The Art of Revisions

Since I’m currently working on revisions to my upcoming fourth book, I thought I would make my return to blogging by talking about revisions and sharing some (hopefully!) helpful tips. I’ve been known to say that revising is my favorite part of the process – though I also love drafting something new, there’s something especially exciting about getting in there and polishing the words you’ve already written to make them shine, about adding new scenes that you couldn’t have dreamed up the first time around, about tightening and fleshing out plot threads, about beefing up your character arcs and characterization and really making the characters real, flesh-and-blood people. And since I know I can get in there and revise until the cows come home, it lets me loosen up a bit while drafting and helps me shut off my inner editor. Once you get it down, you can always fix it later, but you can’t fix a blank page!

I used to be way more intense about revisions than I am now. My agent loves this story: when I was revising The Violinist of Venice, I typed out each draft manually. The entire thing. As in, I printed out the first draft, put it in a binder, and had it next to me on the desk, and retyped every single word for the second draft. Then I did the same thing again for the third. Retyping it all each time forced me to really consider each and every word and whether it was necessary, and whether it was the best word choice.

Needless to say, this method took forever (especially since the earlier drafts of Violinist were WAY longer than the final draft), and as such, I don’t revise that way anymore. What with now having deadlines to meet, I don’t have that much time to take on a round of revisions. I’m glad I did it, since as an exercise it most definitely made me a better writer and honed my skills, but it’s just not practical at this point in my writing career, nor perhaps as necessary given the experience I’ve gained since then. That’s not to say I wouldn’t ever retype portions of a manuscript again if I was feeling very stuck, so I DO recommend this method on the whole (if you have the time, that is).

My current process, then, looks like this: I start a new Word document for the new draft, then I’ll copy and paste a chapter or two at a time from the original draft into the new document; I read through it, and make whatever changes/deletions are necessary. New chapters/scenes/what have you are just written directly into the new document. The research never ends, of course; I’m always looking up or confirming things as I go. That’s happening a ton with book 4, as most of the plot is centered around actual historical events. I mapped those out (in terms of dates, who was involved, etc.) for the most part when I made the outline for the book, but with changes being made and new information added, I’m doing a lot of double checking, or looking up things I didn’t initially realize I needed to know.

When I’m drafting, there are things I know I’ll have to flesh out more or perhaps tighten in revisions, but part of tuning out my inner editor is pushing all that to the side and just getting the draft done. So as I draft I often make notes of those points for myself, so that when it comes time for revisions I remember any problem areas. The notes also help when I send the draft to my agent and critique partners – I usually provide them with a list of specific things I’d like feedback on, such as whether a plot point is working, whether a characters actions are believable and make sense, if a certain plot thread needs to be fleshed out more, whether I accomplished a specific thing, etc. The list goes on. It helps me push certain concerns aside when I’m drafting to know that I can run it past some fresh eyes later on. Sometimes the things I think are concerns actually are working way better on the page than I thought; sometimes I’m spot on about what’s working and what’s not. And sometimes my critique partners find issues I wasn’t even aware of! That’s why they’re great to have. You can never see your own work completely objectively, so those fresh, outside eyes are key.

With that said, though, I do have to let my drafts site for at least a month before I can start to revise. The distance gives me some measure of objectivity that I can’t have when I’m up to my elbows in it all the time. If I can let it sit longer, that’s even better (and usually I do, to give my agent/critique partners time to read). I always make sure to build that time into the process when working out deadlines with my publisher. Indeed, when drafting OR revising, part of the reason I never work every day is that I find it really helpful to just take a couple days off here and there as I go, to get my mindset at least a bit more fresh when I come back to it.

With book 4, I spent most of my energy in the outline and first draft getting all of the historical events worked out and in place. One of my narrators is a real historical figure, and one is not, so I had to make sure I knew where the former was and what he was doing at any given time (and if I wanted to deviate from the historical record, to figure out what he was doing instead and why/if the change was really necessary) and then fit the latter narrator into those actual events. It was a lot to juggle, so one of my big focuses for this revision is to flesh out the characterization of the fictional narrator, as she fell a bit by the wayside at times in the first draft. So far this is going really well, and she is coming much more to life then she did in the first draft. She’s becoming more complicated and nuanced, and I love her even more now!

