Friday, July 23, 2010

Revision Me This

After a bit of time away, I am back for another round on the blog chain. Today's question is brought to us by Sarah who asked:

How do you handle revisions? Do you revise as you're writing, or do you wait until you've gone through beta readers and crit partners to revise? How soon after you finish do you begin your revisions?

Revisions. I have a love/hate relationship with revisions.

When I am writing the first draft I think back longingly to the joy of revisions. There are words on the page. Not always the best chosen words. Not always the correctly spelled words. But there are words and those words form sentences. Yes, several of them are egregious run-on sentences. It's a problem - I'm working on it. But there are sentences and they form paragraphs, which piled together make chapters, and those chapters - one stacked precariously on top of the next - form a story. Sort of. You know, once all those loose ends are tucked in, bad dialogue is deleted, and a few stray characters - whose names I forgotten and randomly started calling them something else - are rounded up and given one consistent moniker.

The thing is that there is something on the page to work with. Even if that something stinks like a diaper pail in July it is at least not a blank page staring at you daring you to write something that won't several months later be determined to stink like a diaper pail in July.

Of course, several drafts into revisions - when I've actually lost count of how many times I've actually revised the darn thing and start saving it as "BTDATDBS_REVISION#_SHOOT ME JUST SHOOT ME NOW"... well then I have moved onto the hate side of the relationship. No, not hate. It's more like the way I feel towards my three year old son at the end of a particularly whiny and difficult day. I love him, of course, I love him absolutely, but at that exact moment I am really sick of his face.

So how do I handle revisions? Well, I do not revise as I write. No, I prefer to handle my first drafts like a mad General marching through the wilderness on a moonless night. There are no flashlights. There aren't even any of those flaming sticks that they used to carry around on Lost all the time. And sure, I am most likely headed straight off a cliff, but I am determined to keep moving forward, because if I look back... well, if I look back and evaluate - or God help me, critique - then I might decide this march isn't worth marching at all.

The one sort of revision-ey thing I do while writing the first draft is occasionally make notes to myself about something earlier on in the manuscript that needs to be changed, due to something later on in the MS that went not exactly as I'd originally planned. These notes I'll usually tackle immediately after I finish the first draft. Technically I still consider these new additions as not really revisions, but as a finished touch to the first draft.

Then I let it sit. Usually a couple weeks. And during that time I'll read. Or I'll start brainstorming ideas for what I want to write next. Mostly though I'll start imagining that my first draft is better than I remember it being. Specifically I'll remember those few days when the writing was really flowing and everything seemed to be clicking. "Yeah," I think, "this book is gonna be good." And I start itching to do those revisions, which, of course, begins with reading my masterpiece.

Imagine then, if you will, my comically crestfallen face as I begin reading that word document holding my precious manuscript and realize that I might have a bit more work ahead of me than I had first realized.

This is the hardest part.

It's kind of like doing dishes after Thanksgiving dinner. Because I cook like I write. There is no cleaning as I go along. No, I simply pile the dirty pans and stirring spoons into the sink. And when the sink is full, they go on the counter next to the sink. Then by the time we've eaten and the leftovers have been put away - there are literally dishes everywhere. And I just don't even know where to begin.

Eventually though I just start somewhere. Maybe run spell check just to get rid of the errors so obvious even that annoyingly helpful Word paperclip can see them. Then I might print it out so I can see it on paper. This can sometimes backfire when major changes are necessary and I cross out large chunks, then using a series of brackets, asterisks, and long winding arrows, point to what should be moved into its place. Overall though, this method lets me see problems that I might not have spotted otherwise. As I enter these handwritten changes, I usually make even more changes still.

Then it's time for beta readers. My husband gets stuck with this job, because he lives with me and there is nowhere for him to run. But I usually round up a few other people as well. And since people have an annoying habit of reading at different rates of speed, the revisions don't all come in one batch, but slowly return to me one by one by one. This means that I usually end up doing revisions every time new feedback rolls in.

And then if it's ready, I start to query. But revisions don't stop and I never write the words - or even let myself think them - FINAL DRAFT. If a way to improve is pointed out in an agent's notes, or if I simply have an epiphany in the shower on how to improve something - then I'll go back and revise one more time. Even when I think that I cannot go back again, I always find that I do have that one more time in me.

So what about you? What's your revision process?

And if you want to read about revision methods a little less scattered than my own - check out the other blogs on this chain. Shannon came before me and you can find Amanda covering this topic tomorrow.