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Revising

domynoe wrote:

You know, I would love a ramble on your revision process the revision process, whatever you want to call it, as this is where I seem to be having the most problems. I've done the "easy stuff" and am now into the nit picky, line by line stuff and it's driving me crazy that it seems to be going so slow. I just feel like I'm not getting a handle on it, and now that I know how to finally come up with w rough draft (meaning, knowing how I need to write to come up with that draft), if anything is going to kill any kind of publication schedule, it's going to be the revisions.

I could do this; I'm even going to try, but. (There's always a but).


Bookstores, publishing as an industry, even the process of dealing with agents & editors are all things that, although each bookstore, publisher, agent and editor are individual, still have a lot in common, and it's much easier in those cases to generalize and at the same time offer useful information.

But because no two writers I've ever met work the exact same way, anything I said about revising would be entirely subjective -- one person's way of doing things, no more. I would never tell anyone else that they should approach revisions the way I do, because it's unlikely to work.

Realizing that you're struggling with the revision process, though, I'll say a couple of things -- and then ask others to fill in with their own processes (no, andpuff, not you <g>).

While each author does write in his or her own way, there are some broad generalizations that I'll make -- and please note, they are broad, so if they're of no use to you, or anyone else who's reading, ignore them.

My first draft and my submission draft are actually fairly similar, and always have been. I'm a 'throw it all out and start from scratch if it needs too much structural work' writer, and I tend to spend time on the first draft, line-editing sentences as I go. This means that the 'first' draft will be more polished. I tend to write in the evening, and then reread what I wrote the next day, when I'll do my first line-edit of raw text; I then move on in the novel. I do this one step forward, one step back, one step forward skip throughout the book.

When it's finished, I read it all from front to back, because at that point I know how it ends with some certainty, and I can either delete, add, or refine those things that have structural importance to the story. To give a grossly exaggerated example: If a character dies unexpectedly on me, and I want that death to have emotional freight, I begin to set up resonances earlier in the book that point toward that end. In the read-through I will also line edit again -- and this is a bitch, because changing a sentence can scrap a page or two worth of following paragraphs, meaning I have to rewrite those as well.

There are many writers who do something similar to this, and the work we send in as our first submission is pretty much what the book will look like, modulo editorial revision requests and editorial line-editing and copy-editing. Ummm, I did the bit about the different types of editing already, didn't I? (Yes, just checked; it's here:
http://www.livejournal.com/users/msagara/5294.html)

However… There are a number of people who write a very, very rough first draft, and they submit something like their fourth or fifth draft, refining the novel and often cutting out chunks of it as they go. I don't know if the revision process takes longer -- I assume it must -- because it's not the way I personally work.

When it comes to revision, line editing is pretty standard, and if the line-edit is a slog, I'm not sure how to make it go faster. But if the editing needed is structural editing -- if you need to make character voices clearer, for instance, or if you need to delete -- or add -- whole plot elements in order for readers to understand key scenes later on -- this can also take time.

I'm not sure which part of the process is causing the hump, so to speak.

I know that when I first started revising for an editor, I found it very hard. Not because I didn't want to revise -- I did -- but because a lot of the time I didn't understand what she was saying. Or rather, I didn't understand the why of it. If, for instance, she told me "this character doesn't work", I would sit there and stare blankly at pages and pages of sudden confusion because, obviously, the character worked for me. I was lucky in that my first editor was very patient; she answered my questions.

Revising the first book was a revelation, to me. Throwing away what became the third and starting it from scratch was the moment in which structure, with which I'd struggled consciously, suddenly snapped into place with that bracing clarity that happens so rarely it's its own joy. In as much as throwing out an entire manuscript can ever be a joy.

