SEE YOU SOMEDAY SOON — A story of revision

I talk a lot about revision, because it’s such an important part of the picture book writing process.

And, revision can come at so many different phases in the writing process. Writers often revise:

  • On their own before anyone else sees the manuscript. (Often multiple times.)
  • After sharing the story with critique partners and other writing friends.
  • After getting critiques at a conference or other event.
  • After getting flashes of inspiration on their own while walking, day-dreaming, showering or living their best life.
  • After submitting to an interested agent.
  • After submitting to an interested editor.
  • After having their manuscript acquired.

So, if you want to be a professional writer, it’s helpful to not hate revising.

I’ve had some notable revision success stories. IN OUR GARDEN came out in March, and it hold the record for my most-revised story — so far — with 24 versions before the one that was published by Putnam.

My book with Suzy Lee that comes out June 14 from Roaring Brook Press — SEE YOU SOMEDAY SOON — did not go through 24 revisions, but it had an interesting revision story nonetheless.

My first attempt

My first draft of this story featured several pairs of characters who all lived far apart. I had a pair of cousins, some pen pals, and a grandparent and grandchild. They story moved from one pair to the next as they all worked to stay in touch despite the distance. Here’s how it began:

Noah has two cousins. Oliver, who is just his age, and Amelia – the baby – who is not.

Oliver is Noah’s best friend. But they’ve never raced their bikes, played chess, or shared popcorn at a movie.

That’s because Oliver lives in London, England, and Noah lives in Boston, Massachusetts – more than 3,000 miles and an ocean apart.

But, every Sunday, they turn on their computers, press some buttons, and – presto-chango-kalamazoo – look right at each other.

My second attempt

I liked this story, so did my agent. So she sent it out to a group of editors. One editor liked the story, but thought I should focus on just the grandparent and grandchild and ditch the other character pairs. So, I did. That story began:

This is Deena.

This is Deena’s grandmother, Meema.

 When Meema was a girl, she looked just like Deena does now. There’s even a picture to prove it.

Deena and Meema like telling stories, singing funny songs and eating peanut brittle. But – except for once when she was very small – Deena has never hugged Meema.

That’s because Deena lives in Washington, and Meema lives in Florida – more than 3,000 miles and a mighty river apart.

Deena misses Meema. And Meema misses Deena.

But they make do.

Once a week, they go to their mailboxes, reach inside, and – imagine that – find a letter from another place.

My third attempt

The editor liked the story, but not enough to acquire it. So my agent sent it out to other editors. Connie Hsu from Roaring Brook Press liked it, but wondered if it could be more abstract. So, I wrote a version and shared it — and Connie’s request to be abstract — with my critique group. They came back and said: “You need to be MORE abstract.” Which led to more revising.

By the time I was done, I had a story written in first person instead of third. It had no named characters and no specific relationship between the characters described. Just two people who missed each other. It was now a lyrical picture book rather than a character-driven one. And, it had a much more child-like voice, although I’d kept some of my favorite language from earlier versions. It started:

Someday soon, I’ll see you.
Even though you are there.
And I am here.
So very far apart.

I want to see you now, of course.
Right this minute.
I want to hop in a rocket. Or strap on a jet pack. Or build my own catapult.
So I can fly through the sky,
land in your yard and knock on your door.

Would you be surprised?

When I was done, I was thrilled. This new version was much more open and inclusive of readers in a variety of life situations. It had more heart and was more fun to read aloud. And when I read it out loud at a writing retreat, my agent teared up. So, that was a win.

And, I wouldn’t have gotten there without a strong willingness to dig in and revise. And I mean, really revise. This wasn’t just tweaking a few phrases. It was a total rework of the story that kept the main theme of loving and staying connected to someone far away but shared it in an entirely different way.

I think many writers forget that there are so many different ways to tell a story. And successful revision means finding the best one.

Now. The best version of anything can be subjective. I’ve had people tell me they really liked my original story versions. And, I won’t say they’re wrong. Those versions weren’t poorly written, and if an editor had acquired them, I would have happily proceeded to help turn them into books.

But, because I was willing to let myself be nudged in a different direction, and because I was open to sincerely putting in the work to write the best version of that story that I could, I ended up with something better than I could have anticipated. (And then, illustrator Suzy Lee took the text and vaulted it into the stratosphere with her art.)

SEE YOU SOMEDAY SOON has gotten two starred reviews so far — one from Kirkus and one from The Horn Book. And it meets my personal criteria for success — by being a picture book I want to hug. So it seems like the revisions were worth it.

If you’ve got a story that you think could be … more … consider revising it. Ask yourself: How else could I tell this story? Then try it several different ways and see what sticks.

You might be surprised.

6 Comments:

  1. Thanks, Pat, for this look into how you were able to re-vision your story. I do like the lyrical version best.

  2. Great post, Pat! It really gives one hope when the revision process can take so many twists and turns while the author finds their way to the best way to tell the story they want to tell.

  3. One of my favorite things: Being in a crit group that includes the whole’s most enthusiastic and creative reviser (YOU) and witnessing the end result of all. that. work!!! 🙂

  4. I am struggling with some revisions right now — thank you! So interesting and helpful!

  5. Thanks, Pat, for sharing your journey on your lovely book.

  6. Great insights into the revision process! Kudos to you, Pat!!

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