For the first summer in the past few years, I don’t have a new book out. At first I was excited about this discovery. As you might guess from my books being set in the summer, summer is my favorite season, so I was happy to have my summer back. Well, until I realized that summers in Cincinnati are not exactly like summers in New England. They’re hotter. They’re muggier. So hot and so muggy, in fact, that for a lot of weeks, the best place to be is inside and in the AC. Which, if you’re me and you love being outside, is actually kind of a bummer. I’m discovering that a lot of my love of summer came from being in the water — lakes, ponds, and of course the ocean. A startling true fact about Cincinnati: it is nowhere near the ocean.
Now, before you start to feel bad for me, I should confess that I’m jaunting off to New England next week, where I’ll be a heck of a lot closer to the ocean (practically walking distance) for a week. But before that, I have to turn in revisions on my 2020 book, Man of the House.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been holed up in my revision cave, further fleshing out the story of Drew (which thankfully is set in the summer in Rhode Island so there are beaches and Del’s frozen lemonade — at least I’m there in my mind). Last week, we had contractors in our house demo-ing our kitchen floor and then re-tiling it, which meant a lot of banging and dust, which isn’t exactly conducive to revising. Thankfully, we also had the best weather to come through Cincinnati all summer, so every day I took my laptop to the nearby park for some revising en plein air. Now, technically “en plein air” is French for painting outdoors, but I think it works for revising too.
Maybe you’re wondering about where the epiphanies come in (and hoping the epiphany in this story wasn’t that Cincinnati is not near the ocean, because, duh, Jenn, duh). They come in here! As I revised outdoors, away from all the distractions of my house and the internet. All of the noise from the “real world” disappeared in these en plein air revision sessions. I was able to get into my main character Drew’s head and stay there in ways I never could at home. The thing about late stage revisions is you’re often trying to make passes through a book keeping an eye on many different threads at the same time, but also making sure that anything you insert is in the voice of your character and flows with everything that was always there. You’re getting close to the end–no longer hacking away at things. But you’ve still got this last little way to go. It’s the kind of revision that requires an amount of focus that is, quite honestly, hard for me to muster lately, with the speed of the news cycle and text messages flying across the computer screen. And all the teeny distractions of being home. (I’ll admit I’ve never been one to work in a coffee shop for some of these reasons — also, I am super bad at not eavesdropping and I need new headphones.) The hours disappeared in the park as I immersed myself in Drew’s story day after day, slowly accumulating ankle bug bites but not even caring because they were so worth it.
All of this is to say, if the world is too distracting for you, if it’s interrupting your writing and making it hard for you to go deep into a character and feel alongside them, take it outdoors. Find a shady spot in the park and a comfortable seating position (or several to rotate among) and escape into your story. You may end up with a few (okay, ummm 30) bug bites, but I guarantee it’s worth it.
(My colleague for the last revision session. Isn’t he cute?)