Monday, March 23, 2009

The Dreaded R Word

My guest today is, Aussie author Annie West is a bestselling author for Harlequin Presents/Modern/Sexy. Annie discusses her love/hate relationship with revisions and what she calls "hardest part of your writing life"; the waiting.


People talk about being in deadline hell and I sympathise, oh boy, do I sympathise. But finishing the book isn’t the end of the story. I wish it was! Often there are those r…r…(oh go on and don’t be a wimp)…those REVISIONS.

I have a friend who tells everybody she loves revisions. They give her the chance to make the book the best it can be. I understand the sentiment. I spend so many hours slaving over a hot manuscript, trying to make it the best I can get it, of course I agree. I still think my friend is odd. Odd? Let me be frank – I think she’s loony.

I like the result of the revisions – a polished story. But the process? Argh!

I love the first set of revisions. It’s wonderful to sit in a comfy chair away from the computer with a manuscript, a red pen and a cup of coffee. I’ve achieved something. There’s sparkling dialogue, sexual tension, page turning chapter endings and…OK, maybe a few things that need changing. But I feel great when I work out how to fix them.

I get back up from my friend, historical author Anna Campbell, who reads my manuscripts as I read hers. I rely on her to find things that never occurred to me. What? Me get too close to my work?

Finally I send the story to my editor and wait. No one told you before you sold that waiting would be the hardest part of your writing life, did they? She’ll love the book. After all, I think it’s terrific and I’m an expert on this story.

Funny how editors see our work differently. Call it distance. Or an understanding of the market and reader expectations. Of all the books I’ve sold to Harlequin Presents only one got through without revisions.

Why do I con myself there’ll be no request for changes?

The email comes setting out areas to improve. Problems here. Possible solutions. I read and my head spins. My mind goes blank. If I change that thread so much else will have to change. Easy revisions are cutting word count, getting rid of a secondary character, losing a chapter (can you tell I write long?). Harder ones involve rejigging themes and motivation.

I spread the hard copy on the dining room table. It takes me days to work through the implications. I highlight major points, underline specific changes, query others till I think I know how to bring it off. I have a scrawled list of ‘to do’s’. Post it note reminders multiply as each change has consequences elsewhere. I write new sections, hoping I can hold it all in my head. Hoping I can bring it off. It’s a mess of notes, new dialogue, altered timelines and haphazard memos. At some point it doesn’t feel like my story but a maelstrom. Finally it settles into shape and…I think it works. I don’t believe it though because I’ve been to hell and back reshaping it and I’ve lost perspective.

Then I wait. Word comes that my editor loves it. Whew! I want to celebrate but I’m pooped.

Then the longer wait. Eventually the book is out and a reader contacts me. She loves the characters and lost herself in the story. Really? Those revisions worked after all.

I think about the story I’m writing now and realise it’s so much better. A corker of a story. This time there’ll be no revisions. I’m confident!

Aussie author Annie West is a bestselling author for Harlequin Presents/Modern/Sexy (depending on which country you’re in). She gets a kick out of going to Australian writer and reader conferences where she gets described as ‘a Sexy author’! She’s won and been shortlisted for several reader awards and is just about to start work on what she hopes will be her 11th book for Harlequin. Annie loves her work, spending days fantasising about gorgeous men and their love lives. It’s a hard job but she has no regrets. Annie lives with her family on the east coast of Australia between the Hunter Valley’s world class wine country and some of the state’s best beaches.

Her next releases are The Desert King’s Pregnant Bride (Harlequin Presents Extra in North America in April) and Blackmailed Bride, Innocent Wife (Mills and Boon Modern in the UK in May). You can read excerpts of her books or enter contests to win new releases on her