Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Revision, Revision, Revision

I am in the middle of moving. I am in the middle of renovating the house I am moving to. I am also in the middle of a major manuscript revision. It feels like I've been in the middle of all these projects for a long, long time, and I can't wait for them to be over, as in Happily-Ever-After over.

One thing I can be assured of, though, is that if I stay with the work, chipping away on a consistent basis I will very soon be a) able to move into a nice house, and b) have a submission-ready manuscript to put in the mail. Because as disgusting as tearing out old carpet is, or how painful cutting pages and pages of first draft writing can be: once it's gone, only the new and better can fill it's place. But I have to do the work first. 

Right now, I'm lucky in that my husband is handling the majority of the heavy renovation work. My part is mainly to drive to Lowe's and try not to complain/worry too much. In many ways my manuscript is a life-saver because it gives me something to concentrate on when I'd rather be screaming. And the best way I can sanely write and revise is to:
  • Avoid editing anything while writing a first draft--including the first draft of any new and/or revised section or scene. Just keep writing until you reach the last page or paragraph. (For some extra help with that last page, check out  my earlier post on writing your endings first.)
  • Once you're ready to read through your initial or discovery draft, try to read without a pen or pencil in hand. Be a spectator rather than an editor.
  • The second read-through is the time to make notes. Aim for order: chapter-by-chapter, line-by-line. Keep everything together in a special manuscript binder, preferably one with dividers.
  • Once you've finished writing your editorial notes, switch to right-brain mode and journal out your feelings and overall impressions. What did you like best about your manuscript? What do you feel is missing? Do you need to write any new scenes? Did any parts of the story bore you to the point you didn't want to read them? (Extra tip: be ruthless--cut out anything you don't enjoy. Readers won't like those sections either.) Make a comprehensive to-do list for your next draft.
  • Examine the chapter arrangement. Are the chapters in the right order to tell the story most effectively? What about the chapter lengths? Are some chapters too long, while others are too short? While it's not essential to make your chapters always the same length, you also don't want to throw your reader off balance with too much variation unless it's intentional.
  • Look at POV (point-of-view) use. Have you gone for single or multiple POVs? Have you kept them consistent? If not, make your changes now.
  • Read the manuscript aloud whenever possible. Reading to your critique group can be helpful.
  • Create a style sheet to record important story details, e.g., correct spellings of characters' names, their dates and places of birth, the floor plans of their houses, a map of their city streets. I like to make a list of their wardrobes and other belongings--items in the story that will appear more than once. For instance, if I've said my heroine lives in a one-story house, I don't want her to ever go upstairs unless she's visiting someone who lives in a multi-level dwelling; or have her receive a compliment for her lovely green dress after I've dressed her in shorts and a T-shirt.
  • Use your computer's "search and replace" function to weed out repetitions and buzz words. For instance, how many times have you used the words "suddenly," "actually," or "really," or had your main character bite his lip, run his hand over his hair, or drink a cup of coffee? Or used a word like "enthrall" too many times?
  • Once a draft is finished, put it away for a while and work on something new. Two to four weeks between drafts is usually long enough to let a manuscript "rest." Follow the guidelines above and you may only have to rest two or three times before you're ready to submit your work to a publisher.
Tip of the Day: More than anything, revision is a process to help your words shine on the page (or e-reader device). Your goal is to make the manuscript flow--not to strangle the life out of it. Remember to take your time and stay true to your original vision--whether it's your screenplay or your new backyard--make it the one that pleases you, not someone else, the most.


Michelle Stanley said...

Nice post with useful tips. I'm on the AtoZ road trip. Michelle

Anonymous said...

Very helpful, Valerie! I especially like your straightforward suggestion that if anything bores me while reading my manuscript, cut it out without delay. Very true that others won't want to read that either. I don't know about just being a spectator for any read-through though. I would be too afraid I'd forget something I would see through that first read-through that would need to be addressed. But again, awesome suggestions. I printed them out to go by them when I finish this next draft. :D

Valerie Storey said...

Glad the tips were helpful. I think the most difficult part of revision is that "spectator" role; separating ourselves from the work, and trying to see it through a reader's eyes. Recently I learned a good trick to help with that: print out the pages in a font totally different than the one you would ordinarily use--it works! Almost feels like you're reading the work of an anonymous stranger, making it easier to edit and critique.

cleemckenzie said...

I should post your list above my computer. I'm not as organized in my writing and it seems my books come down to the page like rain. Then I have to push the words around to make tidy puddles.

I'm into Overtaken. I think I should say I'm Overtaken by it.

Valerie Storey said...

Oh, thanks so much, C. Lee! It's always great to know a post has been helpful. Really made my day. Wishing you a wonderful holiday weekend :)