Piggybacking on last week’s post on retyping revisions, I wanted to share another technique I’ve found to be particularly powerful during the revision process: the letter of authorial intent.
Sometimes, it’s hard to know where to get started with a revision. And while it’s true that consulting beta readers or critique groups can offer authors some great guidance, it’s also unfortunately true that conflicting advice (or advice you don’t 100% agree with) can leave you feeling more confused or lost than ever…in the darkest of times, you can even wonder if your project’s hit a dead-end.
At this point, I’d recommend writing what I’ve come to refer to as a letter of authorial intent.
WHAT THE HECK IS THIS THING, ANYWAY?
It is in no way a query. A query is short and it’s jacket copy. It tries to entice someone else to read your book. This is a letter to yourself. In it, you’re literally describing what you intended, as the author, for this book to be. The important thing to remember is that this letter has nothing to do with the book you actually wrote. Not at this point. This letter is describing the book you dreamed of. The book you intended to write. Reconnect with your just-inspired self. What got you excited in the first place? What was the initial spark?
Spiral out from there. Let yourself go. Don’t worry if your thoughts hop around. Just get them down at this point. This is a total brain-dump, a stream-of-consciousness freewrite. What themes did you want to include? What about the characters? Who did you imagine they would be?
Get every last thing you wanted this book to be down on paper. Write it in longhand, type it, dictate it. Whatever it takes to let all the ideas flow naturally.
REVISE YOUR LETTER
Now that you’ve got it all down, organize it. Remember, this is a letter for you, so there really are no hard-and-fast rules. It’s all about what works best for you—and for this project! I do shuffle all my thoughts by topic (Character, Theme, etc.) Really, this step is more of a logical reordering than it’s technically a revision. You don’t care how the letter is phrased; you’re actually creating a kind of checklist.
Once I’ve gotten my own letter of authorial intent organized, I usually:
WRITE A ONE-SENTENCE PITCH
And the pitch is based solely on the letter, not the manuscript. If the book you described in your own letter actually existed, how would you pitch it in one sentence?
COMPARE YOUR LETTER WITH YOUR BOOK
This is the fun part (at least, I think it’s fun). Put your authorial letter of intent (and that one-sentence pitch) next to your manuscript. Does the manuscript live up to the pitch? Does the manuscript accomplish what you originally set out to do? Do not go easy on yourself! Identify the areas where you feel you didn’t hit the mark. Why? What separates the current WIP’s main character from the character you originally imagined? Are the themes and messages present in this WIP? Are they present but perhaps not in the way or to the extent you planned? Why?
By comparing your original goals to the current manuscript, you can begin to identify holes or weaknesses. From there, you can begin to brainstorm ideas on how to fix those weaknesses.
A FANTASTIC SIDE-BONUS
I’ve found that by reconnecting with what originally inspired me, I often find myself reinfected with that original excitement and the high of the initial spark of inspiration. The kind of excitement that can help a writer power through a tough revision…