Monday, December 10, 2012

A Recipe for Revision

Last month was NaNoWriMo and thousands of people all over the world cranked out a first draft of their novels in thirty days ( a "novel" feat indeed). Many smart people have probably set their manuscripts aside to let them marinate for a while, but a few crazies (like myself) have already jumped into revisions. So I thought it would be a good time to talk about how I go about tackling revisions.

1. The Read Through
Although it's far more helpful to let your manuscript sit for a while to give yourself some distance from it, I often jump right back in. (This is because I'm a very impatient person and I know this fact will never change about myself. EVER.) During this first read through it's important to try to look at the piece as a whole. It's not the time to start nitpicking about sentences and word choice. It's a time to digest the story and see how it's working as a whole. Do I like the characters? Does the pacing flow? Are there any major flaws in logic or plot? 
I usually do this first read through on my Kindle so I'm not tempted to go in and start making changes. This forces me to look at the big picture.
While I'm reading I like to have a notebook handy to jot down thoughts in about these big problems.
2. The Big Ones
Now's the time to make a list of the big problems that I want to address in my second draft. Again, it's important not to get sucked into the little things yet. Now's not the time to be searching for weak words and sentence fragments. Now is the time to think about developing characters and strengthening plot. I like to make a list of a few things that I'd like to tackle during this first revision, this way I can check them off as I go (and we all know how much I love checking things off my lists). 
3. A Little Feedback
By this time, my manuscript is starting to feel a little more cohesive, although I must remember that it's still a hot mess. This is the point when I like having my most trusted readers (the ones I know won't judge me for writing crap) read through my draft and give me their critique and suggestions. This is important for me because, although I've tried to be critical during my first read through, it's still impossible to completely distance myself from the book. I know what I'm trying to say so I can't totally see it with fresh eyes. These reader will truly be able to see it for what it is. After they write up their feedback, I'll have a chance to go back and fix the major flaws they spotted that I was blind to.
4. Tightening it Up
Hopefully by this point the major issues and revisions have taken place. Even though this is only number four in the revisions process, the manuscript might have seen ten or twenty mini revisions already. Now's the time to finally start thinking about things on a smaller level: sentences, word choice, flow. Now I can take out the scissors and go through that manuscript chopping out all the fat. Unless a sentence is doing something important for the story, it doesn't get to stay. Chop. Chop. And chop some more. This is a great time to post your manuscript into one of those word cloud websites so that you can see what words you've overused. I always have a fairly similar list of my overused weak words: just, something, looked, thing. Now I can go through and do a search for those words and rewrite using stronger words.
5. One More Critique
Hopefully those readers aren't totally sick of me, because I need their help again. Just one more read through from them to see if I've fixed the problems that they saw the first time. 
Most likely my manuscript still won't be perfect and I'll have to go through these last steps a few more times, but I'll be getting closer and closer. One day soon this book will be good enough. No, it will never be perfect, but I know myself and I'll be ready to move on to a new project. Maybe this book will find a home, or maybe it will snuggle up with the other books in my filing cabinet. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

How do you revise? Do you have any great tips that I need to add to my list?

1 comment:

  1. What a thorough and awesome revision process! No wonder you're such a great writer. :) Thanks for posting this!