Back from four long days at the UCLA Extension Writers Program's Novel Revision Techniques workshop. And when all is said and done, I must say I got a lot out of it. The instructor, Mark Sarvas, was well prepared and he enthusiastically imparted his knowledge of novel revision. It was hard to tell that this was the first time he had ever taught this workshop. As a result I’m very tempted to sign up for his Novel IV class that starts in April.
His best advice is: Read Like a Writer
He also encouraged us to keep reading novels all the time.
The class was really grueling. It included lectures on these subjects:
The Many Drafts of the First Draft
The Essential Revision Questions
Mark used The Great Gatsby over and over again to illustrate his points, and believe me, he is an expert on The Great Gatsby. He reads it at the start of every year. As much as I like the book – and I like it even better now that I know some of its back story – I don’t think I’d read it that often. We also listened to Mark read letters between Maxwell Perkins (Fitzgerald’s editor) and Fitzgerald and Perkins' suggestions for Gatsby revisions.
In preparation we sent in advance fifteen pages of our own novels so we could read each other’s work before the workshop began. Then each day we spent time work-shopping them. That is, each member of the class provided feedback based on their read of the material. Our instructor ended each discussion with his feedback and an assignment to revise a shorter portion incorporating some aspect of the review comments. Once the first workshop rounds were over we immediately started on the second and didn’t finish those until an hour before the end of the workshop late Sunday afternoon. Just in time to hear Mark’s last lecture – a wrap-up of the whole weekend.
And what made this adventure especially nice was that my friend Deborah Kalan and I carpooled and ate lunch together each of the four days. Even though we see each other at the gym and once in a while socially, this was a great chance for us to bond. She is a wonderful writer and working on a memoir, so she work-shopped with one of my memoir heroes, Samantha Dunn. Sam and I have known each other virtually for years, but only met in the real world Thursday. It’s like we’ve known each other forever.
This is where I'll be spending lots of time
in the future - so why am I smiling?
Now the real work begins. I wanted to take this class to jump start working on my novel again, and it surely did. I got some wonderful and enthusiastic feedback, so I think I have something very viable going on. But I have at least a year of work left to do on it – if I work on it everyday for several hours. If I don’t spend that much time daily, of course it will take longer. The first step is to print out a hard copy and just read it – not even taking any notes or making any small edits. I have to literally sit on my hands. In fact I’m not even going to incorporate any of my workshop comments and revisions into this draft. I’m going to freeze it as of January 30, 2012 and go from there.
Next stop, Kinkos, to make a copy.