January 24, 2012

Revisions: The Core Of Writing

Anyone who's ever finished an entire novel can tell you that 95 percent of the processs is revisions. A rough draft is a good beginning, but it is never a finished thing, devoid of plot, pacing, and character issues. And the more inexperienced you are as a writer, the more revisions you will probably need to do to get what you have on paper to look like anything more than a succession of sentences. Trust me. I don't know one other writer who hasn't revised their manuscript to within an inch of its life. So today, I'm going to talk about my personal revision process and how I go about taking a manuscript from rough to polished.

Before I even start drafting I have a general sense of where I 'm  headed. I make an outline, I do any required research, and I compile character sketches on each of my characters.  So when I sit down to write I already have a pretty good sense of what the story will be about (although I never stick to the plan entirely). It is important to note that I always write the first drafts by hand. Something about pen and paper works for me. I draft scene by scene and at the end of every writing session, I type out what I've written. And this is where the first tiny revisions take place. While I'm typing I change things, in fact sometimes I skip whole handwritten pages, typing instead some new bit that comes to me in that moment which seems infinitely better than what I had.

After maybe the first fifty pages are in my computer and through this first minor round of revisions I usually get stuck somehow with my drafting. Either the words are coming out of me at a snail's pace or I've written myself into a corner I didn't know was there and I have to figure out a way to get out of it. This is when I'll usually stop for a day or two and revise what I already have, adding plot elements to fix any problems, beefing up sentences and descriptions and character actions. I also start looking at how I've written my main character and whether or not he/she is coming across the way I want him/her to. Then I send those pages off to critique partners because I am weak/wildly insecure and need either reassurance or a swift kick in the butt to get me off and running again.

Around this time, I begin the next fifty or so pages, following my routine of handwriting, typing/revising, and revising again while I wait for my critique partners to get back to me. Once they do I look over their comments and add/take out things based on their thoughts (as long as I agree). I repeat this cycle over and ver about every fifty pages until I've completed the draft.

At the end of drafting I usually take a little break and work on something else for about a week. I should probably let the manuscript marinate longer, but I can never actually do it. Then I take all of my scenes, which by the way are not compiled into one cohesive draft yet and lay them out (physically) on my dining room floor. It is a mess and it drives my family crazy, but it is my process and I can't help myself. I make index cards detailing each scene and paper clip it to the corresponding pages. Then I sit back and stare at all of it for awhile, try to decide if the order I wrote it in is the order it should actually be in. I move stuff around, I ditch whole sections. I add new scenes. I make notes on each scene describing what I need to add to make the transitions between scenes work. Then I copy and paste the final order into one complete document, add chapters and page numbers, that sort of thing.

Now I reread the whole thing, keeping in mind flow and voice and tone. I make some more changes. Then I send it out to my critique partners again. They reread and based on this round of crits, I make more changes. And now I'm ready to print out the entire manuscript (I have mine bound, nothing fancy, but I have to be able to physically hold it in my hands to make all the small changes). Something about editing on the computer doesn't work for me at this stage. I need to see it on the page, in black and white.

Then I reread every chapter out loud, marking where I stumble over words and make line edits. I take care of all the changes and then, finally it is ready for my last round of readers, my family who are not writers and don't pretend to know the first thing about revisions, but who will give me an honest opinion on how they felt about the story as they read it. I make a few more changes. And it is only after this stage that  I am done...that is until it goes on to my agent and she adds any notes, suggestions of her own.

My process is not every writer's process, some may revise way less than I do or way more, but I think it gives you a solid enough idea of how much goes into creating something that is actually ready. I would never, I mean never, EVER send out my rough. It is nowhere near ready. It is the seed from which my manuscript will grow, not the finished plant.

For more indepth advice on revising and actual examples of published authors' revision processes, check out Maggie Stiefvater's blog, http://m-stiefvater.livejournal.com/


  1. Interesting to read how someone else does it. I've never printed out a page, ever! And I tend to look at the whole thing in chapters, rather than scenes, that I put in right from the start.

    I really need to learn to revise effectively. Would probably help if I liked doing it, but I'm a first-draft-is-fun and the rest not so much type of writer.

  2. I know, I always like to see how other people do it too:) Too funny that you only do it on the computer, can't even imagine, I am old school all the way! I actually like revising...at least at first!