Tuesday, August 7, 2007

It's a Grind: Revision

So last night I handed Deb my final critique on her novel, and I think I inserted my foot in my mouth (which happens more than you would think). The poor girl talks about how busy her week is going to be and how she's going to wait to do the revisions and I say something to the effect of: "Yeah, you shouldn't look at what I have to say during a busy week."

It sounds worse than I mean, both then and now.

Her story is fantastic, and because it's hers I will not go into why here...the story shall come out in its own time, when Deb says so.

However, like all, all, all first drafts, there's some revision and editting to do. I happen to love revising because it gives me an opportunity to make what is good even better. And that is how you have to look at it or it will seem like too much work and you'll flip out. Fleur said something to that effect (affect? I don't know, I'll fix it later...) last night. She said that she rewrites as she goes so that it's not so scary later -- revising twenty pages is easier than revising 200. I would still argue that you have to go through at least one major novel-length overhaul to make sure everything is seamless.

And a novel-length overhaul is what I suggested to Deb. I tailored the process for her novel, because there are certain elements that need to be considered seperately, but here is the basic layout:

1. Without re-reading a word, do a blind, (novelistic)sequential outline of the important scenes (i.e. Bad Guy Gets Out of Prison, Liquor Store Robbery...etc). Why do this? I borrowed this from Ali, who stole it from our professor, David Keplinger, in regards to a short story rewrite. Essentially, by doing something blind, you have to remember the parts that are truly important. The crappy, unecessary parts are cut out automatically.
2. Reread the novel with those thoughts in mind.
3. Go through the novel and rearrange the physical pages (no computer screens, those who ignore this do so at their peril) in the order that they have to appear. Don't worry if some parts don't really make sense, you're going to cut or rewrite them. You're also going to mark where you need new scenes. This is where you mark typos and cut whole chunks of prose and add in new ones. Add loose leaf paper if you have to.
4. With the original blind outline in hand, and the physical pages of your novel next to you, re-type the whole thing inserting the changes that you've made on the paper. If you think of a new turn of phrase or a better word this is where you put those in. Go until the end. If you haven't cheated, you should wind up with a pretty spiffy second draft.
5. Wait a little while (week or two at least) and read your second draft. Polish it or revise as necessary.
***It's important that you don't type over your first draft with your second draft. You may realize that you need something out of that first one after all. Don't delete anything until you've got a bound, published book on your desk.

But, you see why I told Deb not to look at this stuff during a busy week? Even with a full vacation time it's enough to make someone balk. However, after spending a year or more on just getting down the first draft, investing all that time and energy, aren't you cheating yourself if you skip the part where you make it all better? Make it all worthwhile? Because, really, and I'm repeating myself here, the only thing you can control is the quality of your work.


  1. Jenny, me darlin'.

    I've known you too long not to guess fairly closely what you'd say. Although I'm certainly not starting the process this week, except to buy the notebook, it wasn't as daunting as it could have been.

    I certainly appreciate all the feedback from everyone in the group. Writing can be so isolating that it's wonderful to have this amazing resource of talented, smart, honest, and kind individuals to work with.

    I may change my tune halfway through the process, however. ;-)

  2. Ah, I see now why you told her not to read it right away. Whew. I'm tired just reading your post.

    That said, I totally agree with your suggestions. Didn't someone, somewhere, say that it doesn't really count unless it's hard?

    Besides, the steps you've outlined get right at the meat of revising. It's like the steak and potatoes approach to making a second draft. Just fixing typos is no way to revise.

  3. Whew! That's a lot of work. You writers sure do impress me with your drive and stamina. I don't think I could ever do that kind of work. I'll just stick to working at McDonald's. By the way, do you want fries with that?


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