If At First You Don’t Succeed, Revise

Help!  I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!  I’m doing revisions!

You think that someone who has written eight novels would be a little more comfortable with revisions, but no.  Revisions stress me out.  Maybe this is why I’ve written so many novels but not tried to get them published (until now).  When I look at the revision process it’s like looking at a giant mountain that I’ve created and having no idea how to get over it.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve revised things before.  The first novel in my Medieval Romance trilogy, The Loyal Heart, is in its sixth draft.  It started out at 250,000 words (long story, literally) and is now hovering around 109,000.  I know how to trim and polish and buff and shine.

And then came the second book in that trilogy, The Faithful Heart.  Oy vey.  I knew it needed a lot of work when I finished it.  The heroine was almost non-existent in the story.  But as I started rereading it with the intent of having it ready to publish by Christmas I realized I had Mt. Everest on my hands.  Yes, the heroine needs to be beefed up considerably.  A whole mess of minor characters need to be squished together to uncomplicated things, and the plot?  Um, what plot.  Or rather which plot?  Yeah, you see what I’ve got on my hands?  About the only thing that doesn’t have to change in this story is the hero, Jack.  Because Jack is what the entire story revolves around.

Whew!  I’ve got a starting point!

So here are a few tips and insights from my revision desk as I tackle this gargantuan rewrite.  I hope that leaving these breadcrumbs as I slog through the woods might help others of you out there with the same task ahead of you.

First thing I did in this revision process was to reread the novel.  Sounds obvious, right?  Let me clarify.  I printed out the whole damned thing and reread it with a pen in hand.  I was not doing line edits, mind you.  Yes, some of the prose is atrocious.  What I did was to go through and make check marks and occasionally a great big star when I came across things that I liked and that I wanted to keep or ideas that need to remain even if they have to be written into another scene.  By doing this I also calmed down a bit because I saw that I already had the tools to fix a lot of the things that are wrong with the story.

Next, or rather as I was rereading, I wrote out a scene by scene summary for each chapter.  These were really simple descriptions like “Jack meets Lydia”.  You’d never guess from that summary that that’s the moment when the hero meets the antagonist.  I did this so that I could have a complete reference sheet for where everything is in the original draft for the inevitable moment when I will need to yank it out and shove it back in again somewhere else.

Then came/comes the hard part.  This is the part I’m still doing, so forgive me if my verb tense suddenly switches.  Replotting.  I traditionally have not been a plotter.  I have been a pantser.  But with wisdom has come the knowledge that plotting, though painful, is extremely useful.  So I’ve been thinking and rethinking this  gd story, filling a legal pad with note, ideas, musings, alternative outcomes, and motivations.  I have a good friend who is also a writer who I stand around at work and prattle on to about the story.  She punched about a dozen holes in it the other day and I dragged my sorry backside back to my cube and spent the next hour scribbling on that legal pad coming up with ways to fix the holes.  Fortunately I found them.

Basically this step has involved swallowing a LOT of pride.  If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work and refusing to see that does not write a better story.  As Writers we are blinded by our stories the same way we’re blind to the faults of a lover.  Until someone else points them out.  P.S. This is why it’s essential to get a freelance editor if you’re planning on joining Team Indie.  All the same, you have control of how you fix them.

Most importantly, don’t panic!  You wrote this baby and you can rewrite it too.  You can make it stronger, faster, better.  Yes you can!  The only times I have ever failed and left a story hanging are the times when I let it psych me out.  Don’t let that be you.

Honestly, the rewrites are coming along pretty okay now.  I’ve got seven lovely rewritten chapters looking clean and fresh as a daisy.  Once I get the other fifteen or so taken care of I’m sure I’ll go back and slice it all up again.  Or at least tweak it.  The point is, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do with my writing, but I can already feel that it will be one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done.

So how about you all?  How does your revision process work?

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10 thoughts on “If At First You Don’t Succeed, Revise

  1. Since this is the first one I’ve actually completed, once the first draft was done I read it through first and made notes on what needed work. Now I’m working through, rewording awkwardness, rewriting ‘boring’ bits (the bits you read and think ‘what was I thinking?), fixing continuity errors etc. Once that’s done I’ll read it through again and if I’m happy with it, then I’ll give it to people to read. After which, I’ll work on it again with comments in mind.

    • Yeah, it’s amazing how many times you can read through something and still find things you don’t like about it. Although I’ve found that sometimes those bits that I think are boring turn out to be sort of interesting if I’m in the right mood. I think by the time my one book gets out there it will be in its eighth draft. =P

  2. Hi Merry!
    I pants my first draft, start to finish. Before that though, I do think about the story and where I want it to go and do a little research to have on hand while writing. But I do love the writing process without a ‘set’ plot because I like to be just as surprised as the readeer.
    Then, when I’m done, I go through and make my chapter breaks and make notes like you, writing out in ‘short hand’ what happens in each one. After that, I attack the editing process chapter by chapter. That way it’s broken down into smaller pieces and less overwhelming during the process. I have a friend who I take each edited chapter to, and she edits again behind me. Currently, we just completely finished this process, so we’re letting the book marinate for about a week before re-reading the entire book to check for flow, continuity, any possible plot holes we may have missed, cadence, etc. 🙂
    Then, when we’re done with that, I’m going to send it off to my lovely CP who will read through the entire book with completely fresh eyes. I can’t wait to hear what she has to say :o)
    Great post, Merry!

    • Thanks Melinda! I used to be more of a pantser myself, but now I’m a strange sort of hybrid, like a video that loads a bit just ahead of the part that it’s playing. Your process sounds fantastic though. It’s great to have help along the way, isn’t it. 🙂

  3. Absolutely excellent post. My co-author and I have actual plots we devise to write to… eg in chapter thing we will have a pirate attack or some such, or some passionate embrace… but when the actual chapter turns out… well it may have a lot more or less than we planned on and then that affects the rest of the book.
    Look upon it as FUN… rearranging the toys on the floor into a different style of game from the one you got when you just poured them from the toy box – your brain – onto the blank floor of your page. LOL.
    We discuss our plotting and the contents of the book endlessly and are still excited by it… the excitement is the key thing. If you still feel excited by your book and enjoy it even at final edit stage, then it is a great book which readers will enjoy owning and reading and re-reading.

  4. I hate rewriting, but it has to be done. I love the freeflow of the creative bit. I used to be an English teacher so when I have to redraft I do what you did and print it. Then I put my teacher marking mindset into play and I mark it the way I used to mark student work; with a harsh eye and constructive remarks that will help me improve it. I then leave it and go back to see what I wrote on the pages. I scare myself soemtimes with how critical I’ve been and feel sorry for any of my past ‘senior’ students with whom I did the creative writing module of the English Language public exam.

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  6. I’m turning from a pantser to a plotter more and more. I’m realizing that revision comes before or after (or both), but it comes. Doesn’t make me like it any better, but I’m glad to hear that I’m not alone. 🙂

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