by Jo Cooper
Meredith Brucker is perhaps best known for her romance novels, but she leads a versatile writing life. The author of nine books and several
television scripts, Brucker also teaches writing at Pasadena City College, has her own cable television show, does public relations work, and writes features and book reviews for
the Los Angeles Times.
Meredith Brucker and Jo Cooper attended the same writing class many years ago when Burcker was working on her first book. Cooper interviewed her recently about the role of revision in writing.
Jo Cooper: On a scale of one to ten, how important is revision?
Meredith Brucker: I would say a "ten" without question, because I think rewriting is the most important part of writing, the core of writing. It's incredible to find out how many writers put something down on paper and send the thing off without revising it at all.
I have an eight-year-old niece who's just decided she wants to be writer like Aunt Dee Dee. So she goes into the other room, writes little stories, and then comes rushing back and wants me to read them. I say, "Well now, Lisa, you've written this. Have you looked it over since you wrote it?"
"You have to. First you write it. Now you go back and read it out loud to yourself. There's got
to be something in there that could be better. Now you go find it." She's not too happy about this. that's not any fun. What's fun is that first glorious
burst. What's not fun is working and sweating over it and changing things and finding inconsistencies and straightening them out. She doesn't like that very` much. I don't "like" it
either, but it's the important part of writing. It is the professionalism of writing.
How much time do you spend rewriting?
Meredith Brucker: About 50 percent. The first part, laying the raw material down, is fun, spontaneous, then the work starts.
A a professional writer, do you work on a schedule?
Meredith Brucker: I happen to
be a very disciplined, scheduled writer. I plan my writing schedule by the month. I cross off the days that I can't write because I have some other pressing obiligation. The days
that are left become inviolate. I can tell you exactly how many hours I'll write on those days.
Say I'm going to write from 8:30 till 1:30. I write on my calendar exactly what I'm going to do like "Revise Chapter 1," or "Reread revision of Chapter 1." Each day I give myself an assignment.
I write every day. I used to think I was kind of a nut about this until I heard about a nineteenth century writer, Thomas De Quincey. He wrote every day from ten to four, and people knew they could not knock on his study door because the swish, swish, swish of the quill pen was at work
in there. No one interrupted him. The day he finished one of his greatest books, The English Mail Coach, he wrote in his journal: "And it still being but 2:30 I began another.
"Remember, (pointing to a little sign over her desk), you can't rewrite until you write!
Is writing first drafts difficult for you?
Brucker: Well, that little saying was unbelievably helpful to me when I was first starting, because I was so afraid to try. Every word seemed ineffective and awkward and pointless, but I'd tell myself, "It really doesn't matter because I can't rewrite until I get this done. Then I can do the important part."
Do you ever get writer's block?
Brucker: Not often, but sometimes, when I hear my friends "talk a good book," they scare me, because they're so bright and articulate and they know so much about a lot of things. Then I read another of my mottos: LOTS OF PEOPLE WRITE BETTER THAN MEREDITH DOES, BUT MEREDITH DOES.
I've sold nine romance novels and one mainstream novel (On the Monitor), and most of my "bright" friends haven't finished their first book I write. Sometimes I write ten pages a day. Then I rewrite.
What's involved in revision?
Brucker: After you've written your first draft and connected it as much as you can, you should have it critiqued. The best way is
to be in a writing class and have your peers or your teacher critique it.
Then, after giving it a cooling-off period, the best critic is really YOU. Remember what the word "revision"
means--revision, seeing it again. You must put it away., do something else, then go back to it later.
I call this the working readthrough. If at all possible, I try to do this in one sitting. If it's a whole book, I set aside a weekend and try to read it straight through. This helps give me the pace of the piece.
As I read it, I use a colored pen and I mark up the margins unmercifully. remember, the more notes you make as you read, the easier the revisions will be.
Tell us more about what you actually do when you revise.
Brucker: I alway plan to work in chunks of time of at least three hours. Revision requires tremendous concentration. You move things around, and maybe you've moved a paragraph and used the same word or phrase in the paragraph just before it. You're balancing all the elements, and you have to very careful.
