March 7, 2013

The Bumpy Road of Revision

As I've mentioned before, I began revising long before I finished my first draft, an approach which, for me, actually helped the writing.  Once I had a completed draft, I moved on to official revising, which I, despite the previous revisions, began at the first word of my manuscript.  So, as I made some changes, polishing my work, I was almost encountering an artificially buffered experience of revising, which I only realized when, suddenly, I was horrified by a scene. 

Generally, the earlier I was in my manuscript, the more times I had gone through the text, and therefore the more times a given piece had been edited.  Thanks to my rather terrible memory, I became, in a sense, spoiled by the previously revised work, that is, until I reached an unrevised section that had likely been written late at night (or so I'd like to think – the scene afterward wasn't as bad), and suddenly I was mentally yelling at myself the dreaded direction, "SHOW, don't tell!"  It became clear how much work the last part of my manuscript required, but this also reminded me of my true revision process.

One of the most gratifying aspects to revising for me is that my manuscript keeps growing – not because I don't cut pieces that need to go, but because I had been in such a hurry to get the story on the page (to satisfy my insistent characters) that revising includes adding many details that I knew the characters had seen or felt, but which hadn't yet made it into the story.  Reaching my target word count had been a serious concern for me as I approached 'the end' of my story.  So far, revising has added over 1000 words to my novel!  

Nevertheless, revising is an arduous task which can easily become overwhelming.  Tools and approaches which I've found helpful this time around are:
  • First and foremost, read the text without changing anything that isn't an egregious and obvious error.
    • I should continue to follow this tip, as occasionally I will alter my word choice in one phrase, only to find that same word (or phrase) used two lines later – or worse, added sentences with information the reader needed to know, to see that same information a little further down the page.  Reading all the way through provides a better overall picture, which leads to a more efficient revision process.
  • For those of us with imperfect memories, the above approach may seem intimidating because there is constantly the fear that we will forget an intended revision.  Fear not!
    • MS Word offers a very helpful "comment" tool, which allows you to highlight a section and write suggested changes in a separate bubble.  That change can be implemented later when you have a better picture of which changes need to happen in a certain scene, or perhaps overall – this way, we don't forget necessary changes, we don't become bogged down by immediately implementing every change, and we don't alter a given section or scene only to cut or completely revise that part of the story later on. 
      • If you aren't using MS Word, you can do the same thing with inline comments [Setting them off in brackets or in CAPS or with a separate color], or by printing out the text and writing in the margins if you prefer editing on paper. 
    • Similarly, I use the strikethrough feature for something that may need to be taken out, which allows for an intermediary step rather than feeling like I'm chopping up my work (or, especially during NaNo, diminishing my word count).  
      • Usually, I do end up deleting these pieces, but first my eye becomes accustomed to them not being part of the story as I skip over sections with strike-through formatting. 
  • Personally, I find it most useful to revise by layers as opposed to working on one scene until it's absolutely 'finished'.  I do multiple rounds of revisions, sloughing away rough spots or imperfections each time, until eventually, the scene that is left has reached its 'best' form.
    • This way, I face less anxiety about missing a single mistake (typo, missing comma, etc.), as I am guaranteed to read through the scene again in the future with 'fresh' eyes. 
    • This once again allows me to work with a more generalized understanding of my work, making sure each piece grows into the correct shape, allowing everything to click together.
    • This also prevents me from obsessing over a given scene, passing the point of improvement and reaching the 'ruining it by revising' stage.  We as writers tend never to be absolutely satisfied with our work, but that doesn't necessarily mean we are right.
  • Once I am done with the 'first' (as I've mentioned, this is actually multiple times through in my case) round of general revisions, I plan to print a full copy of my manuscript. 
    • I abhor wasting paper, but it is a tried and true bit of wisdom that we read differently on paper than on the screen – our eyes catch different issues, and therefore I currently believe a printed round of revisions isn't optional.
  • Simultaneously, I will seek the input of a selected group of first readers. Currently, my plan is to provide some with printed copies and some with digital files, for the same reason as above. 

What about all you other writers out there – what are your favorite revision methods, tools, and tricks?

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