My comfort zone is outside of my comfort zone. I like to be a little uncomfortable.~ Billie Eilish
Said no author ever.
There is an elephant
in the room on my hard drive. It’s the novel I’ve been working on for almost thirty years. We have a love/hate relationship. I believe it’s the book I was born to write, but I haven’t yet been able to get it into publishable shape. I’ve rewritten that novel from scratch one-and-a-half times. I’ve done so many rounds of revision, and even made such substantial improvements that I wrote three blog posts about revising (see Part I, Part II, and Part III) so that I wouldn’t forget my process. I thought I was really close to done, but a couple of my writer friends very gently told me I wasn’t. Rather than commit suicide, I put it aside to work on a less-challenging story, hoping that getting one in print might give me the impetus to finish my magnum opus. (Ha! We’ll see what happens when I get to the revision stage in the new one . . .)
But in the back of my mind is the worry—what to do, what to do? How can I make that manuscript something I’m proud to put my name on?
And so I keep reading what other people say about revising.
In the article “One Thousand Pages” in the May/June 2021 issue of Poets and Writers,* author and writing instructor J.T. Bushnell wrote:
. . . a friend, Ryan Blacketter, sent me the manuscript of what would become his own first novel, Down in the River (Slant, 2014). I knew he had written only short stories until then, so I was impressed at how well built his novel was—how sturdy its foundation, how varied and efficient its architecture, how high its pinnacle. When I told him how much I admired it, he thanked me, then said, “I’ve thrown away a thousand pages, but none of them were wasted.”
At first I thought he meant the number as hyperbole. Kill your darlings and all that. But he meant it literally, and when I understood this, my reaction surprised me. Rather than feeling intimidated by such a gargantuan number, I felt heartened. All I had to do was write a thousand pages? I might not know how to build a novel, I thought, but I knew how to put my butt in a chair and words on a page.
Bushnell goes on to explain how to add depth and breadth to the novel, but that concept—writing great quantity, way more than you’ll ever need for the book—is resonating with me, something I want to try when I go back to The Unicornologist.
In her article 5 Reasons Your Revision Isn’t Working, Janice Hardy says maybe your story isn’t finished yet, or maybe you don’t really know what your novel is about, among other things.
Anne Lyle offers 10 steps to follow for your novel revision, including writing a summary. She also recommends writing a list of bullet points of key elements in the story (the things that excited you about writing the story in the first place) to keep in front of you during the revision.
And finally, I love this idea from Darcy Pattison: literally shrinking your novel down to 30 pages by single spacing it and reducing the font size, not because you’re going to read it in that form, but because you’re going to spread those pages out and mark them up, according to a careful analysis. I can’t wait to do this.
*I’m sorry, this article isn’t available online, or I would have given you the link. Instead, I’ll plug the magazine. I’ve subscribed to Poets & Writers for a few years now, and it’s excellent. It’s introduced me to many writers I hadn’t heard of previously, and it’s a great source of contest information. Many of its features are available online, but I really appreciate the hard copy format.
Lots of artsy stuff here, and a challenge for YOU to get creative!
- Hidden by linoleum or carpet.
- Tour some of America’s castles.
- Poetry reading. Start with the video included, and click on links for additional readings.
- Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.
- Sweet blog post with some gorgeous photography. Keep reading and scrolling.
- Tips for painting clouds.
- I will be participating in the Index-Card-a-Day challenge in June and July, making a small artwork on a 3×5 card every day. You can too!
- How a painter is like a choreographer.
- Why do we prefer familiar music? The neuroscience behind the riot at the premier of the Rite of Spring.
- Forgive others, and please, forgive yourself.
- A mathematician who turned to watercolor.
- Look at this artist’s wonderful journal paintings.
Kelly deVos is from Gilbert, Arizona, where she lives with her high school sweetheart husband, amazing teen daughter and superhero dog, Cocoa. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. When not reading or writing, Kelly can typically be found with a mocha in hand, bingeing the latest TV shows and adding to her ever-growing sticker collection.
Kelly’s work has been featured in the New York Times as well as on Vulture, Salon, Bustle and SheKnows. Her debut novel, Fat Girl on a Plane, was named one of the “50 Best Summer Reads of All Time” by Reader’s Digest magazine. Her YA dystopian thriller duology, Day Zero and Day One, are strangely prescient of the 2021 political climate in the US. Her next book, Eat Your Heart Out, releases on 6/29/21 from PenguinTeen.
ARHtistic License is thrilled to be able to discuss Kelly’s work with her.
ARHtistic License: Your website proclaims “Fierce reads for the feminist in all of us.” By that, do you mean that your books feature a strong female protagonist, or that you deal with feminist issues?
