Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Revision the hard way

I'm in the midst of my first revision of Project Sparkle. As usual, I'm inventing the process as I go, trying to find what works best for me. At the moment, I'm going through the early chapters my classmates' workshopped, making sure characters, setting, and conflicts are set out clearly and consistently. I'm hoping if I can just get the first third or so right, then the rest will straighten itself out more easily.

Tomorrow I'm meeting with my tutor, Julia, to discuss my synopsis and a chapter by chapter outline. Plot is my biggest struggle, so I'm hoping she'll point out the overarching conflicts which are inconsistent with the characters or too complex or whatever, and then I can begin to work on some big picture stuff throughout the novel.

As I'm working, it's occurred to me that I have two revision modes: easy revision and hard revision. Easy revision is my favorite. Obviously.

Easy revision is when I craft individual sentences to make them pretty. Or I check every mention of a character to make sure her appearance is always described the same way. Or perhaps if I was told in class that a character seemed too angry in a scene, I might tone down some of her language. It's busy work and polishing, and therefore not overly taxing. As opposed to hard revision.

Hard revision is when I rethink (revisualize) everything. I think about the scene's purpose, each character's goals, each character's feelings. Sometimes I rewrite an entire scene in a new setting, or with different emotions. Sometimes I cut scenes. Instead of blithely making a character's language less angry, I'll explore her feelings, her motivations. If she's meant to be that angry, I'll show why, if she's not, then I'll tone down the language.

My problem is I'm lazy. Sometimes I'll find myself writing pretty sentences, when really the whole scene doesn't work. I have to remind myself every morning to start with the hard questions first, one after another, until I'm through them. And the worst? Many days I don't even let myself do easy revision because I'm still not sure I've got a scene right. It's a waste of my time to make it perfect if I may be drastically rewriting it. Though some days I can't move on from a scene until every sentence is lovely, even if I'll need to change it later.

It's not the most efficient process in the world.

How do you revise? Do you find yourself fixing the easy things first?


  1. Well THAT sounds really familiar...

    I'm beginning to think there is no efficient way to revise. No matter how much prep work and thinking-through and figuring out you do, you still have to go in there and actually get those hard revisions DONE. Which is a shame, because I'm a huge fan of crafting pretty sentences and making tiny stylistic tweaks. :-P

    I'm trying to focus on the huge structural changes in my current revisions, but am finding myself getting distracted with the little stuff. I'm still in chapter two.

    Good luck!!!

  2. I've heard a lot of writers say that even though it's completely inefficient, they do ALL revisions before they move forward, even if they have to rewrite whole scenes. I think we all just need to find our best way of revising and hope we get there eventually, even if it is crazy inefficient. I keep reminding myself it's an art, not a math problem. Good to know I'm not alone, though! =) Good luck to you, too!

  3. That's interesting. I work in the opposite way: I get the easy stuff done first, to get warmed up, and then I tackle the harder things. I tell myself: "Just get this one tough thing done today." Often I find that if I get that tough thing done, I'm on a roll, and I can move on to other tough things. But I agree with Joanna - there might not be an efficient way of revising. It's just whatever works for you. Good luck!

  4. Thanks, Anna. How interesting that you do it all in a completely opposite direction! Do you find yourself revising easy things again once you tackle harder stuff? Or perhaps that pattern just doesn't apply to your style of work at all.

    Had my meeting with my tutor, and still thinking about revision and how to tackle it... I think another post might be in the making!

  5. Oh, this definitely resonates with me as I got my first 'revise and resubmit' from an agent last week on my full, with an email highlighting problem areas. I've spent the last week making lists and brainstorming, and today I'm going to rewrite the book's outline with an eye towards inserting all this new material. It feels like insane Tetris with words.

  6. Insane Tetris with words--what a great description! Congrats on the revise and resubmit and good luck with it!

    I think you're absolutely right in your approach. It seems important to puzzle everything out, really see the forest instead of the trees, before you dive in again.


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