Monday, February 2, 2015

What I Learned from the Darcy Pattison Revision Retreat



There are two reasons I’ve been dying to go to a Darcy Pattison Novel Revision Retreat:

1.     I keep getting requests for my work, but rejections on my full manuscripts. I know I’m doing something right with my premises/first chapters, but I need to get better at executing a whole novel.

2.     I tend to spin my wheels when I revise. My process so far is: 1. Write novel 2. Revise till I’m sick of it. 3. Send to critique partners. 4. Revise some more. 5. Repeat ad nauseam. I knew there had to be a more organized approach.

I’m happy to say that I now finally have better revision tools, thanks to Darcy.

First, a little bit about the retreat. This has been the most intensive retreat I’ve ever been to. Prior to the retreat, I read two books on craft, finished a full draft of a novel, and read three manuscripts from the people I’d been working with at the conference. Whew! And most of that reading occurred during December, a busy month to say the least.

My wonderful small group:
Clockwise from the back: Sabina Rascol, me, Christina Larrechea, Johanna Wright
But all that prep work was worth it. At the retreat, you were placed in a small group with the three people who had read your novel. The retreat was structured so that we had whole group time, where Darcy would discuss a particular topic in terms of revision (plotting, characters, setting, etc.), then we’d have time to analyze our own novels for how we did on that particular trait, and then we’d have small group discussion time to discuss how we each did on that trait and how we could improve.

I have to say that those discussions were amazing. I’ve been in critique groups and I’ve traded full manuscripts many times, but to be able to brainstorm and discuss your whole novel with three people who know it really well—that was amazing. I went home with ideas on not just what was working/what wasn’t, but how to fix it.

In addition to the small group time, I think my biggest aha was the shrunken manuscript. If you haven’t heard of it (are you hiding under a rock?), it is a method of reducing the font and white space so you can print your whole ms out in 30 pages or so. Directions are on Darcy's blog.

Here’s mine:

It was nerve wracking to lay mine out for not only Darcy, but the whole group (20 people) to comment on. What I gleaned: I have a sagging middle, I need to beef up my protagonist and antagonist’s interactions, and I have a lot of talking scenes back-to-back. I don’t think I could’ve seen anything of these things with my usual method of analyzing my manuscript, which is writing an outline of the scenes.

Now I’m home and the hard work begins, but what I love about this retreat is that I now have a plan. I will continue to utilize my amazing beta readers and critique partners, but I no longer feel like I am dependent on their input to see problems in my manuscripts.

Me with my friend Kristin Bruschell, one of my regular critique partners
As Darcy said at the retreat, her goal was for us to be able to self-edit our work. I think I can finally do that now.

If Darcy is not offering a retreat in your area, another option if you’d like to replicate it at home is to use her Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise, 2nd edition. Everything from the retreat is in that book—you’d just need to find a few people to trade manuscripts to discuss things for the small group sections. I guarantee that just doing that will up your game as a writer and reviser.

 Have you tried the shrunken manuscript method? What is the most helpful writing event you've attended?

19 comments:

  1. This sounds like a really efficient method of improving one's manuscript! I'd never heard of the "shrunken manuscript" technique. (I guess there's a rock above me...)

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    1. Ha! I hope you try it. It really helped give me a bird eye's view of my manuscript.

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  2. I've heard of the shrunken manuscript but haven't tried it. Great idea, though. And I probably need to buy Darcy's book, because I've had the same problem when I've queried. I got a few requests for fulls but then was rejected. Glad you enjoyed the retreat. I've attended quite a few SCBWI conferences and the NJ one was the best.

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    1. It'd be fun to go to one on the other coast! I hope you enjoy Darcy's book. It really changed my whole perspective on revisions.

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  3. I did Darcy's retreat here in Tacoma last June and can relate to everything you've said, Jenni. It gives you the tools. I'm sold on whole novel workshops, and the Highlights Foundation WNWs are excellent, too. Best, Claudia Finseth,

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  4. Thanks for stopping by, Claudia! I've always wanted to go to one of the Highlights Foundations Workshops--they sound amazing!

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  5. Glad you got so much out of the retreat! The smaller groups sound like a good idea. More personal.
    Now, attack that manuscript.

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  6. This was one of the best retreats I have been to as well. I thought it really made me work and look at my mss from different viewpoints. Great summary post.

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  7. PS. Been to a Highlights Workshop. It was my other favorite.

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  8. I really need to get to a Highlights workshop it sounds like! :) Thanks for the pep talk Alex, and nice to see you here, Jone!

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  9. Very interesting- I've got to try the shrunken manuscript.
    So gratifying to have such good and helpful feedback for your work. Thank you for sharing here.

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  10. Very interesting- I've got to try the shrunken manuscript.
    So gratifying to have such good and helpful feedback for your work. Thank you for sharing here.

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    1. I hope it's as helpful to you, Mirka, as it was to me. Thanks for stopping by!

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  11. Oh my gosh this was fascinating!!! Sounds like we are in a very similar place in our writing/querying/revising journey. I would love to do this with 3 or 4 other people. I'm going to check this retreat out! I've heard something similar to the shrunken manuscript, but not quite the same... so cool!

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  12. I've never heard of the shrunken manuscript. Now, I'm off to investigate! Thanks!

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  13. Sounds like a very useful experience!

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  14. Thanks for sharing your experience, Jenni! I'm always looking for a good editing/revision book to read, so I'm going to have to hop on Amazon and check Darci out!! I'm glad you were able to get something out of the retreat. I'll have to keep Darci's name on my radar in case she comes to my area :)

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  15. I'll definitely have to check out the book and learn more about this shrunken manuscript technique. Retreats are the best!

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  16. I love the shrunken manuscript, too. It really puts your pages into a new perspective. Glad you enjoyed Darcy's retreat. Last August, I blogged about the one I attended.

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