Monday, January 16, 2012

    Revisions, Revisions: Internet Creep and The Dread Pile

    I finished the first draft of a YA book in October (I'll call it Book #1). But, then I put Book #1 in the trunk so I could focus on NaNoWriMo in November, during which I wrote about half of a first draft of another book (Book #2).

    And then . . . December came along and I trunked both books so I could spend my winter break revising my 90-page reading packet, which I did, and read a lot of books, which I did. I also wrote some short stories and jotted down a lot of ideas for future pieces. I reread that first draft of Book #1, but I didn't do any revising of it. I just took notes, and schemed in my head. 

    Finally, January hit, and it was time to start revisions for Book #1. It all began innocently enough. I curled up in my writing zone with my laptop, pulled up the latest file of the draft, and got to work. Those first few days of revisions were glorious: The coffee maker was going strong, its percolating made fine background music for my work. My husband made sure I was stocked with enough cream and sugar to last a lifetime, thanks to some Costco purchases. And the book! Oh, the book. I was really enjoying it. This was a good sign.

    But then, after a while, it happened. Internet Creep. We've all experienced it. Some of you might be experiencing it right now, using this blog post as an excuse to let your very own Internet Creep ooze in a bit closer. See, the problem with revising on a laptop, for me at least, is that this is the very same tool with which I access the Internet.

    When I reached the first Hairy Moment in my revising process, what did I do? Did I dive into it, comb in hand, to tease out the knots? Um, no. I gave a deep sigh, minimized the document window, and opened up Firefox. In less than five minutes, I had downloaded four free books for my Kindle, retweeted seven tweets about free books, read both my work and personal emails, and started a draft of a new blog post.

    Something had to give. The Internet was creeping in, and fast.

    So, I did what most of us do when faced with a conundrum nowadays: I Googled it. How do you deal with Internet distractions when revising your novel? (Yes, yes, I know you don't have to write your Google search terms in complete sentences. My husband reminds me of that all. the. time. I like it, okay?)

    The search brought me to some great blog posts about my exact problem, and they all offered the same solution: Print out your manuscript, and edit it by hand. 

    I knew the Internet sages were going to say that.

    I wasn't so sure I was really cut out for handwritten revisions, so pfbbbbtted their advice, clicked out of Firefox, and went back to my manuscript.

    Which . . . lasted for about ten minutes. Then some fleeting thought about an email I didn't return crowded into my mind, and there it was again, Internet Creep, creeping into my revision time. That was when I started making bargains with myself, which we all know is the clearest sign of desperation. Revise an additional 10% of the book today, or print it out tomorrow. No exceptions. Man, am I rigid.

    So, with renewed energy I went back to my manuscript, and I actually had a good run. For a bit. And then I looked over and saw my cat Manny looking Cuter Than Ever on his favorite pillow, so I rushed to grab my camera and snap a picture. And then I had to share the picture with everyone I know, of course, so I uploaded it to iPhoto, and then to Facebook, and then . . . twenty minutes later I was reading some article about a reality TV star I had never even heard about and her incredible weight loss. And that's when I knew. I would have to print the manuscript, because the Internet Creep was just too overwhelming.

    Look at those paws. I mean, could you have resisted?
    So, I told my long-suffering husband my new plan: "Honey, after our workout, can we stop at Kinko's so I can print my 328-page manuscript? It will only cost about $37. I know I could save the money, but the Internet is too distracting, so I can't do it on my laptop." In his usual fashion, he supported me without question, and if he rolled his eyes he hid it well enough, because I didn't see it.

    Confident that I had finally solved my problem, and would be in Revisions Happyland shortly, I headed out to the gym with my jump drive tucked into my wallet. We worked out, and then went to Kinko's, where they gladly took our $37 to print my document. It all went down without a hitch, confirming my good feeling that this was the right choice for me.

    I rode home hugging the box on my lap. It was an exciting thing to see my entire draft printed out for the first time, it made the whole thing seem so real. I felt the same way when I got my first pair of ballet slippers--my mom bought me this matching plastic pink carrying case, and all the way home I held it tight against my chest and thought, "One day I will be a famous ballerina, and I'll remember this moment, when I got my first pair of slippers."

