Monday, August 29, 2011

Why Hurricane Clean Up is a lot somewhat sort of a little like Revising a Novel

I’ve been in eastern NC for the past twenty years, so I’ve weathered my share of hurricanes—some pretty bad ones too. So when Irene threatened to storm the east coast this weekend, the Miller family battened down the hatches, stocked up on supplies and games, and prepared for Mother Nature to wind whip a few trees and knock out some power.

And that’s basically what happened. And fortunately not much more. My yard boasts fourteen gihugic trees, some way too close to the house. One of those could’ve possibly maybe pummeled my roof. My neighbor’s trampoline (that was tied down, PS) flew Frisbee-style into their neighbor’s fence. A tree across the street splintered into four pieces. And power is still out for at least a quarter of the city. My sustained damage? A blown out window pane, a handful of uplifted shingles. And a LOT of branches, pine cones, and tree debris all over my yard. We lost power for maybe twelve hours. And I spent my Saturday playing board and made-up games, read two books, and well, just spent mucho QT with the fam.

Yeah. It could’ve been so much worse.

But the debris. The yard.


Might as well get this over with.

Eight cups of coffee and three motivational (hair-pulling) cheers later, we (yes, the whole family) took to the yard Sunday morning. Here’s how hurricane clean-up looked at our house.

First round—the big sweep. Move all big branches to the side of the road, cut down any loose ones looking to spear the ground. Easy! I’m motivated. I’m energized! I’m getting the yard cleaned up. This shouldn’t takle long at all. And when I’ve efficiently herded all ginormo tree stalks to the curb, my eyes sweep the yard and

#$%* It’s still a big mess! The big limb absence reveals a gazillion twigs and sticks and branch residue. Ugh. This will take forever.

I suck in a breath, fill my brain with let’s do this chants, and dive in rake first. Twenty minutes later, I’ve picked up lots of limbs here, several prickly (ouch) gumballs there. I scan the grounds and realize I might have conquered an eighth of the front yard.


I take lots of breaks. And the breaks get longer every time. I snack—a LOT. I clean debris in the front yard for what seems like forever, and when I realize I’ve barely made a dent, I switch to the backyard. Then, I take the yard sections at a time. And when I get to a pine straw area, I skip it, vowing to come back to it later.

Finally, I think I might possibly maybe be done. I look out over my yard. And see nothing but tons of gumballs and pine cones.

#$%* again.

I enlist help. Friends help restore shingle loss. I pay my children a penny for every pine cone they pick up. Had they more fortitude, I would have probably owed them fifty dollars.

And then the yard is done. No, like immaculate. Like I can’t possibly do anything else to make it cleaner. And that’s when I see that small cluster of missed pine cones in the far recesses of my backyard. The ones no one will see. If I pick them up, will anyone really notice the difference? Will I?

Kind of how I am when I dive into revisions. Editing follows a big break, so I’m usually super motivated to get back to my novel and make the necessary revisions. I start with a big sweep—make big changes, cut scenes that don’t drive the plot, nip unnecessary dialogue, bury characters who end up having no significance whatsoever—aka, get rid of the obvious crap.

But it’s still in need of cleaning. So, I use round two for a second grammar check and word cutter. I replace adverbs with stronger verbs or meatier dialogue. I reduce my “that” count (again). I add those commas I ALWAYS forget with my independent clauses. I lose a few em-dashes and ellipses. And then I read through my story and realize I still have a long way to go.

So, I take a break. Sometimes many breaks. I edit scenes at a time, skip over ones I know will take a week to fix. I break my heart as I kill off darlins and scenes I thought I could never part with. I rewrite entire chapters. I rewrite the entire beginning.

And when I can’t do anymore, I call in my critique partners to help. They eliminate words and clean stuff I couldn’t see because I’d looked at the story one too many times.

Finally, after months years of revising, I know I’m finished when I read through my story and the only thing that bugs me is that one word or one bit of dialogue that won’t make a difference whether it’s in there or not.

In a few weeks, I’ll be revising my hot mess of a WIP. And here’s where revisions are not at all like hurricane clean-up. I’m totally STOKED about diving heart-first back into revisions. I had to clean up a couple of chapters for a conference I’m attending in October—so much fun! I love revisions! Yes, it’s a lot of hard work, painful at times, but I absopositively love digging deep into the roots of my story and layering it with richness, adding flavor to characters and to the plot that don’t always come in the rough draft. And even though I HATE killing off scenes I slaved over and characters I fell in love with—the end result is priceless. I love reading back over an almost nearly finished product and seeing all the blood, sweat, and tears come to (somewhat) immaculate fruition.

I don’t feel the same way about my yard. Personally, I probably would’ve just left its fate to the wind, but I don’t want my kids tripping over annoying gumballs.

