Thursday, March 3, 2011

Manuscript Revision--Play Nice

When it comes to revising your manuscript, you want to be ruthless--to your pages, that is.  Being mean to yourself during the revision process won't make your writing any better or worse than it already is--I know because I've tried it too many times!

Right now I'm on the very last revision pages of my current WIP before typesetting begins next week.  There are days when it's felt like a never-ending chore--one that's taken much longer than I ever could have predicted.  Then again, there have been wonderful days when I want to jump up and down, shouting, "I love being a writer!"  Either way, here are some of the most important things I've learned over these last few months:

1.  Whatever else happens, do your best to keep to a schedule for revision, preferably choosing blocks of time when you're at your highest energy levels.

2.  It's a good idea to print out your pages for revision and then use a 3-step plan:  a) read through without a pen, but place small post-its where you think you need to make a change;  b) go through the manuscript again, and this time pencil in your changes; c) make your changes. 

3.  Take time off between the stages.  At least 24-48 hours is good for a short piece; a week or two can be better for a novel or book-length manuscript.

4.  Don't feel you have to over-reach to be a "disciplined writer."  Whether you are just reading through your manuscript, or you are in the final proofreading stage, divide your manuscript into workable blocks of pages.  When choosing the amount of pages to work on per revision session, be easy on yourself.  You'll be more inclined to work consistently on 3-10 page blocks, rather than those of 20-30.

5.  Create and use a style sheet right from the start:  e.g., characters' names and ages, foreign words or terms that can have multiple spellings, words that need capitalization and those that don't. 

6.  Read your work aloud whenever you can. 

7.  Acknowledge that revision isn't a "get it over and done with" part of your writing life.  It's about trying to do your absolute best.  If a certain page takes several days to "get it right," then that's how long it's going to take and your schedule will just have to change.  At the same time, you'll often find that some revision sessions speed by because there's not much, if anything, to change.  And just because the work is "easy" on that particular day, resist the urge to grab more pages.  Instead, take advantage of the extra time for some rest and relaxation.

8.  If you have to miss a day or two of editing, don't try to make up for lost time with a marathon.  It's too easy to gloss over important (and suspect) passages, declaring them "okay" in an attempt to cram a week's worth of work into an afternoon.  Marathons can also create burn-out, making you too tired or bored to continue with the next day's revision schedule.

9.  Reward yourself at the end of each session.  Even if it's something as simple as a cup of coffee, or allowing yourself some reading time, take it.

10.  If you feel stuck and can't find a solution to a manuscript problem--allow yourself a small break.  Go for a walk, take a nap, watch a movie.

11.  Another way to handle what feels like an insurmountable problem is to play with some freewriting or artwork.  Try this:  In your journal write the words, "What I really want to say in this scene (passage, chapter, piece of dialogue) is...  Then just talk it through.  You'll be amazed at how clear the solution will be.  Collage or doodling can help too.  Playing with some colored pencils or crayons, magazine cut-outs, or personal photos can bring you closer to the mood, theme, or emotion you're trying to evoke through your writing.

12.  Always have a journal or notepad ready to collect new ideas.  Rather than resist the urge to add a new idea because "it doesn't fit," at least give yourself the chance to experiment.  By keeping a new scene or character separate from your actual manuscript, but also ready for inclusion, you can decide whether it fits or not later on.

Tip of the Day:  We all have our own "comfort zones" for knowing exactly what is too much (or too little) writing or revision to achieve in one day.  Understanding your working style and needs before you start a project will keep your output consistent and your deadlines stress-free.


Msartist said...

Great tips Valerie. I hope to put some things in writing this year. Little steps. Have a wonderful day.

Shopgirl said...

Great tips and very organized in this step by step way, making the whole process a lot less intimidating. Thanks for sharing this.