Sometimes, the hard part is translating what an editor/reader means into something you can work with. "This character doesn't work" isn't helpful if you can't figure out why. As you become more confident with revision, the why will become more clear, but until then, it's a bitch. If you have a writer's workshop, if you have alpha-readers upon whom you rely, you'll already have gotten feedback. But while getting the first draft down is absolutely critical, the revision process is just as critical -- even more so. Getting the feedback you need in a form you can digest is part of the revision process.

I think what I need, to say anything of more use, is to know what the nature of the slowdown is. Are you struggling with the language? Are you at the point at which you're so damn tired of the book you can't look at the words objectively? Is it something more structural? Or is it just that you know you need to make it better, but you're not sure what constitutes that better?

Because I can't revise based on air. When I revise, I'm looking -- always -- for specific things. Language ticks. Lack of description. Dialogue infelicities. Structural mess (which is always story dependent). Inconsistencies. I don't have a general "let's make this much better" approach because -- for me -- that's so nebulous it doesn't work; I have to be able to break "better" down into subjective constituent parts first, so that I know in specific what I'm doing surgery on; if I don't know what "better" means to me, I have no idea what kind of surgery to attempt.

It's why I appreciate the editorial view -- the editorial comments give me goals, another way of looking at the book, other things to aim for.

Comments

( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
domynoe
Aug. 26th, 2004 10:15 pm (UTC)
Actually, this did help. heh . ..

When it comes to revision, line editing is pretty standard, and if the line-edit is a slog, I'm not sure how to make it go faster.

Which actually tells me it's probably about normal. Maybe I'll get faster in some areas as I get used to them, or figure them out, or whatever, but from what you've said in previous posts, that only means there will be something else that I'll need to do the same with.

I think what I need, to say anything of more use, is to know what the nature of the slowdown is. Are you struggling with the language? Are you at the point at which you're so damn tired of the book you can't look at the words objectively? Is it something more structural? Or is it just that you know you need to make it better, but you're not sure what constitutes that better?

For this particular book, it's pretty much a language issue. Before I wrote short stories, I had a certain voice that fits this novel and the world it's written in. When I was learning to write shorts, that particular voice was frowned upon and eventually became stripped from my writing. At the time I couldn't complete a novel rough draft because i was going about it all wrong for me. Now I have the draft, but am trying to find my way back to the voice.

But it's also the fact that when I DID figure out how to write a whole novel and end up with a completed draft (rough or otherwise, I got past chapter 6 and was pretty proud of that! lol), it was like a light went on. So I've kinda been hoping there's some kind of light that can go on with the revisions, and feeling like maybe I'm missing something in the process.

I'm not tired of the book. I WANT it done. I want the revisions done so I can hold up a completed, as polished as I can get it novel and say, "See, I CAN do this!" And I want to finish it so I can get the 2 books that follow it out of my head and move on to the second trilogy so I can get THAT out of my head.

I just don't want to take 14 years for the revisions lightbulb to come on like it did for the writing lightbulb. lol

All of which was probably a ramble that didn't make as much sense as I'd hoped. lol
domynoe
Aug. 26th, 2004 10:45 pm (UTC)
Just had to add . . .
I'm waaaaaayyyyy over thinking this, aren't I?
msagara
Aug. 26th, 2004 10:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Just had to add . . .
I'm waaaaaayyyyy over thinking this, aren't I?

Not really <g>. Process is one of my interests, and I think about it all the time. Sometimes thinking about it helps -- agonizing seldom does, and for most writers, the edge between the two is kind of thin, in my experience (yes, I include me in this).
(Deleted comment)
msagara
Aug. 27th, 2004 07:16 am (UTC)
So far the only editorial editing I've had was on T&C where PNH wanted me to write an extra chapterlet to make the attitude to culling clearer, so I did, which also meant amending a couple of paragraphs in another chapter.

This is interesting. I think in my case, with my first novel, my first editor was essentially both my workshop and my beta-reader; I value the opinions of my spouse highly -- but there's a nagging little voice that feels that anything complimentary is perhaps not objective -- so all of the stuff that one would probably glean from either workshops or first-readers (which, for a specific value of first-reader is to me almost identitical), I was given through books 1-3 by said editor.