I’m also making a big addition of a new plot point, based on a series of actual historical events that occurred that I left out of the first draft. These particular events were actually a pretty big deal historically speaking, but my problem when working on the first draft was that they occurred around the same time as something else that happened, and which I made the emotional climax of the novel. So from a craft/narrative perspective, I couldn’t have both of those things happen at the same time. After the first draft was done, I knew I really needed to figure out how to add the one in, and eventually I figured it out – I’m going to shift the new event to occur sooner than it actually did, before that big emotional climax. This is one of the ways that historical fiction authors can take creative license – these things did occur, but I’m just having them happen at a slightly different point in time. Then I’ll note that change in my author’s note – that best friend of historical novelists – and explain what I changed and why. After all, I’m writing fiction, not a nonfiction, factual account.

I’m also excited for this new plot point because I’ve found what I think will be a great way to insert my fictional heroine into the events, thus fleshing out her story even more. This means, of course, I’ve got more research to do (I’m pretty well-versed in the historical events and context of what I’m adding, but to write about it well I’ll need to do a quick deep dive) but luckily there is lots of information and lots has been written about these particular events and the people involved.

A question I’ve gotten quite a bit – whether when speaking to book clubs or from aspiring/beginning authors – is how do you know when a book is done? When your revisions are done? When it’s ready to submit? How I answer this question for myself is a bit different now than it was when I was working on Violinist and had to decide when to query. Now, when I’ve done a good, solid revision, I’ll send it to my editor, and she and I will continue to revise and make changes together. I don’t ever send my editor a first draft – only my agent and critique partners see those – but something that’s been revised once but is still in need of more polishing. That’s her job, after all – to be yet another set of fresh eyes and find all the things that both I and my critique partners missed, and bring her own unique perspective to it (and believe me, she is GOOD AT IT). I’m leaving lots of notes for her in the manuscript, for questions I have and things I know I want to talk with her about. Book 4 is my most ambitious undertaking yet, and I love challenging myself, but that means this one may need more help than my previous books.

With all that said, though, the question I always ask myself towards the end of the process – and what I asked myself before I decided I was ready to query Violinist is this: Am I actually improving the book, or am I just changing things to change them?

Look, you can revise and make changes forever. It could literally be an endless process if you let it. You’ll never stop coming up with ideas for things to add or change, and every time you read through your work you’ll find something to tweak. Case in point – a few months ago I thought up a really nice description for one of Adriana’s dresses in Violinist, then remembered, oh yeah, that book has been published for over two years now. Your brain always keeps working on those ideas and characters – especially if they’ve been a part of your life for a long time, as that book is for me. Had I thought of that description when I was still working on that book, sure, I would have added it in. Would it have made the book any better as a whole? No. It was just some imagery that I liked. It wouldn’t have changed how readers responded to the book or how well it sells. There’s a really great saying – I can’t remember with whom it originated – that books are never done, they’re only due. I think that sums up revising quite well.

So you see where I’m going with this? You can hang on to a manuscript forever and keep making little tweaks, but at a certain point I think that you stop actually improving the book and are just making it different. And when you hit that point – when you’re just making changes but not necessarily making the book better – that, I think, is when it’s time to stop, lest you get caught in a never ending cycle of revisions. That’s when it’s time to query, or to send it to your agent, or submit it to your editor. That’s when you’re done.

It can be scary to pronounce a book “done” and let it go like that, but remember – until you send those first pass pages back to your publisher, you can still make changes. If you sign with an agent, they’ll have feedback; if the book sells, your editor will have feedback. The book can still be made better, but I think you reach a certain point where you can’t make it any better by yourself. At least, that’s been my experience.

So I am plugging away at the revisions for book 4, and you know what? The first draft wasn’t as bad as I thought it was (it usually isn’t) and, even though this revision was a little rough for a bit, I feel like I’ve hit my stride and I am really, truly improving the book. I’m getting excited thinking about how this one, too, will go out into the world, and about introducing readers to these characters. I’m excited to send it to my editor. This book has been a long journey, and there’s still a lot to do, but I’ve reached that point where, finally, it all seems doable. Where I can see how I can make this book everything I dreamed it would be. And that’s a really great feeling.

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The Violinist of Venice’s One Year Anniversary

As of today, The Violinist of Venice has now been out in the world for exactly a year. It certainly doesn’t feel like that long to me! But the last year has been an incredible, and at times stressful, journey, and I have learned a lot. Having my book baby out in the world – and not something that belonged just to me – was a definite adjustment. I had a lot of anxious feelings for a while before and after the release, knowing that this thing I had created was out in the world for anyone and everyone to read, and that I was now someone with a higher profile in the world, albeit only slightly so. It’s a weird feeling that really does just take some time to adjust to, and I’m sure other authors will be able to relate.

