This was my view for the last four days. I just returned from 3 nights in Estes Park for the annual Northern Colorado Writers retreat. As opposed to previous years, this retreat for me did not include drunken nights of playing Bananagrams. I must be maturing. Instead, I tallied 27 hours of writing time. Well, editing and revising time. I decided to wipe off the 10 years of dust and grime of an old manuscript and get it up to snuff. I started Bobbing for Watermelons (women’s fiction) back in 2004. Miraculously, (and I say miraculous because holy crap, did it need help) it became a finalist in 2008 for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold Contest. I thought I was golden . . . (see what I did there? I love puns) . . . I figured agents would be clamoring to represent me, but alas, after a round or two of unsuccessful querying, I stumbled into the research for Folsom’s 93. Bobbing got shelved. This retreat turned out to be the perfect time to revitalize the manuscript. I’m certainly not the same person I was ten years ago, let alone the same writer (thank goodness). Here’s what I learned from revising the first 34,000 words (over a third) of the manuscript:
1.) With age, comes new perspectives and insight (ideally), which you can apply to your writing. For instance, my main character is a 41-year-old mother of teenagers. At the time I started the book, I was 27 with a 6-year-old. I feel like now I can relate to my character in ways I couldn’t before, plus, I can add /delete/revise scenes, dialogue exchanges, and subplots based on these new perspectives and insights.
2.) Rookie mistakes are just part of the writing game . . . and man, did I make them. I sent this to agents?! What was I thinking? But hell, aren’t you glad you can catch these mistakes and correct them easily? I can’t tell you how many times my character “nodded her head,” and “shrugged her shoulders.” My critique group calls these “outrages.” So, for you rookies out there, lose “her head” and drop “her shoulders.”
3.) I was able to spot issues much easier than before. Stepping away from a writing project, whether it be 10 days, or 10 years, can give you the time you need in order to see major issues, such as bland characters, wonky pacing or stilted dialogue. I zeroed in on major mistakes that my eyes glazed over before because I was just too close to the project.
4.) My humor was pretty bad. (Not that it’s much better now) but it was really lame 10 years ago. I promise, my jokes are new and improved in this revised version.
All in all, the retreat couldn’t have gone better. In addition to getting in some quality writing time, we got up close and personal with some Estes Park residents:
Got to experience the first snow of the season:
And I also learned that Sarah Reichert is not only a very talented author, but a skillful mashed potato volcano builder as well.
I challenge you to unearth an old manuscript, breathe new life into it—perform CPR if necessary—and see what happens. You might surprise yourself.