Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tip o' the Day: Part 2 of 4

Today's tip is a piece of advice I once received from a college professor, and it may be the best aphorism on the creative process I've ever heard: "There is no thinking except in the writing. There is no writing except in the rewriting."

Revision is essential to the writer's work, at least insofar as doing so is a an actual re-visioning of the author's original intent—a method of getting closer to what he or she meant and desired to communicate in the initial draft. The first words, mes auteurs, are not always the best words, and if you want to be published someday, you've got to know (or learn) to revise.

Some writers prefer to revise as they go along, writing passages or chapters, revising/editing them, and moving on; others prefer to write the entire novel before going through for a second pass. I fall more into the former group than the latter, but I don't think either approach is superior to the other. My theory is: do whatever works for you.

Unless! (And here's the caveat you knew was coming): unless what "works for you" is not revising. There may—although I personally doubt it—be an argument for this in the realm of poetry, but I don't think it's ever a good idea to send unrevised (un-re-visioned, un-revisited, &c) fiction or nonfiction out into the world for potential publication (or, heaven forbid, self-publication). As mentioned above, the first draft is where the thinking takes place; the second (and subsequent) drafts are where the writing takes place, the correct words are chosen, the plot is tightened up, the craft is honed, the characters made flesh.

All this to say: you're going to be writing more than one draft, and if you're convinced you're a one-draft wonder, you're almost certainly wrong. Again, I'm not aiming this advice at the one-in-ten-million outlier. I'm aiming it at you.

That said, meine Autoren: what's your process for drafting new work? Do you edit as you go along, or once the entire draft is complete? Do you cut passages apart with scissors? Reorder chapters? Do you go through two drafts? Two dozen? Two hundred? Do you tend to revise on your own at first, or do you immediately enlist the help of others for your second (and subsequent) drafts?

To the comments!


  1. I usually try to write as much of the first draft as I can before editing (or rewriting). With my current novel, I completed about 85% of it before I changed my mind about the plot. I'm currently rewriting 15% of it and attempting to finish the last 15% (so now I'm...70% of the way done with the first draft? sort of?). Meanwhile, I've become a little obsessed with Strunk and White lately, so I've put off some of the macro revisions to practice micro revisions.

  2. I try to write as much as I possibly can without going back and revising, but inevitably (usually because I've showed my work in progress to someone) I wind up stopping at a few places in the middle and reworking what I've done up to that point.

    And then once I finally do make it to the end, that's just the beginning of the several revisions I'll have to do for various reasons because I like to attack troubles in my manuscript one at a time. On problem maybe me fixing scene order, another pass maybe be looking for unnecessary chunks and passages that can go, another for fixing (usually adding) character description.

    At this point I have to begin leaning more on my own judgment rather than the assessment of others because I've exhausted my resources and start loosing readers as they don't want to look at yet another draft of something that they may have read a couple of times before.

  3. I think your caveat is unnecessary. Not revising doesn't work for anyone. Someone may think it does, but that someone is incorrect, thus requiring no caveat.

    As for me, I write the entire draft before revising. Too many failed projects drowned in the chapter 1 rewrite. I am firm in that the early chapters do not get revised until all the other chapters are complete as well. This is a great motivator if there's something I want to go back and tweak. Sooner I finish, the sooner I can tweak, so get that book done!

    As for drafts, I do three. I differentiate between passes and drafts. I write the first draft, then set it aside. When I come back to it, I revise. I may make multiple passes over this version. That's the second draft. Then I send it off to beta readers and make more revisions (both incorporating their feedback and making more changes I feel are necessary). This is my third and final draft.

    The term draft is defined so differently among writers that it can cause a lot of confusion (which is why I don't like it when an agent says "Your aren't ready to revise until your 7th draft" or some other high value). I've seen someone revise one chapter and call it a new draft. IIRC, when he finally started querying, he was on his 33rd draft.

  4. My answer to all of those questions: It depends on the project. There is no "usual process" for me.

  5. As much as I'd love to be one of those revise as you go people (which I am on occasion) I find I need to get the first draft spit out or else I obsess over details too much.

    So for me, I make a first draft, then revise like crazy on my own, which takes just as long as writing the actual book. Then I take it to friends along the way, who take even longer to revise. Eventually I just got fed up and sent it out regardless. Good experience teacher at least.

  6. My first novel releases next year, and I am so grateful to my editor for the numerous edit rounds we did. The fact she cared enough to make every part of the story shine speaks volumes of her dedication to her authors and the craft.

  7. I do both. I revise/edit as i go. Then I go back and revise as much as I can in one sitting when first draft is complete. Then send it off to gracious beta readers for fedback. then I'll prlly revise it 3 more times.

  8. I find that if I revise as I go I lose the creative impulse. I was taught an approach to writing called "Freefall" where you do not edit anything at all, even typos, while you write the first draft. It's worked very well for me. I am aware that as soon as I start editing as I'm writing, I'm generally avoiding actually writing... and sooner or later engaging all those voices that tell me 'That's a useless word surely you can do better than that' or ' You're a hopeless writer' and so on.

