Category: revising

Revising: Breaking Through Inertia

Well, it took a month or two longer than I had wanted it to, but I’m finally to the point that I’m starting the second draft of GET CUPID. (A title that has grown on me, which I can never tell if that’s a good thing or not. You get used to a title, and it’s hard to tell if it’s good or not.)

Anyway.

One of the problems of being a part-time writer instead of a full-time writer is that I write in stages for the most part. There’s the plotting stage, where all I’m doing is plotting the book. Then comes the actual writing of the first draft. It’s all new, every day. And then comes revision. Each step is so different from the others. Each step requires a new skill set. Which is to be expected, I suppose. But the thing that really gets me is that each step arrives just after I finish the last step.

Allow me to explain.

By the time I’m finished writing the first draft of a book, I’ve been doing new material for a good three or four months at least. I remember what I’m doing, the cobwebs are clear, and I’m just humming along. Shifting from that over to plotting a new world and character and conflict–it’s very jarring. And then jumping over to revising that draft–that’s an even bigger jump.

Each time I have to make the transition, it feels like I’m learning what I’m doing all over again. And I don’t know how it is for you, but when I personally am supposed to do new things, I tend to stall. To look for other, more comfortable things to do. Isn’t there a new story somewhere that needs writing? What about some more plotting? Anything but actually revising.

The frustrating thing is that I know full well that once I dive in and get hands dirty, it’ll all come back to me, and I’ll be humming along again. But it’s the standing at the edge of that pool, knowing the water’s cold, and knowing it’s going to be uncomfortable–that’s what gets me.

The good news is that I just finished my read through of the first draft of GET CUPID, and I’m very happy with it. Not with the shape that it’s in right now, but with my vision of it once it’s revised. It’s got a lot of potential, and it’s not too far off from what I originally pictured when I set off to write the book. VODNIK was a mixed bag of light tone and dark material. TARNHELM is decidedly darker than VODNIK. GET CUPID? This is pretty much fun through and through. Not that there’s no conflict. But Eldin, the main character . . . he’s a blast. So optimistic. So outgoing. He was a very fun character to get to know, if that makes sense.

I hope to introduce you to him someday.

In the meantime . . . maybe I should stop blogging and start revising.

Writer Q&A: How I Edit My Novels

Trevor Green over at Beyond Dragons and Wizards wanted to know a bit about how I go about the editing process. I thought this would make a great blog post, so I’m answering his questions for you all to see right here. Hope this helps some of you!

Q: First off, how long do you generally wait before coming back to a first draft? Do you wait until you’ve practically forgotten what the book is about, or do you just want to forget the sentence structure, etc.?

A: I give it a while, honestly. As long as I can. Back in the days before I was published and working on deadlines, I’d like to wait at the bare minimum for a half year or so, especially when I’m gearing up for the second draft. For me, second drafts still have a great deal of discovery left in them. Things aren’t nailed in place. I’m not worried about refining sentence structure–I’m worried about changing plots and characters. Massive, big changes. Because sometimes something looks great in an outline, feels great while you’re writing it, and then . . . isn’t great. Your writing group and alpha readers just can’t stand it. I like to have enough distance from the book to be able to tell for myself if I agree with them or not. When I’m still too close to the writing, that’s hard to do. I’m inclined to like it–I just wrote it. Also, I like to distance myself from criticisms. Just because somebody didn’t like it, doesn’t mean that it needs to change–at least not the way they said it should. Sometimes someone might just be noticing that something feels off. They think they’ve found the solution, but when you read it over yourself, you discover it’s something deeper that’s wrong, which is causing some symptom problems elsewhere.

Q: What’s the first thing you do? Do you read it through without picking up the red pen? Or do you dive in and just go for it? For that matter, maybe you do a lot of prep work: note cards, diagrams, character sheets, scene rundowns, etc. What works best for you?

A: I print that puppy out on paper. Then I grab a red pen and start reading. No character sheets. No diagrams. I toss out everything I’ve done, backstory-wise, and just read it like I’m reading someone else’s work. I note what works, what doesn’t. I write down ideas for changes. Where I get bored. Again–it doesn’t matter if I built the world a certain way in the planning stage. If it ain’t working, it ain’t working. I try not to be wedded to any one thing in the book.

Once I’m done reading and marking the whole thing up, I look over my comments. That’s also when I look over comments my alpha or beta readers had, as well as my writing group. I compile everything into a big honking TO BE CHANGED list, and I start going at it.