That, and she was a fabulous line-editor, from which I also learned much.

I have a writer friend who said, with some astonishment, that I probably learned to write novels while being published <wry g>. I think there is more truth to this than there should be, and such a situation could probably only arise at Lester del Rey's stomping grounds.


I don't know how I'd deal with "this character doesn't work".

I asked a lot of questions <rueful g>. Mostly to ascertain why, or what specifically was missing. My first novel is nowhere near as good as KING'S PEACE, imo, so there's probably a reason why you've never had to deal with this question; I haven't had to deal with it in a long time -- but I really did have to struggle with the editorial process at the beginning.

That and -- people who know me can laugh now -- I was terrified of looking either stupid or dorky or grossly unprofessional in front of the person who was going to publish my first novel, and whenever I have to look "good" I freeze in the headlights, suddenly uncertain of what I'm supposed to say. Much easier, all round, to be myself.

Well, okay, easier on me <wry g>.
(no subject) - domynoe - Aug. 27th, 2004 10:27 am (UTC) - Expand
mmarques
Aug. 27th, 2004 06:43 am (UTC)
My problem with revisions is keeping the momentum from writing. So far, I've only been able to complete a first draft by doing it fast and furious (during National Novel Writing Month), but with lots of outlining and prep work. For a while I kept the same momentum (ok, a little slowed down) and planned all my structural changes and started writing the new scenes and revising existing scenes... but then once I give myself a break to do other things, I find it very hard to get back into the routine.
janni
Aug. 27th, 2004 07:45 am (UTC)
However… There are a number of people who write a very, very rough first draft, and they submit something like their fourth or fifth draft, refining the novel and often cutting out chunks of it as they go. I don't know if the revision process takes longer -- I assume it must -- because it's not the way I personally work.

(Raising hand) That would be me. Not sure I've ever submitted something earlier than third or fourth draft (depending how you define a draft) and there are books I've worked on with 10 or more drafts.

I'm not actually sure this is a slower process, for me at least, because it would take me so long to write anything if I had to get it all right the first time through.

Just to reveal that I'm completely strange--for me, getting a first draft down is hard, and revision is a joy. I think I knew how to revise as a writer before I knew how to plot. (This meant my failed stories were very polished, making it hard to tell why they failed.)

Writing, for me, is a series of successive approximations, moving towards the final draft. For some books the starting point is farther off than others; but it always is a starting point.

One upside of this is that when my revision requests are good ones, I'm actually happy about them, and can thank my editor for them and mean it, and then take them and run with them.
dendrophilous
Aug. 27th, 2004 08:26 am (UTC)
That's my revision process too, and I *hate* it.

I started a new novel and once I get back to it (after this detested revision is done) I am trying the rolling-rewrite process in hopes of evening things out.
(no subject) - janni - Aug. 27th, 2004 09:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dendrophilous - Aug. 27th, 2004 11:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Aug. 27th, 2004 08:41 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - janni - Aug. 27th, 2004 09:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
lnhammer
Aug. 27th, 2004 07:50 am (UTC)
My revision process is kinda all over, depending on how clean at both large and small scales the draft is. I do start each day by line-editing the previous day's work (or for narrative poetry, previous couple days') both because I type rather messily and to get me a running start at new stuff. I usually don't rework earlier material until the end and I know what needs reworking (except that sometimes I rework the beginning to point myself in the right direction), but instead make revision notes, subject to change as further information comes in. The End = first draft. I then read through, making noted revisions and polishing language as I go — all the things I know are wrong and know how to fix — sometimes in a couple passes. That's second draft, the one that the writers group sees.

That's more or less constant for stories, narrative poems, and now novels. When I get comments back on structural and character issues (there always are some; the always ending needs work, even when I think I've fixed it) then process diverges. I sometimes do them at once, sometimes let them simmer for weeks or months, sometimes I address language first, sometimes structural first, sometimes I need only one round and I'm done, sometimes I take it out every once in a long while and poke at before putting away with a sigh.

