Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What does revision look like? (part I)

There's a lot online about the revision process: lists of common first draft errors, frequently over-used words, suggestions on techniques, tools, methods...

Just last week, writer Christina Farley blogged "My Four Stages of Revision." It was so orderly, so efficient, so smart. At the end, she asked readers to share about their own revision processes. And as I started to comment, I realized my process was all over the map.

But just like Christina, people do ask me about revision. How many drafts, how long does it take, etc.

So, since I'm in the midst of slogging through revising Project Demo, I'll devote this week to sharing a snapshot of my revision process. I'll talk about what precisely revision looks like for me, my process, the emotional highs and lows... In short, why it's really hard to sum up revision!

I'd like to start with last week (imagine going-back-in-time music here)...

Last week there was some serious big picture thinking going on. I had been inspired to return to Project Demo because of an idea I had to make the magic system work. So I'd been creating a list of all the magic in the book, pasting the text into my list, and working on making each passage believable and consistent. It was definitely a labor of love, as my list spawned other questions, other concerns. I had a really helpful Skype chat with Elisabeth at Fiction Forge (thank you!), and sent a chunk of text to a crit partner to read through.

By the end of the week, I finally felt like I was getting somewhere. I was beginning to believe in the magic. And I wasn't the only one. I got a  gorgeous email from my crit partner:

"In every way it seems to work for me. Magic isn't usually my thing and I didn't know how you'd do it, but I really do think it's great and feels like it absolutely belongs in the story. Well done!"

Yay! But after weeks of changing one aspect of the magic, and then another, and then a third, I didn't want to move ahead until I was absolutely sure.

So I took some time off from worrying about the magic, and read the last third of the book. I hadn't touched it since this past summer, so I hardly remembered it. I hoped my last revision had left it fairly solid and that everything tied together nicely in the end.

Unfortunately, it wasn't, and it didn't.

After all my progress on the magic system, you'd think I'd have felt confident and ready to tackle anything. But instead it was like another massive problem, a blow.

I took to Twitter to whine:

"Feeling overwhelmed with all I need to do with Project Demo. I think I know what's wrong, but can I fix it? In less than a gazillion years?"

Thank God for Twitter friends and authors Keren David and Jane McLoughlin, who instantly replied.

Kerensd: yes you can!

JBMcLoughlin: You can and you will...the solution is hovering around you somewhere, waiting to be unleashed! Good luck.

We talked back and forth a bit, I whined more. Then Keren responded with this:

Kerensd: I find that fixing stage is my favourite. The relief as everything falls into place!

You're crazy, I thought. I'm not at that "fixing stage" yet. I might end up totally scrapping this ending! Nothing works! It's a mess!

Then, feeling thoroughly embarrassed by all my Twitter whining (and conscious how much time I had just spent procrastinating on Twitter), I signed off. I drafted a blog post on big picture thinking, and then realized, for all my big picture talk, I wasn't practicing what I preached. So I made a list of everything that didn't work in that last third of the book, scene by scene, chapter by chapter.

What happened next? Did I have to ditch the entire ending? Or was Keren right?  Or did I get so distracted by Twitter again that I didn't do any writing at all? You'll have to tune in Thursday to find out!

In the meantime, why do you think writing is such an emotional roller coaster?


  1. Aww - So glad I could be of help! I can't wait to read the next installment of your blog - you've got quite a cliffhanger here! And having read the story makes me even more interested to hear what you have to say.

    You are the productivity queen!


  2. haha...yes, indeed, I am crazy. But I do find the revision stage the easiest - mainly because I have something to work with. It's all that blank space that freaks me out. Can't wait for your next installment!

  3. Maybe effective writing is about emotion: evoking emotion (as well as thought) can’t be done from a cold distance.
    For me the only productive part of revision is the part where I get to weigh the feedback of a good Beta reader. By my lonesome, I would ride the rollercoaster, never getting off.

  4. Elisabeth: You were a huge help, thank you! I think I'd feel much more productive if someone told me it would take me, say, two months to finish the book. Then with each day I'd feel like I was getting somewhere, hell or high water. It's hard work having no idea, though, and still trying to be productive.

    Keren: Actually, I have to say, I think I agree with you in theory about white space vs. revision. But somehow in practice I freak out at every stage. ;) Thanks again for the reassurance, though!

    Mirka: Hah, I so believe this, Mirka! Let's say it's true. The emotional roller coaster is a necessary evil!

    But yes, I've been so grateful for my beta readers, even when they tell me stuff doesn't work. It's such a welcome blast of sanity into my muddled mind!

  5. Thanks for the shout out! And yes, revision CAN really seem like a roller coaster can't it? I love your ideas and it's really true how one change can effect the whole story!

  6. Christina: Oh, you're welcome! Thanks for the week of blog post inspiration! ;) I wish I could just stay on an even keel while writing, but it seems to not be possible...

  7. It's a roller coaster for me because I vacillate from thinking my writing is genius to believing it's crap. Or I think the manuscript is finished when it's far from it.

    I really enjoyed Christina's revision post.

    Yes, you can do it, Anne. :)

  8. What a great idea for a blog series, Anne. I'm fascinated how other writers approach writing in all forms, but revision? Oh, my, that's a swamp pit for me.

    And, see, I've already learned something because I wouldn't have thought to reach out to other writer friends when I get overwhelmed by my work. But, that's a great way to get over the hump.

  9. Medeia: Yes! I often think I'm getting close to finishing, and then have that devastating moment where I realize I've got a long way to go! Anyway, thank you so much for the encouragement! You, too!

    Bridgette: Aw, thanks. Maybe that's why we don't talk about it so much? Maybe most writers' processes are all over the place and complex and change day to day. Certainly true of mine. Which is why, I have to say, I take to whining on Twitter. Not necessarily a technique, that, so much as an act of desperation! But glad to share the tip! ;)


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