One Writer On Revision

I’m in between projects at the moment (literally; if I don’t get my critiques back this evening I’m going to pull a writing prompt and start a new story), so I wanted to share some thoughts I had on revision. I like my revision process. I have two elements of writing, the muse, whom I often envision is a blip of fuzzy blue light (she has no voice, just an overbearing presence at times), and the editor, he is also intangible, but he’s got this enormous red pen wherever he goes, so it’s easy to draw him in: I just pick up his red pen.

I love revising. The second draft is where the story truly comes alive for me. My subconscious did a lot of work during the bang-it-out-fast first draft, and this is where I go picking through the treasure. The step is read the story, and this is where muse and editor dance, sometimes in unison sometimes in the most discombobulated imitation of a pre-k dance recital. Amusing, yes, but not productive. That’s because not every story really works. Some stories can’t be fixed. Those stories were practice. But I still do this process for those because it’s experience I can learn from. (That doesn’t mean I spend the week inputting those changes: it’s the analysis that’s important).

Back to the reading: as I do, I outline each scene on a sheet of notebook paper, just using the left half of the page. As I’m reading, I realize where the scene went wrong or missed something, so on the right side, I record/outline what the scene should be, aligning it to fit the story I wanted to tell, rather than the story I told.

During this read-through, I’ve got my red pen and I circle grammar and misspellings; paragraphs that cover the right material but need to be rewritten because the writing is crap, those paragraphs get a vertical red line in the ride margin. I don’t worry about fixing these until the input phase because I need the muse to put the puzzle back together. The editor is just telling us what’s wrong.

I prepare another sheet of paper, unlined if possible (lines are too constricting for this part). Ideas are coming to me–the muse is starting her dance–things that needed to happen that didn’t, mentions that were never born, or elements that repeat throughout the story. I number these down the page. It can be something as small as “change hair to long and blonde” or “foreshadow the tools she needs for her self-rescue”. Anywhere in the manuscript this needs to come up, I write the number in the margin on the left and circle it. I’ll refer back to this sheet during the input phase. I should mention that this kind of stuff, story elements rather than writing mechanics end up in blue ink. The manuscript is so marked up, it bleeds.

It keeps the muse happy, just as the red keeps my editor happy.

It takes me about 2 – 3 hours (about 2 writing sessions) to get this part done. The inputs take about a week. Then I pass it on either to a crit group if I’m feeling good about it, or to a friend or two if I know something is off but can’t quite figure it out. Reader comments often shine a light on something I missed, so it’s helpful. Then I can go in, fix these items, then present the story to one of my crit groups or buddies.

While I’m waiting, for feedback, I’ll either work on another smaller project or work on doing critiques for other people. But when the feedback comes back, I print the clean manuscript, and mark it up with the comments (or just circling). I then get to see where the holes are and were something bothered a lot of my readers. I take a few days to make, brainstorm, research, and polish. I have a checklist that I review during the polish to make sure I reviewed my weak areas plus a reminder of short story basics (sometimes those disappear if I’m too excited – it’s good to make sure they stay in the story.) Then I submit it. I do like to wait a day before submitting. Sometimes something will jump out at me or hit me overnight in my sleep.

I thoroughly enjoy the process. It’s the perfect balance of analysis and creativity that doesn’t exist any place else in the world for me.



5 responses to “One Writer On Revision

  1. “sometimes in the most discombobulated imitation of a pre-k dance recital.”

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!! I love that image! And it fits so well!

  2. Wow, you really seem to have a streamlined system that obviously works very well for you. I wish my working process was so clean and precise. Alas… it’s not even close 😉

    Congrats on reaching your W1S1 goals for September 🙂

  3. I too enjoy polishing up my work until it shines; my first drafts are hideous. Way to go on meeting and beating your September W1S1 goals!

  4. Congratulations on meeting your W1S1 goals. So you and Milo like revising, (kicks wall and bangs head), I get so bored with that. It’s just language, it’s not ideas or any other cool stuff.

    And now we know why I haven’t been published yet.

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