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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thursday Thoughts

THE REVISION CAVE

Continuing with my themed blog days, Thursdays will be devoted to my thoughts. And since I've been pretty much thinking about the same thing for the last couple weeks, I'm recycling this blog post from my RWA chapter's blog:

Bwahahaaha! Yep, that's me, spelunking through the cave, laptop strapped to my back as I dodge the stalactites and stalagmites of my first draft. It's dark in here, but I do see light at the end of the tunnel.

I think everyone approaches revision of a first draft in a different way. I know there are books on how to do it, and online workshops abound, plus plenty of articles on websites and in writers magazines. I've never taken a class, but I do own a book on revision that I haven't read yet, and I've revised off a few revision letters received from agents and editors on past projects. I'm currently in the middle of the "the first read through" phase and it's an eye-opening, but also exciting, experience.

I enjoy making revisions because it's like putting those finishing touches on a painting, adding that extra detail and dimension that will bring it to life. Or defining the features of a sculpture or carving or ceramic. It's that phase of a creative project that brings you closer to your work and makes you become one with it. It's the point when the book feels real.

As I'm writing a book, I don't blast through it in the white heat of creative frenzy. I'm a methodical pantser with a fairly good idea about my beginning, middle and end when I start. But as I write, there are some spots I know I'll have to fix later, and I make a mental note or a place holder of some kind that will tip me off when I reach that spot during revisions. Good grief, but I had a lot of those in this book. And some of them were kind of hidden. Note to self: In future books, remember to use different colored type in placeholders.

Though I revise as I go, I've been writing long enough to know that when I reach the end, it's not really the end for me. More work needs to be done. One of my favorite types of placeholders is narrative summary, which I use for two reasons: 1. To get me from point A to point B quickly so that I don't lose my creative rhythm, and I know I can expand on it later; 2. If the book ends up really long (rare for me), I can leave it as is with just minor tweaking.

Something else that happens as I write, since I have very little planned out beforehand, is that I experiment with new characters and plot points knowing I may or may not keep them. So when I go back through to revise, the character introduced in chapter eight started out duplicitous but ended up being a saint. Or in chapter five I revealed a secret that I decided to reveal in chapter thirteen instead. What I wanted a character to know in chapter two I'd forgotten about by chapter ten and have to fix. This kind of stuff is everywhere! But it's great fun because as I read through and flesh out and tweak and expand, my story is becoming a cohesive treasure for me. I can only hope the agents I query share the same view. 8^)

I've heard many of you lament over the revision process, and some of you dive into it with the same relish I do. If you don't share my enthusiasm for this phase of writing a novel, why not? And if you do, please share your reasons and offer tips if you have some. Hey, I'm in the middle of my revisions. Tips are most appreciated.

5 comments:

Catie said...

I use NOTE: in the text whenever I have something I need to look up. That way I can just search for NOTE: and will always find my comments to myself. Sometimes they say things like NOTE: CHECK IF GARY HAS A MIDDLE NAME. YOU SHOULD REALLY WRITE THIS SHIT DOWN, CATIE.

:)

I don't especially enjoy the revision process, myself. But my usual method for writing a book seems to be "charge along until I'm 1/3rd of the way through, then realize what horrible errors I've made and go back and fix them. Wash, rinse, repeat, at the 2/3rds mark, and then finish the book."

So for me it's frequently that I can't actually get past a stage in the book if there are enough things that need changing--that reveal in chapter 5 moving to 13? I'd have to go back and do that sometime before I actually manage to get myself to the end of the book.

The result of this is that by the time I /do/ get to the end of the book I usually have a pretty clean manuscript. At that point I generally go fix my NOTES that haven't been fixed yet, do a spell check, and send it off to my editor and agent to find out what incredibly stupid plot holes I've left open.

(Ideally, mind you, there'd be enough time to hand it to test readers to try to get those fixed before turning it in, but the last while, that hain't been happenin'...)

-Catie

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Catie, for chiming in. It's always interesting to see how other writers handle their revisions. I give up thinking I have a "clean" manuscript about halfway through and just go for it at that point. So kudos to your for keeping up as move forward. As for plot holes, I've been encountering a few dents in mine as I go through the draft. Sigh. I don't have an agent to point them out, but I've got awesome crit partners and a beta reader (thanks, Amy) to help.

P.S. I'm LOVING Heart of Stone. It's an awesome book so far. 8^)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I love revision, but I've been at it over a year on two different books now so I'm...tired. I need to draft something, badly.

I wish I could be more disciplined and methodical about my revision process. So far it seems to be a lot of reading it over and over--this time for scene setting, the next time for voice, the next time for who knows what when, and so on. Maybe when I've finished, say, my tenth book, I'll be able to focus on more than one aspect at once!

Deadlines help me focus, though.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Oh, that I'm Betsy Dornbusch, btw, from RMFW.

Karen Duvall said...

Oh, Betsy, I think it's time to move on. 8^) I totally get the drive to revise, but at some point you need to call it good and send that puppy out! You can do eeeeeeet! And then you can get started on something brand sparkling new. Won't that be exciting? Good luck!