For instance, a friend of mine once was reading a copy of her own book. She had done a fast rewrite after her editor had told her, "Get rid of Marvin, the
hero's roommate. He isn't necessary." She had gone through her manuscript and crossed out Marvin.
Now, a year later, she discovered with absolute horror that on page 200, when the happy couple are finally going to be married and all the guests gather around, guess who offers the toast to the couple? MARVIN! Who is Marvin? The reader has no idea. He's been cut all through the book, but there was one place she didn't notice, and old Marvin came back to haunt her.
Is it easy for you to take your own editors' advice?
Brucker: In my career as a writer I've done every kind of writing you can do, and the thing I pride myself on is that I'm versatile and I can take direction. When somone tells me which way to go, I can do it. I can change my style according to the demands of the medium, and I can accept criticism and rejection.
Writing to suit a certain editor leads to revision too, doesn't it?
Brucker: It sure does. I remember one of the first romance novels I wrote, Aloha Yesterday. First the editor revised my name, to Meredith Kingston.
Second, my story was about a Navy family at Coronado, Caliifornia, because I'd just returned from a trip to the Hotel del Coronado and I wanted to describe those beautiful settings.
The publisher said, "We love your story, but we have too many California books. Put your story somewhere else." I said, "But it's a
Navy story, it's about a Navy family." The publisher said, "Put it in Hawaii." I called my editor and said, "But I've never been to Hawaii." "That shouldn't stop you," she said, "Go
buy the Sunset Guide to Hawaii, amd move the book to Hawaii."
Third, they changed the title from Dancing to a Hero's Tune to Aloha Yesterday, so everyone knows right away it takes place in Hawaii.
What was really funny was that the month this book came out, there was a booksellers' conference in Honolulu, and my editor called me and said, "We're going to give your book to every bookseller who comes to the conference, and we're putting out a little map to go with it. It's called "Meredith Kingston's Love Guide to Honolulu." So, I'm the first writer in history who's done a guide to Hawaii and has never been there.
What started you on the road to a writing career?
Brucker: I had a vivid imagination as a child. I was an only child and played alone a lot, and I talked to myself. I either had rag dolls or paper dolls, and they had conversations with each other by the hour. That's
why I can write dialogue. I talked for all these characters.
Did you have a teacher who encouraged you?
Brucker: Oh yes. I had an English teacher at Monrovia High School in Monrovia, Calirornia--Mrs. Elder. What she did, which any teacher can do for a student, was simply flatter me and tell me I could write and that I was clever with words. It's like a self-fulfilling prophecy. A teacher tells you that you have the potential to be a good writer, that you are amusing, and that he or she is entertained by what you write, and you can't help but want to write more. Then I wrote for the school paper.
I wonder why almost every writer I've interviewed has started on the school paper?
Brucker: You know what it is? You're writing to a formula, you write to a certain length, you have to get the five W's in the lead, and you have to write clearly and concisely. It's basic communication, and I think writing on a newspaper is the primary way of learning the discipline of writing.
What type of writing do you like best?
Brucker: The writing I enjoy the most and think is the most difficult and challenging is the
book reviewing that I do for the Los Angeles Times. The
reason I love it is that they send me a book of 800 pages and want a review in 200 words. It also flatters the heck out of me that people want my opinion. I always have an
opininon on everything and to actually be paid for spouting my opinion is wonderful.
Please share one of your techniques for teaching your students the art of rewriting.
Brucker: Sure. I call it the pyramid technique. I ask the students to write a one-paragraph vignette. Then they turn it in and I read it. Then I ask them to take it home and turn it into a two-page story. When they bring that in, I ask them to expand it to a 1,500-word story. But the most important lesson is the next one. I ask them to write a 1,500-word short story and bring that in, and I read it. Then I help them decide what could be cut, and I have them cut that down to 1,000 words, and then from 1,000 words down to 500 words. These writing exercises teach you how to start small and expand, and how to start big and cut down to the germ of it. All revision involves one or the otherr. You're either expanding, getting into more detail, or you're cutting down. That's why I think revision is the most important part of writing.
from Ralph S. Cooper, 2008