By the same token, I’ve had the privilege to go to many different kinds of author events and meet readers and sign books. I’ve visited book clubs and discussed the novel, and I always come away from those experiences feeling like I’ve learned something new about my own work, as readers are always casting new light on the characters or plotlines or themes in ways that I hadn’t thought about before. I love when that happens! And I’ve had the honor and the joy of hearing from readers from all around the world who have connected with the book in some way. The fact that my words, that this story that I created and wrote down at first just for myself and then worked so hard on, has really meant something to others is truly the greatest gift and pleasure of being a writer.

I have also learned a lot about how to balance my life, my day job, and all the responsibilities that come with being an officially published author. Around release time I was doing a lot of promotional blog posts and interviews about the book, as well as trying to steadily post some fun Violinist-related content here on my own site. Once the book was out I had some events to work into my schedule, and I was also working on edits for The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, as well as drafting a new book. It all takes some juggling, and there were definitely moments when I felt burned out. When that happens, I’ve learned to take a step back from whatever I’m working on as much as I can. As hectic as everything may feel at the time, with competing deadlines and multiple projects, I’ve gotten pretty good at planning out my time and getting everything done.

On the first anniversary of the release of The Violinist of Venice, I want to say thank you to all the readers who have reached out with their kind and thoughtful words; thank you to the booksellers who have sold and promoted the book and invited me to do events in their stores; thank you to all the bloggers who have reviewed the novel and helped spread the word; and thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who bought the book or borrowed it from the library or gave it to a friend or recommended it. I appreciate all of those things more than I can possibly say. Readers are why I can do the thing that I love!

In 2017, of course, I’ll have the release of The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, and I hope that everything that I’ve learned in the last year will serve me well with the release of that book. And I know that at some point in 2017 I will have some more news to share with all of you!

Wishing everyone a very happy holiday season, and I hope you all are staying safe and warm (hopefully with a good book!) Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year!

General Updates

Hi everyone! I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but there’s been a reason for that: I’ve been working, in the last months, on finishing up a draft of my most recent work-in-progress, and then doing some revisions to it. So all my spare time went to that. But I’ve recently finished up work on that and am (trying) to take a bit of a writing break – though that is always easier said than done for me! I know how important it is for me to rest and recharge for a few weeks between projects, but at the same time I always get antsy when I am not writing or revising something.

Some updates on The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: I sent back pass pages for this one over a month ago, so it is officially done and wrapped up! Also, I have ARCs! Follow me on Twitter (if you don’t already) @AlyssInWnderlnd, as I’ll be doing some ARC giveaways coming up. Also, be sure to add the book on Goodreads if you haven’t already, as there will be Goodreads giveaways for some copies as well, and as many of you likely know, if the book is on your to-read shelf you’ll be notified when a giveaway goes live.

In addition, I can confirm that The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is also being published in Australia, again by PanMacmillan Australia. I don’t have an Australian release date to share yet, but as soon as I do I will post it, so stay tuned!

I’ve done a few events and presentations in the Buffalo area in the last few months, both book club events where I got to discuss The Violinist of Venice with readers, and also some presentations where I put together a slide show on the historical context behind the novel. I love sharing the rich and fascinating history of 18th century Venice and of Baroque music, and I also love meeting readers and talking about the book with them, answering their questions and getting their impressions of the novel. Sometimes a reader’s take on a certain aspect of the novel is something I never thought of before, and it allows me to see my own work in a new light. I always love when that happens!

At the moment, as I am on my self-imposed writing break, I’ve been doing a lot of reading now that I have a bit more time. Since it’s October I am deep into my Halloween reading, working through a list of dark and creepy reads. Currently I’m in the middle of three books, and I love all of them so far: Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco, Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey, and Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn.

That’s all the updates I have for now, but check back for new news as I have it, and also some more writing and book related blog posts in the future!

Story & Song: Part 6

Welcome to the sixth and final installment of my blog series that I’m calling Story & Song. Each post will feature two pieces of music: a modern/contemporary song from the playlist of The Violinist of Venice, and a piece of Vivaldi’s music that features in the novel. I’ll describe how both pieces fit into the story with a minimum of spoilers!

Delain – “On the Other Side”

This song, as I’m sure you can hear, is just beautiful. It’s a sad, lovely, and bittersweet song about losing a loved one, about being left behind when they die, and as such it fits perfectly with the epilogue of the novel, as Adriana and Vivaldi say their last goodbyes. I would always play this song when writing/revising/reviewing that final scene in the book, and to me it’s the “rolling credits” sort of song for the book. Even now, every time I hear it I get a little emotional!