I hate hurricane clean-up, but I really do love revisions. For me, revisions is where I can breathe life into my characters and into my manuscript. And poof. It transforms into a book. Like a magical fairy tale with a happily ever after.

What’s YOUR favorite part about writing? About revisions? Or (gasp) cleaning?


  1. What a great analogy. I'm happy that nothing worse than a some singles lifting and a window pane broken happened to you.

  2. Yep, I can easily see how hurricane clean-up can be related to revising.

    My favorite part of writing is...writing. Revisions are hard for me, a process I'm still learning how to do. But like all things (cleaning included) looking back on the result, the finished product, makes the effort all worth while.

  3. love this analogy... but I've been ignoring my yard for the sake of my revisions!
    I do love the fun of putting those words on the page the first time, but I also enjoy cleaning them up again and again (but it never feels like it's "over").

  4. I love this, Alison!

    I'm a big fan of revising. I love taking a mess and making sense out of it. But I definitely have to be in the right mindset to do it. There's lots of procrastination going on before I get there, but when I do... watch out, manuscript!

  5. I love cleaning (probably not a yard after a hurricane though--just inside). And my favorite part of revisions is getting the plot in order and making sure the characterizations are good. I hate line editing.
    Glad you and your family were safe!

  6. Love this analogy. If I had to pick something to align with revisions, it would be cleaning/organizing our very overpacked apartment.

  7. Wonderful (and timely) analogy. Glad you weathered the storm, and good luck with those upcoming revisions!

  8. First, let me say I'm so glad Irene was somewhat kinder to you than the news was saying.

    Second, WOW! You know a lot about writing that I DO NOT know...I'm thinking I need to be very nice to you and bribe you with sweet words so that you will love me and want to help me when I get to that stage (revision/editing) of writing my novel! ;)

    I love that you write about writing...I'm learning a lot so please, KEEP IT COMING!


  9. Great post. I'd never thought to make the connection. It's so true too--you start big and pare your way down. And I know when I look at a scene, chapter, etc., and I know there are problems with it but I can no longer see them, it's time for someone else to take a look.
    By the way, maybe the next time a hurricane hits, suggest to your neighbor to flip over their trampoline (since it sounds like they tied it down but still upright). That's how we always handled it! :)

  10. This analogy rules... I love how you turn everything back to writing. Win.

  11. I heart cleaning, except laundry. That's never fun. The only reason cleaning is fun to me, is because the visible difference is always apparent and not so with writing. I fixed chapter X but the rest of the book is a mess. Lot harder to see the frustrating progress at a big picture level.

  12. Great post and great analogy! At this point I'm the only one who has seen what I've written thus far, but I look forward to having other eyes look it over. Then I can dive into the cleanup "heart-first", as you put it.
    P.S. Glad the damage wasn't too bad for you guys after the storm!

  13. Glad you are safe!

    I love revision but I swear, I feel like every time I am almost done cleaning the yard, another hurricane comes through!

  14. I love your analogy! So much work after a big storm (for me it was a Typhoon). And I'm about to begin Edit #11 on one of my WIPs.

  15. Yep, it's a messaay job, but somebody's got to do it--post hurricane and post draft #1.

    Glad you and your family are safe, now on to that really dangerous rewrite.

    Thanks for stopping in at the Write Game during the Campaign. Appreciated the visit.

  16. Nice comparison! :D
    What I love the most about writing is the second draft. Because I've already "vomited" all the words and now I'm starting to make it pretty. :D
    I have no favorite thing about cleaning, lol.

  17. Yes, glad you are safe. What a lot to clean up!

  18. I have yet to revise anything longer than a few thousand words. That is one thing that I both dread and look forward to. Not only will it be extreme work since I have to rewrite most of my WiP anyway, but it will be exciting to see it transform into something that is worth reading=)

    And as for cleaning... Yeah, not so good at that=)

    I'm glad you made it through Irene fairly unscathed.

  19. Wow, sounds like you had a hefty yard clean up job. I'm glad nothing serious happened to your house and that you and your family are well!

    I knew I was done with revision on my last project when I was doing tiny little nit-picky OCD tweaks on things that did nothing for the manuscript and were only making me crazy. A CP told me that none of the things I was describing to her would make or break the ms, and that I should just leave it alone already. :)

  20. Congratulations! You've earned a blogger award! Swing by and pick it up. :)

    And my favorite part about writing is creating something out of nothing and I do like the revision process a little, but definitely not the editing part! :)

  21. What a great way to put revision into relatable terms...not that we have hurricanes in TN! I love to revise, too, though.

  22. Great analogy. Sadly, while I grant that both of them are vital, I dislike both jobs. But since revisions are the only thing that can make me want to clean the house, I figure that makes them a good thing on balance.


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