may not seem like a lot of work, but creating something out of nothing for five hours is exhausting. Doing so for a month, with characters and a plot that you already tried out once and failed with, is a testament to the endurance necessary for this line of work.

I’m happy about the experience. One, because I had the time to work. Two, because I had to go back and rethink a lot of what I know as a writer. Three, because the story is so much better than the original. Here’s a direct quote from the email I sent to my agent regarding this version: “The story’s disturbing, but it also feels very vulnerable and emotional. I put my heart on my sleeve with this one.”

It is disturbing, in ways I have yet to write (which may shock those of you who have read all my work). But most importantly, it is all of the latter from that quote. I have put myself so far out there with this story that I am terrified of the reaction. Which is exactly where I need to be. If I want to live up to my “fearless” moniker, then I’d better “walk the walk.”

Or more aptly, write the story.

I’ll know if I’ve succeeded at some point. But part of me already knows I have.

 

P.S.

Keep enjoying your summer. I’m preparing events for Press Play and will have a schedule soon. Additionally, if you’d like to pre-order for friends and family who are not in the area, please order direct from Running Press, use Indiebound or Barnes and Noble.

Thanks!

 

Wherein I Call Bullsh*t on a Commonly-Held Belief

Reblogged from UncommonYA.com

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by Eric DevineThere’s a notion about creative types that I’d like to call bullshit on. The one in which weare depicted as suddenly inspired by the muse and from thereare propelled to create. Sure, life inspires, but not in the rush of singular understanding that allows one, as if by magic, to pull beauty out of thin air.I’m calling out this falsehood because it’s damaging to anyone who is tryingto be creative. The idea demands that it’s all or nothing with creation, and that inspiration is thisall powerful force guiding us down the paved road. The flip side is that without such magnitude of creative energy, we’re left stranded, in the middle of nowhere. That’s a lie.Inspiration comes in many forms, but I see it mostly as a map, one that can only be seen a piece at a time. And this damn map loops back around, takes wrong turns, and is woefully inadequate compared to a GPS. But how much beauty is found in the precision of satellite directions?Therefore, step one of inspiration is embracing the meandering process that is creation. Yes, you will see a glimpse of the picture, but then it quickly fades. So move onto the next step, figuring out how to maintain your story, how to keep motivated once you’ve passed that first intersection, and the roads are all dark.

For an author this is the terrain you must be comfortable with. You are the guide and have now suddenly found yourself in a back alley that reeks of urine and beer. When the wind picks up there’s a hint of blood and malice. What do you do?

This was Tap Out for me. I wrote, by hand, in the semi dark, outside my infant’s bedroom. I was inspired to write my story of poverty and violence and possible salvation after watching teens at the school where I teach. However, that glimpse of them and the idea of what their lives could be like with absolutely zero resources would have only gotten me through the first chapter. I didn’t sit, sandwiched around early morning feedings (why I was outside her door), and miraculously spill the novel from my pen. Far from it.

I got stuck. Someone from that back alley emerged. A bottle was broken and I was in danger. But I fought for the next scene, and the next, until I was into a book so dark I was terrified of it. But I was also in love with what I was doing.

At this point in my career I had no major publications, had parted ways with two agents and was dangerously close to absolute failure. But Tony, Rob, the trailer park, Chaz and Cameron and Dave and the crew, they weren’t mere figments. They were as alive as I was, and mattered to me almost as much as my baby girl. It did not matter whether I sold this story. What mattered was that I write the story, that I saw it through and gave these characters the finality they deserved. And while doing so, I realized I had surpassed step two, and was blissfully unaware of the third step of inspiration: not giving a f@%k.

It’s true. Who’s inspired by the safe story, the quiet novel? Not me. I want the edge, the thrill. And I also know that with this desire comes enormous risk. I could have bombed with <em “mso-bidi-font-style:=”” normal”=”” style=”position: relative;”>Tap Out. And, in fact, I had a critique group tell me it was too much, too real. It’s obvious how I dealt with that opinion. Step three is not about being arrogant, however; it’s about respecting your story and yourself enough not to fold.

And this lesson, these steps, of dropping into a story and losing my way, fighting hard to find a path through, and then falling in love with forging that path is what keeps me coming back. I am constantly inspired, moment after moment, by every creative turn of phrase, every slick plot twist, and every heartbreaking moment of honesty. And just as quickly, I am lost, but understanding I need to work for the next insight.

This is writing. It doesn’t happen because of a light bulb moment. It comes from being unafraid of sitting in the dark and stitching a map, one word at a time.

 

Kirkus Reviews for Tap Out:
“A boy who knows only grinding despair finds hope within the walls of a gym. . . . This is bound to have huge appeal.” School Library Journal Teen
“Devine instantly captures your attention and holds it until the very end. . . . The storyline, the drama and the characters were all thoroughly put together.” Publishers Weekly
What people are saying about Dare Me:
“Devine doesn’t pull any punches.”http://foreveryoungadult.com/2013/10/09/whats-the-matter-mcfly-chicken/
Tap Out: a 2013 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers AND a 2013 Top 10 Sports Book for Youth: Booklist
Press Play (Running Press, 2014)
Dare Me (Running Press, October, 2013)
Tap Out (Running Press, 2012)
This Side of Normal, (Long Tale Press, 2009)

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Eric Devine Facebook
Eric Devine Author Page, Facebook 
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Bio:
Eric Devine is the Young Adult fiction author of Dare MeTap Out and This Side of Normal. He is also a high school English teacher and education consultant. Eric married his high school sweetheart, and together they are raising two daughters in Upstate, NY. He is represented by Kate McKean of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. He can be found on Twitter, Facebook and at ericdevine.org.

How revision looks this time around

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Just because you write one novel doesn’t mean you have a clue about how to write the next one. That’s where I am, having written what I thought was a decent, if not a particularly good novel, which truly stretched my abilities as a writer.

And then I received my agent’s take on said novel.

It wasn’t as awesome as I had thought.

Which is why I haven’t been blogging or on social media as much as I’d like. I’m obsessing over how to get this story to where I want it to be, and fortunately, where my agent believes it can go. Because it is a damn fine story, it’s just a hunk of hell right now.

And obsessing is how I solve most anything. I’ve been reading for pleasure, but mostly for analysis. Remember taking apart stories in school? It’s like that, but to the minute degree, all so I can try to do the same with my characters and my plot, but in my own unique way. Good times.

I also picked up and loved a book on writing that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass was as fulfilling as I had expected, and it suggested to me just the ways in which I needed to go in order to pull my manuscript upright and breathe life into it.

Which means a lot of time thinking about my story while doing other things; emailing myself notes for the next day of writing; re-reading and consulting the fifteen pages of notes I already have on a legal pad; rushing to a piece of paper, dripping from the shower because I’ve had an idea. Yup, I’m in the zone.

And in the first 100 pages I’ve written, possibly 10 of the original have been retained. If this continues, which it seems to be, I’ll have to essentially rewrite the entire 300 + page story. But it will be worth it. Because that’s the one thing I know that is true about revision, whether it’s this involved or not. Seeing your story with fresh eyes should change things. This time around, it’s a gutting.

But you watch, when I’m through, It will be magnificent, and I’ll have the shoddy first attempt and my agent’s appropriate murder of it to thank.

Until then, I’ll keep revising away.