Writer, Writer, How Does Your Garden Grow?

Today’s guest is debut author Dana Bate. Her new book The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs is a charming, sophisticatedly funny iStock_000019819010XSmallnovel that will have fans of Jennifer Weiner and foodies of all kinds begging for more–it’s Julia Child meets Emily Giffin! Released this month by Hyperion, The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs is fresh women’s fiction with a twist on the culinary love story and is receiving much critical praise from the likes of Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly. Even the British (it pre-launched in the U.K.) are eating it up! It was a favored book pick by Cosmo UK and the London Daily Mail. Bon Appetit mentioned Dana’s novel as being a part of a new trend being dubbed “foodie fiction”.

We’re so pleased she’s with us today to share a fresh analogy with us. Enjoy!

Writer, Writer, How Does Your Garden Grow?

When I first started writing, I figured revising a book was like sculpting: you’d start with a huge, misshapen lump of stone, and you’d whittle away at that stone until you had the equivalent of Michelangelo’s David. The process would take time, but in the end, the ragged piece of rock you started with would be smooth and refined, with the superfluous bits cut away.

It was a lovely metaphor, but – in my case, at least – it ended up being wrong for the task at hand.

Hannah Sugarman seems to have it all. She works for an influential think tank in Washington, D.C., lives in a swanky apartment with her high-achieving boyfriend, and is poised for an academic career just like her parents. The only problem is that Hannah doesn’t want any of it. What she wants is much simpler; to cook.

When her relationship collapses, Hannah seizes the chance to do what she’s always loved and launches an underground supper club out of her new landlord’s town house. Though her delicious dishes become the talk of the town, her secret venture is highly problematic, given that it is not, technically speaking, legal. She also conveniently forgets to tell her landlord she has been using his place while he is out of town.

On top of that, Hannah faces various romantic prospects that leave her guessing and confused, parents who don’t support cooking as a career, and her own fears of taking a risk and charting her own path.

Revising, I discovered, was more like planting a garden. When you sit down to write a book, you start out with an empty plot and fill it in with all sorts of flowers and trees and shrubs – a rose bush here, a holly bush there, a butterfly bush on one side and a plum tree on the other. And when you finish, you take a look and say, “That should grow in nicely…I think.”

Prune

But as time goes on, the foliage grows, and the landscaping doesn’t always look as you’d planned. The rose bush? Clearly in the wrong place. The holly? Wrong plant for this garden and climate. And that butterfly bush? It’s basically taken over the whole garden. Much to your relief, the plum tree is thriving, so that can stay exactly where it is. But the rest of it? Oh, boy. It needs some work.

Reorder

So you replant the rose bush somewhere else, rip out the holly altogether, and cut back the butterfly bush until it’s the appropriate size and scale for the garden. Then you wait a while longer to see how the new configuration works. Most things will look better; others still won’t look quite right. But you keep working at it and working at it until you have the garden of your dreams.

Assess the Whole

A book isn’t a static piece of rock that needs smoothing. Sometimes a scene – no matter how much you love it – needs to be cut. Other times you need to add a scene or two for a story to take on more depth – or you need to swap the order of two separate scenes to increase the tension. Sometimes a character needs more time to develop, both in your head and on the page.

girls guide final coverWhatever the case, revising a book is an ongoing process, and like planting a garden, that process takes time and patience and, above all, hard work. But in the end, if you put in the time, you can end up with a beautiful, vibrant garden that looks exactly the way you envisioned – and sometimes, even better.

What is your process for revising? How many different sets of people should see your work while you revise?

To find out more about The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs and Dana’s novel, be sure to follow her on her website, Twitter and on Facebook. Write on!

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Comments

  1. says

    My revision process has been an ongoing monster. I’m a pantser, and I’m also visual spatial. The result seems to be that if I let my creativity run wild during the revision, a lot of important things don’t get into the story. Like the character arc, the subplots, the world building, any details …

    So, right now, my revision consists of writing in layers. Since I’m adding new scenes for the character arc, I do a first run of the new scene, letting the muse go wild. Then I go back and fill it in some more. Then I work on the character arc. Then I add setting and probably do research. Then I add details, and probably do more research.

    I’m sure hoping all this slow work now will speed things up as I learn more!

