February 21, 2013

Revising That Precious Draft

Once a completed draft of a novel finally exists, revisions begin. Revising is a long, demanding, and inescapable process. According to Nora Zelevansky:
"No matter where you are in your journey as a writer, the editing and notes process remains arduous and stressful. It will always test you . . . Ultimately, rewriting is hard. Maybe even harder than staring at a blank page."
Thanks to the internet, many articles and posts discussing tips for revision are readily available, so rather than also describing basic methods for improving writing, I have included links to several quality examples. This post will focus instead on the overall process – not how to revise, but rather what steps revising in itself requires.

Step 1:  Read the entire draft
During this initial read, we can address very basic issues such as grammar, typos, etc. I personally added comments (using MS Word's feature) with notes of proposed corrections; I also used the strikethrough feature as a temporary measure for parts that may need to be deleted.
  • Many writers suggest taking some time between finishing your draft and beginning to revise, which means, generally, this first read leaves the draft mostly untouched, as it is used to re-familiarize yourself with your entire novel. For me, the time it took to write the material seemed to suffice, but I don't have the best memory, and I did also take a break mid-writing after NaNo.

Step 2:  Edit
Simple as that sounds, here we address issues of writing quality and plot holes; we flesh out the characters and settings; we ensure our story approaches its intended form, transforming the skeletal draft into a readable version we would be willing to share. Some writers enjoy this process, many loathe it, but regardless, it is anything but simple.

Step 3:  Get outside perspective
A crucial part of revising is seeking the opinions of fresh eyes and minds. First readers are recruited to provide feedback—to verify whether someone outside the writer's mind will experience the characters, settings, and plot (almost) the way the writer envisioned. Tempting as it may be to seek readers inclined to complement and praise the work in its current form, it is nevertheless most useful to receive notes on existing problems—to have a reader shine the light on a rough edge that still needs sanding. Readers should generally be people either intimately familiar with the genre, experienced in the craft of writing, or both.

This may be the most stressful part of the revision process. This is when people tell us everything that is wrong with the work into which we've already poured not only our time and effort, but also our hearts and souls. This is when people whose opinions we trust point out plot holes, awkward verbiage, incoherent character motivations, and more—and we, despite wanting to defend every word in a way reminiscent of a mama bear, must say, "Thank you."

Step 4:  Incorporate suggestions
Initially, we may nurse our pride or try to deny the exposed flaws, but ultimately, after sifting through the feedback, we must decide which notes require our attention and which boil down to the idiosyncrasies of our readers. Then, we must implement changes based on these suggestions.

This should be easier than the first round of edits, but most likely it won't be. In the first round, we take a draft in various stages of messiness and transform it into a story worth reading, one we believe is virtually completed. Notes we receive hurt, and further editing may hurt even more, but we must believe that it is a gainful pain—we want our books to be as good as possible—so we plow on.

Step 5:  Repeat steps 3 & 4
Just as our perspective is affected by multiple read-throughs, so are the perspectives of our readers. Therefore, we seek unaffected eyes which provide fresh notes for further revisions. These steps are repeated until we are done revising (for now)—that is, until the manuscript is ready to be pitched.

Further Reading

Some of these links offer lists that struck me as somewhat obvious, though this may be a marker of the quality of my Creative Writing education, through which, perhaps subconsciously, I amalgamated a cache of "rules" for quality writing and tactics for revision. Others offer unique tips I found to be clever and helpful. Both are included as reminders and reference points for writers with and without formal backgrounds.

In other words, I found the information provided by the following links to be true and useful (though perhaps not novel—no pun intended), and I hope you will, too.

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