    Once first draft is down, I clean it up so it's readable, but don't make major changes until I've read the whole thing and thought about what's working and what's not. I do my best with these, and then give it to a trusted reader or two for further input. Often the story will have several rounds of editing.

  9. I write a chapter or section, then take a break and when I come back to it, I read through what I wrote the day before, and fix typos, punctuation issues or clarify something as I'm getting my mind back to my story line then write the next part, and go over it the same way the next day. I don't do a full out edit/revision until I'm done with the whole project and can make sure there aren't any holes or major problems. Then I have other readers go through it to find what I've become blind to and go over it again and again. Then I put it away for a month or more while I start the next project and come back to it with fresh eyes. That month is coming to an end soon and I'm interested to see what I've missed before. Gonna fix it, and send it out.

  10. What works for me is this:

    I'll write a half page to a page at a time and when I'm done for that particular time period (usually write in blocks of) I'll print it out and stick in a three ring binder.

    When I have at least 20 pages to play with, I'll usually bring the notebook with me and write notes and editing/grammar changes during my breaks and at lunch.

    And I'll often do the same thing during the weekends in between bouts of writing and what not. And sometimes I'll also write out with pen and paper a few paragraphs of either new stuff or old stuff that needs to be re-written.

  11. I write the entire first draft before I go back to look at it. I like to be in the mood of the story when I get it all out, to be so immersed in the story I can't think of anything else.

    When I'm done, though, I take a -long- break. I'll read other novels or books on writing/editing. I'll catch up to blogs and forums. I'll make sure I forgot the details of my story, because I want to come back with fresh eyes. The more I remember, the less I'll see.

  12. I write as I imagine them, and then, once those scenes have been connected by a detailed outline, I cut and paste them in the right order, then fill in the blank spots. That's how I do the first draft.

    I'm on my second draft. I'm cutting, pasting, and writing a crapload of comments as I go. If I change something late in the story, I make a note to go back and make sure details that come before it line up. Sometimes I'm afraid that tracking all of the those details down will kill the creative spirit, so I just make a note and then keep writing.

  13. I feel like I didn't really learn to write until I learned to revise. I write poetry (verse novels) and revision IS essential to this form. Sometimes I'll write a novel in prose, then move the idea into verse, and back to prose, then verse again...continually paring back, refining the plot (YES, you must plot verse novels, too) and making sure the form works for the material. Revision is my "essential agony." Thanks for the post.

  14. First book, I wrote the full draft without a glance back. When I read it, I nearly died of embarrassment. But, I had a completed first draft, which I wasn't sure I could do when I started out.

    With newer books, I'm more confident that I will get to the finish line, so I can slow down and revise a chapter at a time to bring to my critique group.

  15. With short stories, I write the whole thing and then revise. With novels, I'll write several chapters before I go back and look them over--usually at a big turning point to make sure everything is making sense plotwise. I do little revisions in that mini-pass, make lots of notes, and if warranted, make any change in plot. This is a good method for me, because the plot flexes as I write it.

  16. I usually write down the first draft all the way to The End and then come back and do the rewrite/edit. The 2nd pass usually lasted for about halfway through the MS (which I usually end up with a total plot change) before my mind gave me my 'A-HA!' moment. Then I quickly stop and do a 3rd pass (which involves rewriting the whole thing again).

    It's time and morale consuming, yes.

  17. I pound out the first draft, then go through and rewrite and revise a second draft. At this stage, a great many scenes will be added, and then in the third stage, a great many of them will be dropped again. I have two entire chapters from my first book that were added in the second draft, and then removed again in the third draft because they were cool but needless backstory. I'm hoarding them, as once I find an agent and a publisher, they're exactly the sort of easter eggs that can go on my website.

  18. Catherine, that is a fantastic idea about the Easter Eggs. Definitely filing that thought/idea away.

    I am the latter. I outline beforehand - sometimes in excruciating detail - and then write out the first draft, avoiding editing/self-editing as I go along. Only after finishing do I edit; I do my own edits and polish, and then I either workshop or have trusted fellow writers read and comment, and then I take their feedback and edit again. I'm still working on developing my editing skills, though.

  19. I'm currently revising my first ever full (ish) manuscript, so I'm currently trying to figure it out. Originally, I was a revise-as-I-go kind of girl. When I was nearing the end of the manuscript, though, I realized that several chapters I'd spent hours revising needed to be deleted or rewritten. "Murdering the little darlings" is way harder if I've spent forever nurturing the little dears, so I think I've been converted to a FINISH it then revise mentalitly. That being said, I haven't written the last two chapters of my manuscript yet because I want there to be a firm foundation for them to stand on before I go feeling all self-satisfied with my work. :)

    Good post.

  20. I normally edit as I go along, and have an edit party at the end. (Well, I grab a wine and cry into the glass).

    This month I embarked on the NaNoWriMo challenge. No editing is hard, but it has proven to me, I can write both ways. The end result is going to be the same. I have to rewrite. ;0
    Glynis Smy

  21. I sit on piles of complete first drafts and hope that somehow magically I will wake up and want to start revising them. I fear actual work.