May 06, 2010


Given that I have revisions on the brain right now, I thought I'd talk a bit about them. I've probably done so before but hey, I can't remember right now (revision brain strikes!).

In general, I think writers fall into two camps. There are those who hate writing first drafts but love all the polishing and revision that comes afterwards and there are those who love writing first drafts but find revising harder work.

I tend to fall into the latter group. I love the freedom and fun of finding out what my story is in the first draft. A first draft that's flowing and working is pure joy to me. Then, when I get to the end, it's always a bit sad to realise "oh man, I just wrote x amount and now I have to go back and fix it all".

But given I write short first drafts with a severe lack of description and narration and er, lots of other things, I don't think I'm ever going to get away from having to do several drafts of my books. Even more so now I have an editor adding her brilliant insights after I've slogged away for a couple already.

Revision for me, consists of two main things:

1. Editing which is polishing and tweaking language and fixing up continuity and layering in some details and making character voices distinct etc. It's detail, small picture, word by word stuff.

2. Actual revising which is structure and plot and arcs and all that stuff that generally requires big picture thinking. This is the stuff that makes your book actually hang together as a whole. It's easy to write a lot of good polished scenes that don't work together if you don't spend time on the big picture.

So once I come to the end of my first draft, I put the book away for a bit but when I pull it out again, I need to do both types of editing. For me, I usually sit down and work out what I think the book needs right now. What's working, what isn't. What stuff appeared at the end that needs to be taken back and pulled through the book. What threads did I drop? How did the story change from what my initial idea? Am I happy with how it changed or did I lose my way? To help with this I might write the synopsis, or do scene lists. I definitely re-read the notes I made for myself throughout the manuscript as I was writing.

This stuff for me, is hard work, to force myself to be very analytical about the story but I've realised in the last little while as I've thought about this particular story that I do enjoy this part. It's not 'revising' which, to me, sounds boring. It's re-visioning. Redefining what the story is, what it can be. Finding where it needs to bloom or shrink. Working out how to make it shine. Giving myself a vision of it to work too. Of course, actually doing the work is still hard but I think I can get behind the concept that I'm re-visioning rather than revising. Which might just be a strange writer brain quirk but as in all things process, whatever gets you through the night (or draft).

Anyway after, I do my thinking, I sit down and do another draft. I do a reasonable amount of detail work (otherwise my betas and critique partners would likely be asking if I was on drugs) but it's mostly about fleshing out and making the big picture changes I've needed at this point. My draft usually grows by about 25 to 30 percent. This is the draft I send out to my betas and critique partners and agent for comments.

When I get those back, I do another draft to fix the stuff I've inevitably missed and make the story better still. And then probably do some quick passes through to really tweak language or world stuff (stuff like searching for US vs Aussie language, overused words, etc etc). I focus on one thing at a time and each pass might only take a few hours (the "find" feature in Word and speed reading are very very useful at this poitn). This sounds like a lot of drafts but I tend to revise fast because that's what works for me, so it's not months of work. Um, unless I've stuffed something up majorly.

After that, it goes back to my agent for submission (or I guess, from now on, to my editor!) What happens after that point depends on the editorial process. Most likely another draft then line edits then copyedits. At which point I will be thoroughly sick of the book and probably thinking it's complete dreck. Because that is also inevitable for me. Once you've read a book over and over, you lose all perspective (which is why you need betas and crit partners and agents and editors).

During all of this I'll also be working on drafting something new and then the whole darn process will just start over again. That's the glamourous writing life for you!

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