Ahh, so I’ve written the ending of my YA novel and now it’s back to the beginning where I need to chuck out 50 pages and rewrite them all (except for a few key scenes). I’m giving myself a self-imposed deadline of Feb. 1st to finish this rewrite and give Michelle a polished draft. The most important lesson I’ve learned while rewriting is that you can’t be in love with your words. Working as a magazine editor by day has helped my writing at night. I realize that most of what I write is just a hint of what’s really there. Gotta constantly push my characters more, let them surprise me, and take them to interesting places. My first pass at the ending was too hokey and everyone got what they wanted. And in real life, especially for teenagers, that hardly ever happens. So good-bye ending, you’ve been rewritten.
Somewhere in this pile of pages is my book. Gotta get back to it.
Last night I saw Avatar. I went in thinking this could be interesting and walked out thinking, AMAZING. James Cameron spent 15 years writing and working on Avatar and waiting for technology to catch up with what he really wanted to achieve with a movie of this magnitude.
I’ve spent the past 10 years working on Sissy. By no means am I comparing myself to James Cameron. That would be ridiculous. Terminator 2 still boggles my mind. But his 15 year endeavor makes my 10 year project not so foolish anymore. There were definitely times I wanted to never look at this manuscript ever again.
But Avatar has inspired me to remember the road I took to get here with Sissy so that whenever I think, “This book is taking forever,” I can instead think how an amazing movie like Avatar took the length of a teenager’s life to create. I hope this helps other writers to understand that some projects stay with you, even when you want them to go away. It’s your story to tell, no matter how long it takes.
- 1998. My sophomore year at NYU, living in University Hall, one of my roommates gets prank phone calls where the caller just says, “She used to call me sissy.” Then hangs up.
- I take one NYU short story class at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. I wrote a 10-page short story using that quote, “She used to call me sissy,” as my opening line. It was about a younger brother who gets rough housed by his older sister who eventually runs away to New York City. He goes to find her.
- As an intern at the Flea Theater, my supervisor Lizzie Simon (a true genius) asked me to bring some writing and I gave her Sissy. She organized a radio reading on a Columbia radio station she hosted with actors from the Flea. I was 19 at the time. Still have the radio recording on a cassette tape.
- In my fifth year at NYU to get my MFA (2001), I read about Random House Delacorte Press’ Young Adult Novel Contest. I decided to finish my then 20-page short story and submit the book.
- I get a phone message from an associate editor at Random House. She is interested in talking to me about Sissy. I am 23.
- The associate editor tells me they are interested in possibly publishing Sissy after rewrites based on her notes. She tells me to spend 3-4 months working on rewrites, specifically making my 3 narrative voices more distinct. I take 2 weeks to rewrite. The manuscript is ultimately rejected. I cry my eyes out.
- My then-boyfriend, now husband’s manager is looking for a young adult novel to adapt into a movie. I email her Sissy. She calls me with notes like, “You have to think what would Hilary Duff do,” and “No one will ever buy this book.” I was 25, naive, and believed her. I cried so much I had to call in sick to work.
- Sissy sits in my desk drawer untouched. Forgotten about for several years. Like a relationship that went south, I blame myself.
- 2009. Living in LA instead of New York. I organize my best friend’s bridal shower book. Email her group of friends, one of whom is a literary agent and graduated from NYU’s Department of Dramatic Writing as well. She emails me that she started at a new agency and is looking for new clients. She remembers I had a YA novel. Could she read it? I warn her that it’s not that great and that it had a remote possibility of getting published but ultimately had gotten turned down.
- I send her the manuscript. She sets up a phone call to discuss. She loves the book and wants to sign me. I say YES.
- April 2009, weeks before my 30th birthday, I sign a contract with the Lynn C. Franklin agency and Michelle Andelman is officially my agent.
- April-December 2009: rewrites and phone calls with Michelle. Lots of great notes, encouragement, difficult decisions, many nights writing after work and on the weekends, and tons of new pages.
- 2010… hope to finish a polished draft and submit to publishing houses. Michelle is positive.
On Friday, I had a good conversation with my agent Michelle Andelman about my rough draft of my YA novel, Sissy. I had finished the rewrites and had written an ending. But as most writers know, that doesn’t mean it’s over quite yet. Michelle was right to point out that the ending needed more “ugly things to happen to my characters.” It’s true. I wrote a completely happy ending. And truthfully, being a teenager in love with the wrong guy usually doesn’t have a happy ending. Michelle always gives me her honest opinion and most of the time she’s right. I have to disappoint my characters and let them mess up.
I’m spending November and December in Rewrite Land, working on the end, the beginning and everything in between. My hope is to finish a nice polished version by mid-January for Michelle’s feedback.
Here’s to rewriting!
I had a great call with my agent, Michelle, last week. She loved the direction I was taking Sissy and wants me to finish this rough first draft. It’s been quite a journey with this book since I originally started it back in 2000. The draft I’m working on is vastly different than the original but I think the changes are good. Really good. Thanks to Michelle and her wonderfully honest notes, this new version of Sissy is more mature, sophisticated, and the characters are revealing themselves to me in the most surprising ways. I told Michelle that 23 year-old me could have never written the draft I have now. So now I’m working on just finishing the rough draft to turn in to Michelle the first week of November. Heading towards the finish line of the rough draft!
I had a great conversation with my agent Michelle Andleman today. We discussed my rewrite #3 of my first 50 pages of Sissy, my young adult novel. Previously she had suggested cutting out one narrative voice (Ethan) and streamlining it to just the two girls, June and Manny. I struggled with that. But I gave it go and it really opened me up. The girls’ voices are much stronger and now I see Ethan in a new light. So we talked about me moving forward with Sissy today and finishing the novel. Yes!
Now comes the hard work of finishing it but I’m really happy with the new beginning.