Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tackling Revision

Tackling revision can be daunting, especially if you've already gone back into the work multiple times to make it shiny and sparkly. You've caught all those typos and grammatical errors, you've made sure your key plot points hit at certain places, you've ensured the stakes are high for your characters, what could there possibly be left to change??
And where do you begin? One of the best gifts you can give your revision is distance and time. The more time you have away from your story, the more you'll be able to come at it with fresh eyes and see what needs attention.

The first thing I do when I revise is treat my book as I would any other book on the market. That is to say, I sit down and read it, preferably cover to cover if I can. I strongly advise printing it out or downloading it to an e-reader such as a Kindle or an iPad. It never ceases to amaze me how many times I can read the book on my computer, but whenever I read it in another form, I catch all sorts of things that aren't working. As you read your story, you will re-immerse yourself in the characters, their world, their dialogue, etc. For me, my natural inclination when I am done is to be able to dive back in and continue on because I am now reconnected to the story and reinvested in those characters. I also suggest reading it through a second time out loud, because that is often the best way to catch long rambling passages of dialogue, or extraneous scenes.

Revision, for me, requires total concentration in a different way than writing the actual story. I call it "entering the cave." In order to completely focus on the details of your work, establish basic ground rules with friends and family about getting in touch during the time you will be writing. I usually write from 8:30-2, while my kids are in school, so I ask that unless there is an emergency, please refrain from contacting me during that time unless it is truly essential. Turn off your phone ringer, don't log on to the internet and check your Facebook and Twitter feed, don't schedule lunches and coffee dates and other appointments that can pull you away and become easy excuses to procrastinate. Another thing I do is when I wake up, I start a load of laundry and do whatever dishes may be in the sink. Whatever I can get done housework-wise before I take my daughter to school is what gets done for that day. If I can get to more after my writing day, so be it, but that is my compromise to myself that I'm not just selfishly letting everything go. And if someone doesn't like that, hand them a duster with a smile.

Do not put yourself on a timetable for revision that is unrealistic (unless one has been imposed on you, obviously.) Revision takes time and requires precision and patience. You want to make sure to catch every small spelling, grammar and punctuation error possible, because these can be easy to miss and collectively add up to an unprofessional looking manuscript. Try and keep in mind that you have one shot with this book, whether it be with an agent considering representing you, or an editor considering it for publication, so you want this work to the the very best it can be. That takes time, and rushing the process so that you can feel like "something is happening" is only cheating yourself out of a great opportunity to make your work shine.

We all have a vision for how we want our story to read. However, be willing to keep an open mind when tackling revisions. Share your work with critique partners and listen honestly to their feedback. They may catch something you've never even considered, and it might take you down a new path entirely but it may be a path that makes your story far more interesting. I've said it in several posts here, but my general rule of thumb when it comes to feedback is if one person says it, I take it under consideration and read through the story with an eye for that element. However, if more than one person says it, I change it. Done deal. Because if more than one person says it, it is now an identifiable problem. It's hard to let go of our carefully crafted words, but sometimes it's necessary because it's simply not working.

This may seem like stating the obvious, but often we plunge forward making revisions without noting what we've changed. This is an important reference tool later because you may choose to bring some other element back in an edited form, or you may be making changes for an agent or editor and you will be able to let them know what those changes are specifically that you made and why. Obviously, saving older versions of your work is important, but you'd have to reread the older versions to get the complete sense of what has changed from draft to draft.

After you complete each revision, take the time to read the story out loud anew. Even when you think you've covered all your bases, chances are, you will catch one or two more things that are tripping up the flow.

Any revision tips you can recommend? Good luck!


Elana Johnson said...

I agree with all of your points! I will admit that when I'm working under a deadline, I skip reading it cover to cover. I skip reading it out loud. I skip taking notes. I just put on my concentration hat and go for it. Because you know, sometimes you have to turn that sucker in by Friday. :)

Jessie Harrell said...

Hi Robin! Just wanted to stop in and remind you about the That's YAmore Blogfest starting tomorrow. I'm looking forward to reading your excerpt.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Great points, Robin. At one point, I thought I was done revising, then read my ms in print form (which I hate to do because it wastes paper, but I try to do it at least once), and I discovered I hated the voice. Yikes!

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