In many ways, I edit in layers. I’ll note that one character wasn’t strong enough, so I’ll go through and find all the instances that character appeared, and I’ll change accordingly. I’ll note that I need to add or change a subplot. I’ll do all of that at once, too. It’s just too difficult to go through and try and make all the changes chronologically as I go through from start to finish. I start to forget what I changed, and how I changed it. I keep my marked up copy of the book handy throughout all this, to remind myself not just what I wanted to change, but why.

Q: I know a lot of people talk about their tendency to change character personalities halfway through their first draft (I have a quote from Brandon that Isaac gave me last night saying just that), and I know I do that myself. How do you go about changing the previous chapters of that character’s personality? It seems incredibly tedious and overwhelming. Do you have any tips?

A: It is tedious and overwhelming. But it needs to be done. I typically don’t know my characters all that well when I start writing a book. By the end, I know them much better. By the end of the fourth draft, I’m an expert on all of them. It’s really not as hard as it seems at first, to go back and fix all the places where they’re inconsistent. Also, a big piece of advice I’d have for you is to not make the mistake of thinking your second draft will be your last. Vodnik went through at least six substantial drafts, as I recall. Revision is hard work. (That said, this only goes for me. It’s certainly possible the way you write and revise will be different. But I was really surprised by how much more editing and revising I had to do to get the book to a publishable level. Be prepared for that. Embrace it.)

Q: How many people do you think read your first draft before you begin hacking away at it?

A: Not a set number. As many as I can get to read it. These days, my agent for sure. A few trusted friends. My writing group. But the biggest one is definitely me. What I think of the book after I read it again–see the answer to question 1. I don’t think there’s a set number of people who have to read it. One or two great readers are much better than 10 or 15 okay ones. Who do you trust? Go with them.

Q: Do you do separate read-throughs for all the different things that need to be fixed (character vs plot vs pacing vs logistics vs tone), or do you try to manage them all at once?

A: In a perfect world, I’d do them all at once. In reality, I end up doing them in stages, continually improving different things with each pass through. Maybe I’ll get better at this and be able to take short cuts, but I doubt it.

Q: How do you manage and compile all your reader’s feedback? Do you combine them into one Word document as notes alongside your manuscript, or do you juggle them separately? Maybe you ignore them completely.

A: I keep them in whatever form I compiled them the first time. For people who read the whole novel at once, I keep their annotated copy. For writing group, I keep my notes on their comments. But all of that goes to the master annotated copy I make as I’m doing the read through. In the end, it all funnels to that single copy, and then I ignore the other notes, unless I suddenly forget why I wanted a certain change, or something like that.

In the end, editing is work. Very different work from what goes into the first draft. It can be really tempting to just give up on it and go write something new, but if you keep doing that, you’ll only be developing half of the talent you need to make it at a higher level. It’s going to take time, and it’s not going to be easy. But it’s definitely worth it. Also–remember to hold some fresh readers back from reading the first or second draft. Once you revise enough, it’ll start getting very difficult to know if what you’re doing is making things any better. That’s when fresh beta readers are an absolute must.

Good luck!

Writing as Sculpture: Sanding the Elephant

Sculpture: From Antiquity to the Present Day (2 Volume Set)The rewrite of Vodnik continues. I’m on page 79 out of 186 (not the final page count–just the Word doc I’m working in). And . . . just as before, I’m discovering that this stage of the revision process is more difficult than I thought it would be. The closest metaphor I can come up with is anti-sculpting (something I know pretty much nothing about, so I might get completely wrong).

With sculpture, you start out with a solid block of stone. You then go about removing everything in it that isn’t your end product. If you’re sculpting an elephant, you take off all the bits that aren’t elephant, and what you’re left with is (an elephant, hopefully). With writing, it’s the opposite. You start with nothing, and you add material until you have your final book. (Yes, there will be some editing and deleting and the like, but the bottom line is that you’re always going from nothing to something, as opposed to going from something to something else.)

This will make more sense as I keep going (I hope).

The first steps of both processes are fairly similar: you add (or subtract) a large amount of material, relatively quickly. Yes, things might pop up–an unexpected plot problem halfway through, a pesky bit of weak granite–that make you have to revise your ultimate vision, but for the most part, that first step is hammering your way through the material to get a rough estimation of what you want the thing to look like. By the time you’re done with this stage, what you have generally looks like what you want it to become. It’s recognizable as an elephant. The problem is, it’s not a very good elephant.

