Revising Leah

May 14, 2008

Progress Report #1

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 10:29 am
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Since my last post, I’ve been working on two things:  Leah’s Egypt report and chapter 1.

Writing Leah’s report has been a little trickier than I thought, not because, as I suggested before, that it is hard to capture her writing voice, but because I have very precise requirements about how long her report should be.  In the novel, each group is allotted 15 minutes for the group’s presentation, so Leah and her four partners decide to divide that time up equally, meaning that Leah has to prepare a 3 minute report.  I’ve always worried about this, because in my experience, I know that a 3 minute report really isn’t very long at all.  I was worried that all I was asking Leah to write was a mere paragraph, which doesn’t seem like a very substantial contribution to a big project like this.

Based on what I have drafted so far for Leah’s report, I see that a 3-minute report will be about 200-250 words long.  If written out by hand on notebook paper, that would fill about one page. I think that sounds like enough work, especially for a ninth grader, so I feel a lot better about this aspect of the story.

I’ve also been working on revising chapter 1. I’ve always liked the first chapter of Leah because the reader gets to see Leah in action right away. We meet Leah and her mother as the two of them are hitting the last two stops of a morning of garage sale shopping. Leah is searching for some new books to read, and Mrs. Nells has a plan to try to force her daughter to interact more with other people and break out of her shyness.  In the first chapter, we not only see the depth and degree of Leah’s shyness, and thus learn a lot about her as a character, but we also are introduced to the main conflict of the story: the shame that Leah feels because she is told, again and again, that there is something wrong with her, that her shyness is something terrible which she must overcome.

Just because I’m starting with chapter 1, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to proceed linearly through the novel.  I’ll probably skip around, working on whichever chapter I’m in the mood to work on. I want to make the revising process as enjoyable as possible so that I will be motivated to continue, and one way that I can do that is to allow myself the freedom to work on any portion of the story that I wish.

May 11, 2008

Next Step

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 9:18 am
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Well, I just finished reading the novel. The purpose of this first stage was to get a “lay of the land” — to see what I have to work with as I begin revising. It’s been years since I read the whole novel straight through. As I expected, it was pretty bad in some places. Some passages left me shaking my head, wondering what I was thinking when I originally wrote them. But as bad as the novel is in some places, I never got the sense that it was beyond repair. The novel may be a bit of a wreck, but it isn’t totaled. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I know I can do it. I’m as excited as ever to be working on the book.

My next step will be a relatively easy one: I’m going to break the chapters down into smaller chapters. The 1996 draft of Leah consisted of 12 chapters, the longest one being chapter 8, which is over 30 pages long. Looking back over some of my early writing, I find I organized drafts in that way quite often. When I wrote a long story, it would consist of 10-15 chapters that were very long and crammed full of story. I guess I had some sort of aversion to writing short chapters; maybe I thought that I was slacking if I wrote a chapter that was only 5 or 6 pages long. The Spring used to be like that too. The first draft of that novel was only 9 chapters and an epilogue long (9 chapters in 200 pages). The published version of The Spring, however, consists of 26 chapters and an epilogue because, when revising that novel, I thought it made more sense to break those big chapters into smaller, easier-to-read chunks. I think Leah would benefit from the same treatment. If nothing else, it might make the book easier for me to revise. Psychologically speaking, a chapter that is only 5 or 6 pages long just seems like an easier revision task than trying to take on a massive 20- or 25-page chunk of text.

Another reason why the 1996 draft consisted of only 12 chapters is because it was part of the “time” motif that I was trying to incorporate into the story. Throughout the book, I wanted to create the sense that time was running out for Leah. She was growing up, coming closer and closer to adulthood (and all of its responsibilities) every day. It’s one thing for a child to be extremely shy, but it is much harder for an adult to live that way. She was also running out of time in terms of her school life. She has only a limited amount of time in which to spend with David Parks, for example, and to make an impression on him before their history project is due. And, as I emphasize in the final chapter, winter is fast approaching, which will soon force Leah away from the patio table where she felt comfortable spending her lunchtime hours.

