Monday, February 27, 2012

Revision at a New Level

It’s time to get may book back out of the drawer where it’s been marinating while I research agents.  So after my critique group passes on their feedback about my manuscript, I’m about to dive back in for some rounds of intense revisions.  Going back to my first post of the year, I’m not going to be satisfied with something that’s acceptably good.  I want my writing to rise to a new level of quality –I want Sara-Zarr-Amazing, Gayle-Forman-Can’t-Get-It-Out-of-My-Head-Fantastic!  As a result, I’ve gotten a little obsessed this week about my favorite authors’ ever so casual references to their fourteenth draft, their twenty-first draft.  It makes me feel really naïve, but okay, I’ll say it.  What are they doing in all those drafts?  And how fast are they working?
(I’m guessing they’re not counting rewriting one scene as a whole draft.  I’m guessing a draft is like one whole pass through the thing working on a particular goal.)
I’ve done two drafts of my current novel.  (I know, Sara and Gayle, you’re shaking your heads.)  I’m over that thing where you think you’re close to finished, and then you realize, shoot, you are nowhere near the end.  And I know every writer and every book will require different kinds of attention.  But, in general, I want to know the kinds of things these stellar authors are tending to, and I Want To Do Them!
My fears.  First, I don’t work well checking off a list of eighty-two items that need to be fixed one by one.  I find by the time I get a few items into the list the remaining items have become moot.  I tend to work better in sweeping goals for each pass, goals that start broad with structure and narrow to character, pacing, and then line editing. 
Second, I sense I’ve got to let go of this fear of tearing the whole thing apart.  I remember how worried I was the last time I sat at my dining room table with one-hundred notecards that might or might not gel into a whole piece.  I have a deep-seeded fear that once I start tearing the thing apart it won’t go back together again.  I know this is kind of ridiculous because it’s all organically related and can certainly reconfigure itself naturally in many ways –the underlying thematic strings alone kind of guarantee that.  I think I’m afraid once I rip out a few chunks, I’ll start tearing it up into such tiny pieces that I’ll be left with a pile of shredded phrases keep me forever guessing, Should she toss her hair in Chapter 3 or Chapter 7?
So here’s my plan… please, tell me what you think.

• Draw a picture (probably a web, like a mobile –see earlier post) of the book’s structure now.
• Analyze the cause-effect movement between the web’s pieces, and revise accordingly.
• Revise the pitch and query.
• Write a one, two, and five page synopsis.
• Write a chapter outline.
• Organize feedback from critique group.

April - May:
• Finish revision of chapter one so that it points right at the white hot center of the story, raises questions, and ensures the reader love the characters.
• Make a pass attending to just the white hot center and revise accordingly.
• Critique partners have pointed to things that need to happen earlier –make it so.
• Do a whole pass attending to just the pace of the two main characters’ relationship.
• During this whole month, start the writing day with free-writing on character issues that need to be deepened.  This includes (playfully) writing scenes that don’t yet appear in the manuscript.

June – July:
• Take a pass through the whole thing for each of the six main characters, each time focusing on BEING that person in that moment.
• Figure out how to revise for pacing.
• Attend to chapter-specific notes.
• This whole time start the writing day with free-writing on the more minor characters.

So am I headed in a productive direction?  What are some things you’ve attended to during later drafts?  And if you’ve gotten past ten drafts, I want to know what you’re doing!


  1. As someone who has revised a draft multiple times, I will say that you seem to be on the right track. But here's one little piece of advice: in between your reworking, you might try working on another book. I know this may seem crazy--to throw your mind into a totally different story, but looking back over my book process, I realize that I always have several projects brewing at once, in various draft stages. Just a thought.

  2. This is an awesome idea. I've actually been doing a series of short stories... I wonder if this would give me enough time away, or if I should start investigating my next book idea?

  3. Jill, your post made me laugh...because now I don't feel so silly for asking you just what you did between Draft 1 and Draft 2 (like Thing 1 and Thing 2!). I can also understand your fear of the whole thing just falling apart when you start reworking it. I imagine my novel, as I'm building it, as rickety scaffolding; it seems like every damn thing will blow it over. But you know, I'm 3/4 of the way through your novel (and plan on reading more today while I'm in the chair getting my hair done), and I think your scaffolding is very strong. It's much easier for me to see that as an outside reader than it is for you, since you've been living inside it for so long. Anyway, sorry to blather!

  4. No, all blathering is welcome! Thanks so much for stopping by and for commenting. It is so helpful for me to talk shop to other writers who are in the midst of their own construction project... you understand so well the fear from inside the architecture. You inspired my post for Monday which is about what I did between draft 1 and 2!