 

“Domine deus” from the Gloria in D

In chapter 65 of The Violinist of Venice, Adriana’s children give a concert for their friends and family, and enlist their mother and her best friend, Vittoria, to be the “opening act”, shall we say. Vittoria contacts Vivaldi, her former teacher at the Pieta, for a suitable score for violin and soprano, and what they end up with is this piece, the beautiful soprano solo from Vivaldi’s choral masterpiece Gloria in D, the very famous first movement of which I’m sure most people have heard, even if they didn’t realize it. So Vittoria performs this piece, accompanied by Adriana on the violin (though an oboe is used in this recording for the solo instrumental line). It is an important moment for both of them: for Adriana because she has never really performed before and is able to get a taste of what it is like, and for Vittoria because she gets to return, however briefly, to the performing career that she was forced to give up when she left the Pieta and married. And, of course, it is a lovely piece of music. Vivaldi’s work with the orphan girls at the Pieta meant that he was able to write for the female voice exceptionally well, something that, as a female singer myself, I can personally attest to!

 

This is the last post in my Story & Song series for The Violinist of Venice. If you’ve enjoyed it, though, be sure to stay tuned, as I have something similar up my sleeve planned for closer to the release date of The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence!

Story & Song: Part 6

Welcome to the sixth installment of my blog series that I’m calling Story & Song. Each post will feature two pieces of music: a modern/contemporary song from the playlist of The Violinist of Venice, and a piece of Vivaldi’s music that features in the novel. I’ll describe how both pieces fit into the story with a minimum of spoilers!

Within Temptation – “Forgiven”

This lovely ballad goes with Chapter 68, which I also titled “Forgiven”. It is hard to say too much without giving some of the story away for those of you who haven’t read the novel, but in this scene, Adriana and Vivaldi are meeting again years after the “main events” of the first half of the novel, and Adriana realizes that she no longer bears him a grudge for the wrongs that he did her so long ago. The lyrics of this song fit so perfectly with her thoughts, with their situation, with the history of their relationship. I would always listen to it when revising this scene!

 

“Cosi potessi anch’io” from the opera Orlando furioso

This is the aria performed by Anna Giro in her role as Alcina in Vivaldi’s opera Orlando furioso, in Chapter 67 of the novel. As Anna Giro truly did originate this role, Vivaldi wrote this aria especially for her and for her voice. As you can no doubt hear, it is beautiful and wistful and full of longing. The lyrics of the A section translate roughly to, “If only I could also have with the one I love the peace that my heart cannot find.” In the novel, as Anna sings these words, Adriana reflects on them in relation to her own life.

I have performed this aria several times myself, and I just love singing it. It is fun to sing from a technical aspect, and fits my voice well; it’s also fun from the performance aspect for the emotion I can inject into it. I wanted to learn it because I knew I would need to write a scene such as the one in Chapter 67, and this seemed like the perfect aria. I also loved the feeling of connection that learning and singing this piece gave me to the characters in my novel. When I sang it, I could pretend, for a moment, that I was a part of the story I was writing.

Story & Song: Part 5

Welcome to the fifth installment of my blog series that I’m calling Story & Song. Each post will feature two pieces of music: a modern/contemporary song from the playlist of The Violinist of Venice, and a piece of Vivaldi’s music that features in the novel. I’ll describe how both pieces fit into the story with a minimum of spoilers!

For Part 5 of Story & Song, I’ll be featuring a song that was very important in the writing of the book.

Lacuna Coil – “End of Time”

This is one of my favorite songs of all time, and one that really worked its way into The Violinist of Venice. As soon as I heard this song – on my first listen to Lacuna Coil’s 2012 album Dark Adrenaline – I knew that it perfectly fit the relationship between Adriana and Vivaldi: painful, bittersweet, and full of the knowledge that the end would come soon. This particular song, though, had a direct impact on the book. As I was working on draft two and making revisions to the original draft, one night I was listening to this song as I went over a particular scene. Because of this song, what was originally a lighthearted moment became heartbreaking and raw and real. The scene took a complete left-hand turn on me, and changed somewhat the tenor of things that needed to come after. It was inconvenient initially, but what I realized was this song helped me to see what that scene should have been all along. To this day that is one of my favorite scenes in the novel.

Stabat Mater – Movement 1

This is one of the vocal pieces featured in the novel that I’ve actually performed myself. This is honestly one of my favorite pieces that I’ve ever sung; it’s so beautiful and just felt so effortless to sing. I had to include it in the novel, as I came across it in my research and fell in love with it (and tracked down the sheet music as well!)

In the novel, Adriana hears this piece while attending Mass at the Pieta in chapter 53, and it affects her very profoundly. It also, in a roundabout way, leads to us learning something new about Adriana, though of course I won’t say here what that is!