(I also did a lot of other things to call attention to the time motif in the novel, such as identifying the exact times in which events occurred. Reading through the 1996 draft again, I’m not sure if I like those little details; I feel as though I’m keeping minutes in a committee meeting.)

So in terms of this time motif, “12” signified the 12 numbers on the clock face, but of course this is a rather contrived way of breaking up the novel. It just doesn’t work, so I think the best thing to do is to break the chapters down still further. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up with 24 chapters!

May 4, 2008

Mixed Feelings

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 3:25 pm
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I just finished reading chapter five. There are twelve chapters in the 1996 draft, so I am making good progress. In the original draft, the chapters ran rather long, so what I will probably do eventually is break some of them down into smaller chapters, but that stage is still a ways off.

When I read, I experience a combination of disappointment and excitement. I’m disappointed because the text is just as badly written as I feared it was (although I found that chapter five wasn’t as bad as the previous chapters). But I’m also excited because I know that I can fix this novel. The book still makes me cringe in places, but it won’t be like that for much longer.

I’m so eager to make corrections that I find myself adding sentences or rewriting sentences as I read. At this stage, I’m only supposed to be highlighting the obvious trouble spots, but I’m so anxious to revise that I can’t help but make the occasional change here and there.

Some writers claim that the revising stage is the most interesting and exciting. I never used to believe that, but after my experience last summer while finishing The Spring, and now this experience with Leah, I’m starting to understand what those writers are talking about. Yes, revising is a lot of work and it can sometimes be painful, but it can be exciting too.

May 1, 2008

Starting Point

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 2:33 pm
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There are several ways that I can go about revising Leah, depending on which text I care to use. One option is to use the published text itself and literally re-write the whole thing. That might be effective, but it would also be very time-consuming and, frankly, boring. I have a number of copies of the book lying around, and — interestingly — it seems that there are still some copies for sale (though I’m not sure who is selling them).

Instead, the text that I am revising is the version of Leah that I submitted to the publisher. It isn’t quite the same text that was ultimately published because I made a number of changes while reviewing the galleys, but it’s close enough, and besides, I predict I’ll be making a lot more changes to the text than I made to the galleys.

If you want to follow along or just see what the big deal is all about, there’s no need to buy one of the few copies still floating around in the wild. Just download this PDF to see the 1996 version.

What I plan to do is re-read the text, and as I read, I’ll highlight words, sentences, and whole passages that I’m not happy with and that need to be revised. I’m guessing this first stage of the revision process will take about a couple of weeks.

Of course, I will keep you posted. . .

April 30, 2008

The Story of Leah

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 6:25 pm
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In 1996 I self-published a novel titled Leah. The story was about an extremely shy teenage girl trying to deal with the social pressures of her first year in high school. I liked the story and I liked the character; in fact, she remains one of my favorite characters that I have ever created.

As with most self-published books, Leah didn’t sell very well, but that was all right. I’ve never considered creative writing to be a path towards fame and fortune. I write, first and foremost, for myself. What did leave me disappointed, though, was that I felt like I rushed the novel to publication. Looking back on the text now, I’m not at all satisfied with it. The story is awkwardly written in places, so much so that I sometimes cringe when I read from it. The 1996 version of the story doesn’t do me justice as a writer, and — more importantly — it doesn’t do the character of Leah Nells justice. She deserves a better written story than the one that I placed her in.

In the wake of that disappointment, I swore that someday I would return to the story, revise it, and publish it again. The nice thing about self-publishing is that I hold all of the rights to the book, so if I want to self-publish it again, I can. What is somewhat more unusual is the notion of drastically revising a book that has already been published. The idea isn’t completely unheard of, especially in nonfiction writing, but it is uncommon in fiction (although Leon Forrest is one author who comes to mind).

Last year, I spent my free time during the summer and fall finishing up another novel, The Spring, which I published last January through Lulu.com. I’m very proud of The Spring, in part because I really took the time to write it the way I wanted it. Having finished The Spring, I’ve decided that now is the time to return to Leah, revise the story, and publish it again.

So that’s my project for this summer, and I’ve decided to create this blog to document Leah’s revision. I’ve never laid bare my writing process in this way before, so I find it rather exciting. You, of course, are welcome to join me.

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