Oh, it’s good in that people look at it and say “That’s an elephant,” instead of “Is that a duck?” But it’s bad in that no one’s going to want to spend much time admiring it. (Unless you’re still early on in your development stages as an artist, and you need the encouragement.) So you roll up your sleeves and get to work on step two. Now, you’ve switched to a slightly smaller chisel. You’re rounding out pieces of the sculpture. Some big chunks of stone are still falling to the floor, but you’re using a different skill set than what you were using for step one. You can’t be as cavalier. No sledgehammers are involved. And once you’re done, your elephant looks much better. It’s still no work of art. But it’s a pretty darn good elephant.

But the difference between a good elephant and a great elephant–or an immortal Elephant for the Ages–is all in the details. The subtle nuances. And those come out in step three, where you’re not using a chisel at all. You’re sanding and filing the statue. Taking off just enough stone to be just right. The difference between Michelangelo’s David and some random statue is all in the details.

I’m not claiming I’m writing a masterpiece here. What I’m saying is that I’m discovering at each stage of the revision process I’m using different tools. They’re all difficult. Just because huge chunks of text aren’t getting changed or deleted doesn’t mean it’s easier. This morning, it took me an hour to figure out how I wanted to revise 100 words (it went from 100 to 285, and they were difficult words to write–it was an action scene that’s pivotal for the main character, but it’s also racially charged. How to make it tactful, not too over the top, emotionally challenging, interesting, and believable all at once–not the easiest task.)

Some of this struggle is likely due to the fact that I’ve never (ever) revised a book this much. If I had, some of my earlier books would likely be published by now. (Unfortunately, you can’t tell someone who hasn’t revised enough that they haven’t revised enough–because to them, they feel like they have. Does that make sense? People talked about how much effort revision took–and I agreed with them, feeling like I’d put the same amount of effort and struggle into my own revisions. And then I was pushed to keep revising. It’s an eye-opening experience.) So hopefully this is a process I get better at in time.

For the meantime, I have a schedule worked out to be finished with the revision on the 25th, a whole week ahead of schedule. I thought I’d be done way sooner than that, because when I looked over Stacy’s notes, I didn’t see any huge changes. No need for large swathes to be revised. But it turns out fine tuning some of these scenes is just as difficult as making major edits to larger scenes.

Go figure.

Revision Update Number Four-Million-Five-Hundred-Three

Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction)Okay. Another one. No doubt you’re getting kind of sick about hearing me harp on and on (and on and on) about my revision, but that’s pretty much my life right now, folks. Yes, TRC finished his ski lessons yesterday, and it’s actually kind of sort of warmish here in Maine for the next few days (okay–above freezing, but that counts when last night it was like 15 below), but as far as my days go, they consist of waking up, revising for an hour, going to work for eight and a half hours, then coming home and revising for another four hours or so–at least.

The tricky thing is that I’m not sure I need to be working this hard on it. The due date for this stage isn’t until March 21, so I still have quite a bit of time. However, nothing’s worse (in my opinion) than having to write under pressure, and if I wait to revise, there’ll be plenty of pressure. My goal has been to revise 15 pages a day, which will let me be finished with the revision a week from tomorrow. That gives me one final week to read things over, tweak, make sure the changes I made make sense–that sort of thing.

So what sort of things am I adding and cutting right now? I’m cutting all the boring parts, and adding lots of excitement. 🙂  Honestly, it’s mainly about pacing and characterization right now. The first third has slimmed down a lot. I sliced out three chapters–chapters where not a whole lot happens–rolling what important stuff did happen into other chapters. Ideally, a chapter should accomplish multiple tasks at the same time–push multiple plot lines forward. When a chapter just gets one or two things done, it ain’t pulling its weight.

Sometimes I change something that makes it so I have to add other material to support that. A character might get beat up. When other characters notice that, they react–someone might decide that character needs to be taught how to fight. The character agrees, and so suddenly there’s a need for a “fight training plot” added into the book. At this point in the writing process, I know all these characters really well. I know how they think, and how they respond in different situations. I can’t just force them to do whatever I want them to do–I can put some different obstacles in their way, but they still have to overcome them the way they choose. (It feels really bizarre saying that, but that’s really how it feels.)

Anyway.

I’m on track. It’s going well. I reread some of my big changes yesterday, and I’m pleased with them. Still, I wouldn’t mind taking a few days off . . .

There’ll be time enough for that after March 21. Happy weekend, all!

Revision Update

I just finished trimming Chapter 25 of Lesana. I’ve cut over 12,000 words of text so far, and I feel like the changes are really tightening things up. Very good stuff–but it’s taking me much longer than I thought it would. Oh well. About 10 chapters left. I’ll probably have to take another break while I drive cross country to move, but I should be able to submit this sometime this month, which is very nice. In fact, I think I’ll make that a goal. By the end of August, this book is done. At last.

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