Those Dreaded Revisions, Part 2 (My Own Process)

Last week, I promised I’d show you my dirty little secret — my own revision process. (Why — what were YOU thinking?!)

First, let me get this out of the way:  there is no magic number as to how many times you need to revise your manuscript. There just isn’t. I’ve been working on one series for six years now. It took me forever to realize that the reason it wasn’t working was because a.) It needed to be in 1st person, not 3rd, and b.) That first long, slogging book was really two books disguised as one. Know how many revisions I went through with that first book? Twenty-eight. I actually had to go back and look at my saved documents because I’ve blocked that number from my mind.

But then I figured it out late last year, spent most of the spring and early summer dividing that one book into two and rewriting the new first book to the series. Know how many drafts I went through with that one? Twenty-one.

Now you’re probably asking:  what exactly constitutes a draft, to you?

To me, a new draft occurs when I have made so many changes that it cannot no longer be considered the same version. That threshold, however, is probably different for every person. It can be changes to sentences and paragraphs. major deletions, moving scenes and/or chapters, rewriting entire chapters. If all you did was go in and change “and” to “or” once or twice, that’s probably not a new draft. If you wrote an entire scene where Joe declares his love for Becky and she slaps him, so he goes out and shoots someone, and that didn’t happen in the previous version, that’s probably a new draft.

Why do I save so many drafts? you may be asking. Why not just save over the old version a million times? Doesn’t that save space on your hard drive? Well, yes, it does. But it also means that you cannot ever access the old version again. And let’s say you had a scene that you wrote, and after a few months you realize it just doesn’t fit with this particular book, so you delete it. Then you save that draft — and what have you done? You’ve deleted that scene permanently. What happens if you want that scene later, for a different book?! It’s gone! All gone! No turkey sandwiches! No gallons of turkey soup!

So that’s why I save so many versions. In different places. My laptop. My external hard drive. My email. My flash drive.

When I’m revising, I prefer a hard copy — although I am really liking my new method of saving my latest draft as an ePub document and loading it on my Nook. The only problem with that is you have to make the notes on a notepad (or utilize the handy-dandy Notes feature, which allows you to tap a word and then make a note that you can reference later). But the hard copy is great because I can take my colored pen and my Post-It Notes and go to town.

These are pages from a draft I revised earlier this year. This is what some of my pages look like:

page 1

Here, I’ve left myself notes about plot and character development. My first note is telling myself that the dates don’t match up, and that it’s too early for my MC to make any conclusions about whether one death had anything to do with another.

The second one is a reminder that although I know where this story is heading, my MC doesn’t quite yet, and I need to make that clear to the readers! She’s still jumping to conclusions — an easy thing for me to do, when I already know how the story is going to end (by this time, I did know, but I don’t always), and my MC needs to back off a bit and we need to let things develop.

Then, in the text itself, I am forever crossing out lines and rewriting them, and leaving myself notes about “this makes no sense!” Which is something you, as a writer, also need to watch out for:  you know your story better than anyone. Make sure you don’t assume too much! Always ask yourself:  if I was reading this for the first time, or if I didn’t know my own research, would any of this make sense? That’s where your beta readers come in. You need to rely on them to tell you when they get confused and where you haven’t given enough explanation. And you need to make sure they do tell you!

You’ll also see that I write in a purple pen. I will often do dark green, or red, but purple is fast becoming my favorite. I just don’t do black. Ever. It’s too easy to miss things when you go back to do the edits. page 3

Like I said, I’m very hard on myself. I’m a perfectionist, and I don’t like to make mistakes,and if something sucks, I am not shy about letting myself know it! 🙂 For instance, this note says “all of this needs rewritten.” Then I tell myself how I think it should really go. This is just a bare-bones outline, but when I come back to do the rewrites, I’ll have it.

In fact, there are four notes to rewrite this page. And you can see from all the chicken-scratches and purple ink, I wasn’t happy with this scene as written. (I just re-read this scene, in its new version, and I’m still not entirely happy with it, to be honest.) But I never, ever tell myself just to rewrite something, without giving myself a note as to why, or what I should do. That way, I always have that blueprint for later.

With this last one, there’s no major page 2Post-It Notes, but you do see two ink colors: purple and pink. The purple is my note; the pink is a simple “OK” in a circle, to let myself know that I made that change to my satisfaction.

With this particular dialogue exchange, I have three characters “on stage” — my MC, and the two ghosts she knows at her college, Emmett and Harry. They’re . . . you know . . . teenage boys . . . and they’ve been together so long that my MC cannot tell which is which. So when I wrote this exchange where I had no tag lines and no attributions, I got lost myself! 🙂 I needed to remind myself that at this particular point, only Harry was talking; I had to get Emmett in there somehow. Once I had rewritten that, I put the “OK” there to let myself know that this had been completed.

The revision process is different for everyone. As an OCD, sticky-note obsessed, purple-pen-loving writer, this is my method. And it works for me. It might work for you, too, which is why I wanted to share it. It’s a simple process. Brutal, but simple at heart. If you are willing — to quote Stephen King — to murder your darlings, this can work for you. So to recap what I do:

1.) Colored pens and sticky notes.

