Thursday, December 15, 2011


Myths about Writing Novels

I’m working on my second novel with Laura Kelly, my eagle-eyed and talented editor from The Wild Rose Press.  I’ve been a serious author for ten years, but daily, my suppositions about writing and publishing get blown to smithereens.  

Myth #1  Stories pop out of a writer’s head, like Venus from the clamshell, fully formed.

So not true.  Stories might pop out of my experiences and my imagination in mysterious ways, but they are rarely fully formed.  No.  It’s up to me to sculpt the story myself, then grab an assorted group of critics to give me a feel for how my plot and characters play out for them.  More rewriting after that.  More critics.  More rewriting.  One final critique, then I’m ready for submission.

Myth #2  Once the novel is submitted, it is ‘fully formed.’

Don’t you wish!  From what I understand, publishers expect a novel to be 85% to 95% complete.  Makes sense to me.  Still, the editing of that 5% to 15% of the novel is a challenging, complex process, guided by an astute editor and a willing writer.  I have never worked so hard as I have on my story under the tutelage of my editor.  This is the nuance stage, the chance to perfect a novel.  Think word by word, sentence by sentence, scene by scene.  My editor and I rethink the whole book, making sure that the whole is truly the best sum of its parts.

Myth #3 Revision is painful…editor as dentist, writer as patient, book as a pesky root canal.

Definitely not true.  I love revising my novels under the watchful eye of my editor.  This is the ultimate experience of an artist…the big league, the BIG show.  As much as I adore my cadre of armchair critics, it’s in the capable hands of my editor that I feel the Venus of my story rising to perfection.   My editor knows my market, she gets my book and after years of editing, she also understands how to help a writer like me manage the tough job of revision.

Any thoughts about my myths?  Do you have more to add?  Am I nuts that I love revision so much?


Sheila Tenold said...

Rolynn, I'm with you when it comes to story revisions. I can spend hours revising a scene until I realize I've switched back to my original lines!

That's when I know it's time to stop. Outside criticism and editorial advice are what makes a story shine. Thanks for the excellent post.

Ana Morgan said...

I'm editing now, trying to get to the 90% level before I submit. It's hopeful to learn there are editors who help you across the finish line. I know of publishers who don't invest in the editing process.

Dawn Marie Hamilron said...

Enjoyed reading your post,Rolynn. I hope to be in this situation someday. I believe I'll enjoy the final editing process.

Dawn Marie Hamilron said...
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Scotti Cohn said...

Write... er... RIGHT on all counts, Rolynn. I often tell children in my school visits that I have hundreds of ideas for stories/books. Coming up with an idea is never a problem. The difficulty/challenge comes with turning the idea into a story that *works* in terms of plot, voice, characters, intended audience, and so forth. So far, I have not found revision to be unpleasant when directed by a talented editor.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Hi, everyone. I've been on the road today...just got home to all your nice comments. Good point on starting to chase one's tail, Shiela. It's a definite sign to stop. Ana, I'm truly amazed at the investment of my editor in my work...sometimes I think she knows my book better than I do! Keep at it, Dawn Marie. Writing is all about perserverence. And you're right about the upside of revision, Scotti. To have one other person who cares a lot about a book she didn't even write...I'm so grateful! Here's to busting up those myths about writing!

Jill James said...

When I got my first revisions from my editor at TWRP I cried. 1)it seemed like so many things were wrong, why did they buy it in the first place? 2)having not done professional edits before I was at a loss of where to start. Finally, I sat down and did all the ones that were no-brainers; typos, grammar, wrong words until I was ready to move onto characterization and the necessity of scenes or not.

Mona Risk said...

Rolyn, although I never had revisions to do for my editors, only editing here and there, I don't mind the editing. Actually, I have to force myself to stop editing and trying to find a better verb or sentence. You have a wonderful editor. Enjoy her editing.

Josie said...

I'd rather revise any day than stare at a blank page, which I find very intimidating when I write.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Jill, I know just what you're talking about. My editor is spare with the plaudits...same thing as you thought...makes me wonder what I did well. This is a thick-skinned business, I tell you. We have to be soooo tough!

You're right, Mona. I have a great editor. And Josie, I'm with you about blank pages...they are the worst!