Friday, December 18, 2015

5 Things Revision Has Taught Me About Myself

By Lisa Alber

I'm having a fantastic time revising WHISPERS IN THE MIST. Aspects of the story that had been bothering me have finally achieved clarity. Yay! I got to thinking about how the revision process illuminates some aspects of my own character.

1. It's funny how sometimes our characters' lives parallel our own. Merrit Chase, one of my  protagonists, is an American living in rural Ireland. As I worked through her plot line in an attempt to get to the heart of her, I started thinking about the concept of "home." This year, for the first time, I bought a house. My very own sanctuary with no shared walls, a blank canvas that I could make all my own. It took me no time at all to feel like I was home. It's a soul thing--for me and for Merrit. As soon as I realized that Merrit was missing a little soul, I knew exactly how to revise her scenes to better bring out her story.

2. I may be having a fantastic time revising now, but you should have seen me a month ago. I might have written a different blog post entirely. At times, I got to wondering: WHY am I putting myself through the ringer like this? What's the point? After all, I'm not motivated by some of the usual things like money, power, and vanity. I mean, I'm a poor and lowly, not to mention disheveled, novelist. I'm joshing, but it's sorta true. So what does motivate me to work through the doldrums and frustrations? Authenticity, connection, and personal achievement. It helped to clarify these for myself. When I do my character development, I call these "core needs."

3. I'm an introvert, to be sure, but I'm less of a lone wolf than I like to think I am. Self-sufficiency is a sham game I play with myself. The truth is, when it comes to my life and also my stories, I can't figure everything out on my own. I've learned this over and over during revisions as I turn to others to provide feedback on my drafts. Sharing is a good thing, risking vulnerability is another good thing. Sometimes it's difficult to cop to my flaws or to my story's flaws, but once I do, the flaws lose their power. Come to find out that I like the communal aspect of the revision process.

4. I hang on to my little darlings for too long. This includes darling notions that I carry around with me that I don't need anymore, like outmoded emotional crutches and avoidance tactics. A writer friend recently said (related to writing), "If you're not sure you should hang on to your little darling, it probably means you should let it go." In my revision, I've been doing quite a lot of darling deletion lately. And you know what? It feels great! Time to take some of that and apply it to my life.

5. I do have pretty good instincts -- I need to trust them more. When it comes to fiction, I sometimes don't know what the exact problem is, only that something's not quite right. I can't let the manuscript be finished because in my heart it's not. The niggling feeling may be related to a plot point or character, anything really. And then, lo and behold, I engage with my community (#3) and receive feedback that gets the A-HA going. I'm vindicated! I wasn't just being a crazy perfectionist or an Eeyore. In my life, the same thing goes: listen to the niggle and trust it.

Recently, I felt the "fill the well" niggle, so next week I'm going to the Oregon coast to relax for a few days before Christmas. Will I work? Oh probably, but only after sleeping (lots of catching up to do!), reading, walking the beach, staring at the waves, and sleeping some more.

Wishing you all the best for a wondrous holiday and happy new year, cheers, Lisa

What do you do to fill the well? How can you tell when you need well-filling?

WHISPERS IN THE MIST is available for preorder here.


Sheila Connolly said...

You have to learn to listen to those voices in your head, even if they're telling you conflicting things. If something (a character, a scene) feels wrong, it probably is.

As for filling the well--I go to Ireland. Sometimes you have to just sit and watch and listen to other people somewhere else. Recently I spent time in the Trinity College library (one of my all-time favorite places) in Dublin sitting on a bench and inhaling the smell of the books, all the while surrounded by a Japanese tour group taking pictures, which I had no trouble blotting out.

And getting your own house is a major step--you have chosen where you belong.

Lisa Alber said...

Hi Sheila! The skill is pinpointing what the problem is, isn't it? Sometimes all I know is that I'm bothered by something; it usually does take outside eyes on the manuscript for me to hone in on the real problem and the solution. I love it when that happens--what a relief!

Can't wait can't wait can't wait to get to Ireland!

It's true--after 20 years living in Oregon, I finally chosen it 100%. Feels good.