2.) A hard copy of my manuscript.

3.) A quiet time and place to work. This may be difficult, particularly if you live with cats, as I do. Find a coffeehouse nearby.

4.) Depending on how focused you can be, you may need to read through your manuscript several times. What you’re looking for is:  grammar, sentence and paragraph structure, character development, odd dialogue, adverbs (get rid of them!!!), plot development, lines that can be cut, and of course, those places where Things Aren’t Quite Right. A scene may need moved. A character may act oddly. You may have referenced something that you actually haven’t talked about yet.

5.) If you’re focused and practiced, you may be able to do everything in one go-through. If you’re not, you may want to make two or three passes. Maybe that first time, you’re looking solely at grammar and sentence structure. On your second, you can look at those “not quite right” things. Maybe you’ve already marked a few.

6.) The more familiar you are with your own work, the harder it is to edit. You just don’t see the trees for the forest — or in our case, the twigs. Which is another reason why you need good beta readers.

So I hope that helped a little. Next week, I may continue with some more examples of my own editing and revision process, and share some comments that my own betas have made (we’re to meet this coming Saturday!).

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Those Dreaded Revisions — You Can Do It!

Last week, I showed you how to give critiques to another person, using a real-life example.  This time, I want to share a few tips I’ve learned about editing your own manuscript.

I realize — maybe better than anyone — that this new novel you’ve just written is your baby. You’ve spent the past three months? Six? Eighteen? giving birth to it. Nurturing it. But that draft is just the beginning. No one can write a first draft and then expect that first draft to go out into the world and survive. It’s really exactly like a baby:  you don’t expect a week-old baby to be able to go get a job, do you? Then why do you think that brand-new manuscript can be published just as it is? It doesn’t matter if you’re querying agents or planning to self-publish on Kindle, you need to edit and revise, probably more than once.

There is no right or wrong way to revise. If you’re a “pantser” (meaning “write by the seat of your pants,” with no plotting ahead of time), then your revision process will probably be different from someone who spent months plotting it all out and then writing. You actually go through the same process as a plotter, only in reverse. By the time your first draft is done, you’ll see the plot holes, where you can put in more twists, where you can ramp up the tension, where you can use a character (or even cut one!) to better effect.

I’m visual, so I like to take the manuscript and Post-It Notes and “plot” that way. Each scene gets a Post-It Note, and they get stuck on my office wall. It helps me see where scenes could be moved, where I have too many that are too similar, where I need to add in something to balance out the different plot threads.

There’s also no consensus on whether you should revise on your computer or on a hard copy. I prefer hard copies, the same way I prefer real books. I like to take a pen and make notes, to cross things out and jot new ideas in their place. Others prefer to work on their laptops so they can make changes right then and there. That’s okay, but make sure you’re saving that as a new file! If you permanently delete something from The Only Copy of You Novel, and you want it later — you’re screwed, my dear. That’s another reason why I prefer hard copies. Even if I do delete something, I always have that hard copy and I can retype it.

And on that note:  MAKE BACK-UPS OF YOUR BACK-UPS. If you start a new draft, SAVE IT TO MULTIPLE PLACES. Not just your hard drive. Not just your flash drive. BOTH. A really good way to save your work is to create an email account for yourself with Yahoo or Google, and email your drafts to yourself there (though you have to keep the account active, or it will be deleted — and with it, your work). Even if your computer crashes, you have it Somewhere Else. You may think I’m paranoid, but when you lose your novel and have no hard copies and no back-ups . . . Yeah.

Here’s a neat trick I discovered this year:  save your work as an ePub file and load it on your e-reader. It makes a world of difference! (For one thing, it makes you think “Holy freaking cow, this looks like a real book!”.) Typos jump out at you. Paragraphs and sentences take on a new life; you aren’t as tempted to skip over things, because you’re seeing it in a totally new format. You’re forced to confront things that you may have just shrugged at earlier. There are several free ePub converters online; the one that I’ve found works best for me is http://www.2epub.com/ I have a Nook HD+, and this is the only converter I’ve found that properly converts my Word documents into something that works on my Nook.

And let me get this out right now:  whether you’re doing a beta read for someone else or revising your own work, read it as close to one sitting as possible. Otherwise, you run into this problem called IDon’tRemember-itis. It’s when you read the first few chapters, set it down and go live your life for a few weeks, then remember you have to get this thing read, so you come back to it, but you don’t remember the first three chapters, so you have to re-read them. Then life comes calling again, and a few weeks later, you remember the novel, and you have to go re-read the first three chapters over again, and it becomes a never-ending cycle. How can you read for plot continuity if you can’t remember what the plot even was? Or know if the MC is acting out of character if you can’t remember what she’s like? You can’t. You’re doing yourself (or the other writer) a huge disservice if you do this. Do. Not. Do. It. Also, don’t read something else while you’re editing. You’ll get confused. Or worse, you’ll get tempted and fall right back into IDon’tRemember-itis.

Next week, I’ll let you have a peek at my own revision process. Hang on. It’s full of multicolored pens, Post-It Notes, scribbles, and harshness. 🙂