    Okay, well, that didn't really work out for me, the whole ballerina thing . . . but this time it will be different.

    It was late by the time we got home, so I slipped the manuscript box onto a high shelf, and went to bed with visions of revisions dancing in my head. Tomorrow will be the day. Tomorrow I will sit, hunched over the manuscript, and mark that baby up like it's a hastily written freshman essay.

    So, today is the tomorrow of which I dreamt, and here I am, NOT revising. Of course I'm not revising, I'm writing a blog post! And it's turning out to be a long and boring post, so I'm taking my time doing it.

    You may be asking Why? Why are you not revising?  What happened to all that resolve?

    Oh, I'll tell you why. No, better yet--I'll show you:

    Do you see the size of that thing? It looks like a full ream of paper! That thing is so heavy, I can't even hold it in one hand for fear of getting carpal tunnel.

    I can't revise that monster!

    And what's worse: it looks like The Pile! But a terrible, horrible version of The Pile, because it's not other people's writing, it's my own! All of those writers who doled out their sage advice to revise first drafts by hand must not be English teachers, because every English teacher knows that the easiest way to discourage another English teacher from reading something is to make it resemble The Dread Pile. We spend decades perfecting the high art of moving The Pile around from one spot to another to create the illusion that it has been examined or altered in some way. But all we really do is add to The Pile and use it as a target for all of our misguided frustration. Spilled your coffee on the way in to work? Give the pile a good rough slam on the desk before you head out to your first class. There, isn't that better?

    I can't revise a manuscript that looks like The Pile. Especially not one that looks like the Worst Type of Pile, one that's filled with papers students didn't staple together because they couldn't be bothered. Those piles are The Worst. You can't even rough them up too much for fear that the pages will fly and then when you're absolutely forced to read them you won't know which pages belong to each other.

    So, here I am, sitting with my coffee in front of a monster manuscript that is the stuff of nightmares for an English teacher. It appears that, in this case at least, the Internet Creep has nothing on The Dread Pile. So it's back to laptop revisions for me.

    So, in that case: I'll see you on Twitter in ten.

    What about you? How do you revise? Electronically? With a printed Pile, I mean, manuscript? Post-its? Highlighters? Do tell. I'm desperate, don't you know?

    ****Edited on 1/18 to add:

    Okay, I'm back to share an unexpected bonus of a-printed-draft-that-is-all-too-reminiscent-of-The-Dread-Pile: It has been beckoning to me ever since I brought it home. In fact, it reminds me of my Pit Bull Bailee, who craftily rests her rounded muzzle on my knee and stares up at me with silent, yet pleading, eyes in an attempt to distract me from a book and get in a good bout of tug-of-war. I can't deny those eyes. I always put down the book and grab my end of that soppy rope toy. She always wins.

    And so does The Printed Draft. I keep it on the bar in our dining room, where it sits all quiet and prim in its neat little box. But there's nothing subtle about it. Oh, no. I see it staring at me as I move through the house, persistent in its patient knowledge that I will relent. And I do.

    Behold! The heretofore unknown powers of The Printed Draft!


    Janiera said...

    Loved this article! The internet creep can be so horrible sometimes.I can't imagine revising on paper like that because paper is so much more daunting. I honestly let myself do 50 minutes of revision with 10 minutes of internet surfing without guilt. It may seem to frequent but it really helps to take breaks that doesn't make editing or writing stale and leaves me guilt free.

    Lori Oster said...

    Thanks, Janiera!

    I like your 50 minutes on/10 minutes off plan. I'm going to try it tonight. I'll let you know!

    My friend Jen recommended I go somewhere that doesn't have Internet access, which is something else I might have to try. But do those places exist anymore? We are all so tuned in.

    Julia Tomiak said...

    How about breaking the big job down into smaller parts? Pull the first chapter off of THE PILE, set the pile off to the side, and focus on the one chapter. Twenty pages or so should look less daunting!

    Lori Oster said...

    Julia--THAT is a great idea! I think I'm going to hide the rest of the pile in my craft room, beneath all of the pretty papers I never use. I'm REALLY good at forgetting about everything in there.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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