Thursday, March 01, 2012

Revisions Revisted

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I hope everyone enjoyed having that extra day in February yesterday. But now it's March, and we're back in normal calendar territory.

Since I've been eyeball deep in edits for SAVING SCOTT this week, I thought I'd "borrow" some bits and pieces from older posts I've done on edits and revisions.

The writing process goes through countless phases. There's the initial writing—whether you're plotting things out in advance, flying by the seat of your pants into the mist, or a combination. Eventually, you'll get to "The End."

You've edited, polished, rewritten, repolished. You've checked for all those pesky weak verbs, overused words. You've passed it by your critique groups, your first reader, and asked your dog what he thinks.

At some point, your words are going to need professional eyes. Whether it's an agent trying to get your work sold, the editor your publisher assigns, or a freelance editor you hire yourself, you need someone who's not blinded by being too close to the work.

So, you ship it off, and it comes back dripping red ink. What next?

Edits are easy—or at least they're obvious. A word is misspelled, your point of view might be shaky, or your transitions are weak. Maybe your character started the day in slacks but ended up in a skirt. Or ate dinner twice. Or in Chapter 8 you made a huge point that she didn't own a cell phone because she thought it would fry her brain, but in Chapter 28, the cops are looking at her cell phone records. Fixing those sorts of problems is straightforward, and rarely requires more than some mechanics.

The tough part is dealing with revisions. Now you're in uncharted territory. You don't get those little squiggly lines on your manuscript. What if your editor says she wants your character to be more kooky? There's no Search and Replace for "kookiness."

Revisions come from comments such as, "You dropped this thread too soon," or, "You need to show more of such and so." But it's kind of like trying to add the chocolate chips AFTER you've baked the cookies. Adding something to Chapter 1 can have an impact on things all the way through 'the end.' Is it better to throw out the imperfect batch of cookies and bake new ones, or melt the chips and use them to frost the original batch?

No, now comes the time when you have to grit your teeth and think about tossing what you've already written (saving it in another file, of course) and rewriting those scenes virtually from scratch. You've got to have confidence that your writing is strong enough to start over, not try to patch what's already on the page. Because in all likelihood, those patches are going to show in the finished product.

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Jan Morrison said...

Last night, at quarter to one, I sent off my entire manuscript, a four page synopsis and other writings on the novel to a contest. Today I have four clients, my own therapy appointment and my regular visit to a 91 year old pal. I'm eviscerated. Revising IS writing and I send you a ton of love while you work on your manuscript. After I catch up on my sleep I'm putting together four query packages to agents. It is snowing...

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm always a little shaky when I open the email with the requested revisions. Because who knows what kinds of requests they'll make!? But it always ends up going well...doesn't take nearly as long as I always think it will.

Terry Odell said...

Jan - you HAVE been busy. Best of luck with your queries.

Elizabeth - yes, it's always scary to see what someone else thinks about your 'baby.'

Rachel Abbott said...

That's really interesting, Terry. I've never gone through this process with a professional editor - I was heading that way, and now I'm not sure whether I want to or not - it sounds painful. Maybe I'll stick to making my own mistakes!

Terry Odell said...

Rachel - I would NEVER publish anything without having professional eyes on it first. (Not that they catch all of them--one missed 3 characters named Henry in a book)

But I like to know I've put out the best possible product, and I know my own shortcomings. My crit partners are great, and what I end up sending to my editor usually comes back with very few problems, but I want the best book I can write out there, and I know I need guidance before I do.

Stacy Green said...

Ooh, I dread the revision process. I can only imagine. As I'm querying, I'm working on a new novel. I plotted out in advance, but through act 1, I'm running into bits and pieces that have to be fixed now or will be a headache later. I can imagine that's how the revision process is. Not fun, but I guess it means you're moving forward, right?

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Terry,

I'm doing some final revisions right now. I'm hoping this will be the last of it.

I've found whoever found the problem was right, and their suggestions make for a stronger book.

Good post.

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Terry,

I'm in the midst of revisions right now. One thing I've found is that the revisions DO make the book stronger.

Good post.

Hart Johnson said...

Man, I am eyeball deep in trying to fix the aftermath of moving the murder forward... SO MUCH ripple effect!

I have an edit job coming up where I need to 'give my MC more spark'

Yeah. No problem.

Terry Odell said...

Kathy x 2 -- we have to understand that our editors/crit partners, etc., really DO have the work in mind. And there's almost always room for improvement.

Hart - yes, although I call it the domino effect because it seems that things start falling down when you make changes. But when you rebuild them, they're better.

Terry Odell said...

Stacy - revisions mean you're getting somewhere. After all, you start with a blank page, right? You have to make progress or you'd have nothing to revise.

Jennifer Ann Coffeen said...

I reach a point in my novels where I just can't see the big picture anymore. This is def. the time for a trusted pair of eyes! I'm always a little bit happy when I see the red ink, it helps to steer me in the right direction.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

It is totally amazing what others see when they read your work. And I thank God! they do.

Jemi Fraser said...

I haven't reached this point yet - and I have to say getting revisions from someone in the know will be both thrilling and terrifying! :)

Terry Odell said...

Jennifer - fresh eyes are always good. Even when you disagree, it helps to look at the work to see why things aren't working.

Vicki - so true. Or else I'd have had the mysterious cell phone in my book.

Jemi - there is definitely a "close your eyes and click" when you get that manuscript in your inbox.