Needless to say, this shows I've never worked on contract for this stuff.

---L.
msagara
Aug. 27th, 2004 08:23 am (UTC)
sometimes I take it out every once in a long while and poke at before putting away with a sigh.

Needless to say, this shows I've never worked on contract for this stuff.


Nope <g>. Just depends on the definition of "long while". I remember for DEATH, there was -one- editorial comment out of a host of comments that I thought would be easy to fix. But it wasn't. My editor said "Gilliam doesn't seem to be upset enough." And I thought of an emotional reaction scene -- until I hit it, at which point I was stymied. I wasn't going to write another reaction; if the first one hadn't worked, it seemed pointless.

It took almost a month of doing 'nothing' before it suddenly came to me: And out of it, one of my favourite passages in the book. I realized that there was a way to echo the loss and sorrow of the culture from the first book -- and the fact that it was unexpected, here, in the Empire, added that depth of resonance that I think my editor was looking for. It wasn't his viewpoint, of course; it was the Ladies of Breodanir -- but it's their loss, in so many ways, that informs the culture he came from. "He doesn't seem upset enough" was a short form that indicated something was missing; the what came later.

I'm -so- babbling. Stopping now <g>.
dendrophilous
Aug. 27th, 2004 08:31 am (UTC)
Question for you and for the other people who revise as they go: How big are the changes that you make? Do you ever realize while writing chapter 11 that you have to go add scenes in chapters 4, 6, and 9, for example? Or are earlier events pretty much set in stone? Do you plan the book out before you write it?

This question from the perspective of someone who writes very messy first drafts that are half the length of the second draft.
lnhammer
Aug. 27th, 2004 09:32 am (UTC)
Personally, I'm constantly noting scenes that need to be added or deleted or replaced. But I'm generally on barrel ahead mode at that point.

---L.
(no subject) - msagara - Aug. 27th, 2004 09:43 am (UTC) - Expand
mrissa
Aug. 27th, 2004 08:47 am (UTC)
I revise differently when I'm writing YA than when I'm writing adult, which means I write differently, though I'm not conscious of it at the time. My adult books have taken pages of notes to revise. My YAs usually have a list of maybe a dozen things to check for, plus whatever tweaking I do along the way.

But if I stop to revise along the way, I get bogged down, and I still don't get it right and have to do at least one pass-through and more often two or three (pre-submission; at this point I don't know how many will be required pre-publication, and it may be twenty bazillion for all of me). I have to have the whole book in front of me, even if it's wrong, in order to get the whole book right. I can't just get the right Chapter One and have it lead to the right Chapter Two and so on.

I have no idea how much this is related to writing non-sequentially.
msagara
Aug. 27th, 2004 09:32 am (UTC)
I have no idea how much this is related to writing non-sequentially.

... I need to have the whole book in front of me in order to do a final revision, but if I had to write out of sequential order, I'd never finish <wry g>. So. I don't think it's related to non-sequential writing.

How much of the book do you have to have outlined in order to write non-sequentially? I don't outline at all; I have the ending, I know the people and the culture (more or less), and I write -- so out of sequence, even if I -think- I'm going to hit key scenes -- would be disaster for my particular approach.
(no subject) - mrissa - Aug. 27th, 2004 10:47 am (UTC) - Expand
zhaneel69
Aug. 27th, 2004 09:27 am (UTC)
I've only ever written short stories.

Here is how I work:

First Draft: Written mostly pretty well. Will edit during if I put in something that necessitates a change, or if I see a spelling/grammar error, etc. If the story takes multiple days, I re-read (and line edit) the preceeding paragraphs to get a running start, as someone else said, and then plunge further. I then send it out to my First Readers list [or workshop it] and wait for comments.

