Writing Week: The Revision Process

All this week, we're focusing on writing, or, in the case of this particular week...revising.

Revising. ICK.

Revision is, hands down, my least favorite part of writing. I love the first draft process--getting the story down, feeling all clever with myself, falling in love with the words--but the revision part...not so much. Because, see? In revision, you have to admit you were wrong. Or, at least, that you weren't all the way right. And for someone as pig-headed as me, that's not an easy thing to do.

So, my greatest revising tip? Get help.

Seriously. I was never good at revising my own work until I joined in crit groups and got beta readers. I've written about this before a lot on my own blog, so I'm not going to go into detail on it here, but I'll say this: the number 1 thing I ever did was start working with other writers.

But I've talked about this before. Today I want to talk about a specific method that I've been using lately.

First, a caveat: everyone writes in a unique way, and everyone rewrites in a unique way. So just because this works for me, doesn't mean it will work for everyone.

I am a pantser. I don't outline. And I pay for it in revisions.

When I finish the book, first I give it some space. Then I start thinking about all the things I wanted to do with the book. This also helps when you have critique partners or beta readers who can help pinpoint their reaction vs. your intention. But the point is: once the book is done, you need to sit back and consider everything you wanted it to be.

I make a list.

Then, I compare that to what I actually have in the book. This will look like an outline that those wonderful "planning" people use before they write. I make a list of all the events that actually happen in the book. Then I compare that to the things I wanted to happen.

My revision process really begins when I compare those two lists, and start thinking of ways that could make the book I want come from the book I have.

Case in point: let's say that one goal with the book was to create a fast paced story. When I make the list of what happens in the book, I realize I've got a huge chunk where...nothing happens. Then I see specifically what part I need to fix.

You can also use critique partners with this. Compare what you want from the book to what they get--you thought your character was snarky, they think she's mean. Now make a list that can better show the snarkiness versus the meanness.

This is really the best thing that I do when revising. I use pen and paper (as opposed to the computer) and list everything out. Putting it in simple, dry terms helps me to see better what needs to be done. If I just look at the manuscript, all I see is my beautiful darlings...when I categorize them, it's easier to kill them.


Lily Cate said...

I acutally like revisions. As a fellow panster, revisions are where my "real" writing lays. I totally agree about getting some good critiques. Even if they don't address what I wanted them to, they can point out areas where the story is not working the way I intended.

Colene Murphy said...

I'm currently stuck in this black revision hole and really needed to read this! I will give it a try and see if it helps! Thanks!

Lara Ehrlich said...

Great post, Beth! I love your idea of making a list to compare the book you wrote with the book you wanted to write. Don't we all have the perfect book in our heads? I'll have to try that method as I revise my book! Actually just wrote a blog post on the same topic here, if you're interested :-) http://laraehrlich.com/2011/01/28/imposing-chaos/