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  2. says

    Dana,
    Thanks for the great insights into the revision process. Your post highlights the need for writers to have a mindset when revising a draft that everything is on the table for deletion or re-ordering: scenes, characters, flow, etc. All have to work in service to the story itself and if that’s not the case the writer needs to make the tough calls to chop out what’s not essential. My process is similar to yours. I don’t generally show first drafts to anyone. I spend a lot of time pruning and replanting and I don’t give a WIP to a beta reader unless I am completely satisfied with it, knowing others will see the flaws that the writer cannot. Thanks again and best wishes on your new book.

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  3. says

    My revising has taken different forms, depending on the work. A short story recently needed some nick-and-tuck, adding an exact sentence here, a quick observation or theme-laden thing there–pruning and fluffing up, I guess you’d say.

    But a novel ms. has been a monster. Adding a completely new character. Changing the POV from limited first-person to third-person omniscient–and adding a couple of characters and their POVs to the garden. It’s coming along fine, but it’ll be a completely different garden and landscape when I’m done.

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  4. says

    Great post, Dana. I found that putting my manuscript away for several weeks–particularly after the first draft–was very helpful. (To extend your gardening metaphor–I let it go dormant. Then, with the “fresh eyes of Spring,” I could view it in a more detached manner.)

    Congratulations and best wishes on your new release!

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  5. says

    A great metaphor, Dana, thanks for posting! Perhaps the sculpting concept of whittling away at that lump of stone is more fitting for the revision of a second or third draft – revising a first draft is much messier!
    Best of luck to you and your new book!

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  6. says

    I’ve had a butterfly bush take over most of my garden in my current WIP. Having to rip its roots out of the ground is so upsetting, but it needs to be done so everything else can flourish.

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  7. says

    Beautiful images – and so true! Working on a first draft of a new project, it is easy for me to get impatient with myself, because for some odd reason i still think that a story should come out perfectly the first time. Bah!

    When i write a draft, I try to write it all the way through, even if I know deep down in my gut that it “stinks”. At least it’s on the page. Then, I “wash” it – read through and revise until I see what works, what doesn’t and where things can be rearranged or otherwise improved. It’s not an exact science – it’s more instinct, but it works for me. “Washing” I suppose can be another word for “pruning” or “rewriting” or even “tweaking,” but it only works if I’m patient with myself and with the seedlings that I’ve planted, and know where to uproot, to dig out and to fertilize.

    Congratulations on your book!

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  8. Kate Klein says

    I love the way you compare writing to planting and then ordering a garden, Dana. It reminds me of how sad it can be to clear out living leaves and branches, but what a sense of relief I have after a cart the cuttings off to the compost pile and survey a newer, cleaner garden. Or after I lug paragraph after paragraph off to a file on my computer I’ve actually titled “compost” (I never throw writing away!) and read a clearer, sharper draft of a story.

    I sometimes think of a rough draft as a whole piece of cloth that gets folded and creased into pleats in subsequent drafts. The scissors come in handy, too, to cut away unneeded cloth, but the real art is in folding away material that is important to the story, yet doesn’t show in the final version. Thinking of it this way prevents me from feeling that a rough draft is a waste. In a new garment, the material that doesn’t show is often as important as the material that does, although it takes time and a careful hand to know what to show and what to hide. I see this principle at work in short story writers such as Alice Munro and Deborah Eisenberg, who masterfully tuck a novel’s worth of material into 30 or 40 pages, showing just the right parts. I can tell, reading these, that a mountain of material supports each.

    Congratulations on the emergence of your book.

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  9. says

    Thanks, Dana. This post is very interesting and informative. I’m curious, however, about your thoughts and those of readers regarding your question: How many different sets of people should see your work while you revise? How many readers do you think are enough?

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  10. Lindsey Bosak says

    I have just recently decided to try my hand at writing, I love reading books so I figured why not? And after reading your post I am amazed at how accurate your description of the revision process matches what I am going through right now. For months I have been re-planting and pruning and I think I am finally getting somewhere! Thank you for giving your insight, as you can probably tell I really enjoyed reading this!

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  11. says

    Very clever! My knees and hands are currently muddy with my garden dirt. I’ve moved some of my plants around and pruned them back, but I’m not sure what to replant where. I rather like the way my garden looks aesthetically, but I’m sure a master gardener would dig everything up again. I should probably find that gardener to assess my plot.

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  12. says

    I love the garden metaphor. I’m still in the early stages of editing my novel, but I can see how appropriate the comparison is. I’ve mostly been pruning unneeded passages, but the rearranging is coming, I know it.

    Congratulations and best wishes for your new book.

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