Upon receiving the various comments and edits, I review them, just to get them in my head. I have up any modified word documents, any just commentary e-mails, and any other notes from people and the document printed out in front of me [or on the screen if I want]. I edit a lot here. Mostly I'm looking for turns of phrase, the need to add more detail, the cutting of the slow-downs, movement of this piece of info to somewhere else, breaking up dialogue, etc. The structure remains intact, for the most part, but the details are polished. Using the comments I agree with or resonate with me, I work through the story. It feels like I change a lot, but when people read it they don't notice the change as much. That is due in large part to the fact that I will rewrite entire pages, but include bits and pieces of the previous words. So the same stuff happens, just revealed slightly differently.

After that, I try to let it sit a little. Then I print it out [remember, short story here] and do grammar/spelling/consistency line edits from the end to the beginning. I read each sentence in reverse order. Helps me to not get caught up in the flow and catch the small stuff. If I have time, then I also call upon my grammar natzi friends to help out.

Then, it is basically ready to go.

If I send it out and get rejections, I consider editing it again. Mostly because I'll have had more time for it to sit at that point so that I'm further away from it. I keep hoping that I will get a personal rejection to help with the revision, but no such luck so far.

That's my process.

Rarely will I re-draft something. If it has been too long [1+ years] and my writing has changed and my style is different [I'm still growing] then I may read the story, note what I liked and rewrite a "first draft". I did this recently and was much happier. In retrospect, I didn't change a lot, but the story flowed much better for me. Then this "first draft" will undergo the normal process.

Zhaneel
domynoe
Aug. 27th, 2004 02:00 pm (UTC)
When you're waiting for comments and letting it sit, do you move on to the next novel? If you do, is in the same series or completely unrelated? If related, how do you keep it all straight? lol

I ask this because I am trying to plot build the third novel and am working on the rough draft in the second novel, however I'm finding it . . . a distraction? . . . to keep where the characters are in development in each. For example, in book 1, the m.c. goes by one name because she is in hiding. By the end of book 1, she is revealed (much to her dismay), so in book 2 she's using her real name. If I got a nickle for each time I wrote in the alias rather than the real name in book, I'd have one hefty check coming my way! lol
(no subject) - zhaneel69 - Aug. 27th, 2004 02:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - domynoe - Aug. 27th, 2004 02:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
kristine_smith
Aug. 27th, 2004 10:20 am (UTC)
My first *complete* draft is a gradient draft, in that the continuous rolling rewrite has been going on since the beginning, with some wholesale plot slaughter along the way of the one step forward, "back to start to make sure we turned off the iron" variety. I've discarded the first 200 pages during the writing of each of the four books I've done, and it's damned disheartening.

Then comes the editorial revision, which more often than not involves a rewrite of at least one major plotline.

This book feels different, but they all feel different at the beginning.
(Deleted comment)
zhaneel69
Aug. 27th, 2004 01:29 pm (UTC)
Why do you tweak and then toss?

Just curious... as I would be all angry about tossing what I'd already tweaked.

Zhaneel
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - zhaneel69 - Aug. 27th, 2004 01:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - domynoe - Aug. 27th, 2004 02:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - zhaneel69 - Aug. 27th, 2004 03:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
domynoe
Aug. 27th, 2004 03:36 pm (UTC)
After reading all the above
It seems that where I'm at in my revisions is pretty "normal" all things considered. This means I don't need to be frustrated about my pace, just to keep doing what I'm doing.

And to add a bit from a few previous posts and comments, if I do get too frustrated, it's acceptable to take a break and work on getting one of the other novels going, even if I need to find an anal retentive friend to help me find my name errors.

I'd say, so now all I need to worry about is whether it's publishable, but I think I just need to focus on getting it to be as good as I can.

Thank you all for your input. It really has helped a lot. :) And thanks Michelle for being willing to discuss it. I appreciate it. :)
( 33 comments — Leave a comment )