Kelly DeVos: I have always been interested in girls and woman trying to perform in spaces that are traditionally male dominated. In Fat Girl on a Plane, I tackled the fashion industry. While ostensibly being focused on women, at the highest levels of design and advertising, the fashion decision makers tend to be male. In Day Zero and Day One, my protagonist, Jinx Marshall, is a coder. Computer science is again another space where the major players tend to be male. When I think of fierce feminists, I conceive of girls and women who are trying to be true to their own interests and advocate for themselves.
AL: Your heroine in Fat Girl on a Plane breaks into the New York fashion scene. Your descriptions of working for a designer feel so real. Do you also have fashion experience? Or how did you do your research for the book?
KdV: I worked for many years as an art director and graphic designer including for brands like Roberto Cavalli Eyewear and Tom Ford Eyewear. I worked on a lot of photoshoots over my career and also heard a lot of stories and gossip about the fashion world. So I tried to channel that when writing Fat Girl.
AL: Day Zero came out in 2019, and Day One in 2020, but I read them in early 2021, and I found them chilling, especially in light of the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Your duology portrays a country divided into factions, with conspiracy theories flying, after an election that was allegedly stolen. How much of the book was inspired by the recent U.S. political climate?
KdV: Thank you so much! I was trying to make it as topical as possible. It’s strange to think about, but I actually wrote most of Day Zero in 2015, before the election. Like most of the people in my social circle, I assumed Hillary Clinton would win. The question that started the book was, what would happen if someone like Donald Trump won? Of course, now we know. But most of Day Zero was conceived before the 2016 election actually happened.
AL: How do you do your world building?
KdV: Honestly, whenever I think about world building, I reread books by Kristina Perez, author of Sweet Black Waves. Her world building is always so excellent and she considers all aspects of the world she’s creating. She addresses the world’s politics, religion and economics and all that stuff is existing in her stories in a really subtle way.
AL: Your soon-to-be-released book, Eat Your Heart Out, takes place at a weight-loss camp overrun by zombies. (And, according to rumors, it’s very funny!) Where on earth did you get the idea for this one?
KdV: I was thinking a lot about the toxic elements of diet culture and how, in some ways, that it turns people into monsters. In Eat Your Heart Out, I made that idea really literal. My main characters are forced to go to a fat camp that’s crawling with zombies. I did try to incorporate some Shaun of the Dead type humor to balance the scarier elements.
AL: What’s up next?
KdV: I’m currently working on a Dracula retelling from the perspective of Lucy Westenra that I hope will be coming out in the summer of 2022.
AL: Why do you write for young adults?
KdV: Like a of writers, I was a reader first and that’s how I fell in love with stories and storytelling. Books were so important to me as a young reader and really helped me navigate my coming of age experiences. I wanted to write for young adults in the hopes of offering something that might be similarly meaningful.
AL: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
KdV: Definitely a plotter. I’m honestly kind of in awe of pantsers because I truly don’t understand how they do what they do!
AL: How long does it take you to write a book?
KdV: At this point, I would say it takes me about six months to create a first draft. The amount of time that it takes to edit can vary a lot depending on what kind of feedback I get.
AL: What is your biggest writing challenge?
KdV: I feel like I come from the “plot is character” school of writing. So my top level note is always to reveal a bit more about my characters’ interiority.
AL: Do you ever get stuck?
KdV: I do sometimes get stuck and I have a couple of things in a drawer that I just don’t know how to fix. Sometimes, my way of getting unstuck is to move on to the next idea.
AL: What is the most fun part of writing a book?
KdV: For me, working on the first draft is the most fun. I love it when I have a new idea and I get to put it on paper!
AL: What is your favorite book about writing?
KdV: I personally use Outlining Your Novel and the workbook that goes with it. The writer of that book, K.M. Weiland, also maintains a website that contains a ton of great information that can be accessed for free.
AL: What types of books do you like to read? Which authors do you especially admire?
KdV: I go through phases. Right now, because I’m writing a lot of horror, I’m reading a lot more contemporary. I’ve also been wanting to learn more about Middle Grade, so I have been reading all the marvelous books written by Dusti Bowling. I would recommend her verse novel, The Canyon’s Edge, to readers of any age.
AL: How did you get your agent?
KdV: I got my amazing agent, Chloe Seager, through traditionally querying. I’d heard great things about the Madeleine Milburn agency and decided to send in a query.
AL: What is something about your books or about yourself that you wish your readers knew?
KdV: My dog, Cocoa, is responsible for any typos you find! LOL