05-17-2007 07:28 PM
What I do is finish a first, rough draft then walk away from writing anything for a week or two or a month or 5 years... mileage may vary, of course, as real-life intervenes. In that time, however long a time it may be, I'm sure other fantastic ideas percolate in my creative little mind, so eventually, I return to the drawing/writing-board. And, eventually, I remember that last-best work I did on that first-rough draft, at which time, I pull it out and have at it with a fresh set of hyper-critical eyes. If you don't think you can be so hyper-critical of yourself or anything you create, regardless the time spent away from the project, it's also effective to get a few educated and impartial critiques. Don't go to Mom or Dad or your BFF Jack or Jill.. they tend to tell you things you want to hear vs the cold, hard truth, things that need to be revisited, re-written or completely cut from the final draft. You need a hard-nosed, cold-hearted jerk to read your stuff; if they fall in love with 75% of what you write, then you are golden. Take their advice to heart, sift through the critique make sure you understand where the problems arise, and have at them until you work through the trouble-spots. Then, find another jerk to take a few more swipes at your revised version. It's a great way to meet a lot of jerks who you will never have time for in real life once you are a famous published novelist, use them, abuse them, allow them the opportunity to fall in love with you and your stuff, at the same time they abuse those trouble areas, then thank them kindly for their help, and never speak to them again!
Point being, you need to cut the fat, tighten up the narrative, solidify the storyline, nail down the characterizations, conflicts, the arcs, ebb-and-flow, interactions, and dramatic build-up. First draft is NEVER good enough. I know, Never say Never, but in this case, who will argue with me? (You'd be wrong... )
I'm sure there is some sort of Algebraic equation involved in deducing the time-frame involved in the whole Revision Process, but, in general, you revise, Revise, REVISE until you are certain you have a complete and perfect Final Draft, however long that process may take....
...and then, you revise one more time!!
Of course, it's natural and generally necessary at some point in the revision process, to include a few more outside and educated critics to help you make your changes. These experts should eventually include your Agent, their Readers and the Publishers and their Readers. Agents and Publishers pay Readers to sift thru your crap long before the power-people with the fancy engraved nameplates on their doors ever see your stuff, and those folks can be invaluable impartial resources, even if they are sometimes idiots and jerks about how they view the greatness that is your life's work. You should have acqauinted yourself with the Way of the Jerk Reader long before submitting your stuff to Agents or Publishers for their Jerks/Readers to have their say in regards to your talent, so the 'important critiques' from the power-people should be like water-off-a-duck's-back to you, super-star novelist!
To sum up:
-Pound out that first, rough draft
-Distance yourself from that god-awful mess for awhile
-Revisit the Rough Draft with hyper-critical eye for detail
-Invite a few Jerks to Critique your work, if/when they love you, you're golden!
-Revise hard and heavy this time around
-Submit to Agents, survive their Jerks, Revise again, no doubt
-Submit to Publisher, survive another round of Jerks, Revise again
-Collect accollades and Brinks-trucks-full of cash, super-star novelist! YAY!
05-19-2007 07:55 PM
I let the work sit for a while. Hopefully, I forget some of the writing and have let go my intense attachment to it. Fortunately, I write in a kind of trance and the forgetting is kinda easy.
Sometimes, I have questions that I know the work has to answer and waiting helps me find, or figure them out. This is content editing. When I don't have the material for content editing, I resort to technical editing: getting the spelling, punctuation, and word choice right. Quite often, that will crisp up a piece of writing since my natural style is full of long-winded phrases. The work of taking those out requires me to pay attention to how I represent content. Am I showing or telling? Is my description accurate? Do character or landscape descriptions move the story along, or are they just there to fill up space until I think of what happens next? Can I tell who's speaking? If not, what can I do? This one is the hardest for me, and fortunately, taking a break from the story lets me see the dialog, rather than hear it.
When I've got the piece close to final, I let it sit again. Sometimes I also have a final question or two to answer, some confusing element that needs to be included. This comes after the piece has been read by someone else, so by letting it sit longer, I am surer of being responsive to the need of a reader and not just reactive to needing to be read.
This last bit I learned when I wrote (briefly) for publication. I had been edited and chose to put back words that expressed ideas that I felt were important to the piece. I risk rejection this way, but it is a choice of integrity that I can become mature in.
05-21-2007 09:46 PM
If you don't think you can be so hyper-critical of yourself or anything you create, regardless the time spent away from the project, it's also effective to get a few educated and impartial critiques. Don't go to Mom or Dad or your BFF Jack or Jill.. they tend to tell you things you want to hear vs the cold, hard truth, things that need to be revisited, re-written or completely cut from the final draft. You need a hard-nosed, cold-hearted jerk to read your stuff; if they fall in love with 75% of what you write, then you are golden. Take their advice to heart, sift through the critique make sure you understand where the problems arise, and have at them until you work through the trouble-spots.
Lots of great tips and bits in this post, CrAZRick. I wanted to point this one out, in particular, as I think that a lot of writers don’t spend too much time thinking about who might be a good person to take a look at their work. It’s good to get a healthy dose of positive feedback from loved ones and the like, but branching out to people less personally invested in your success can be helpful, too. Other writers can be really helpful. They know tools and can help not only spot weak points, but also make suggestions about how to fix them. People who are well-read are often great readers in the revision process. They know what makes good writing on an intuitive level and can really point out what’s not flowing in a draft. Once you find someone who really understands your intentions and can articulate how well you’re meeting them, do your best to keep that person in your writing life. That’s valuable for the writer and hopefully you can make it a two way street by commenting on his/her work in kind.
05-21-2007 09:50 PM
Sometimes, I have questions that I know the work has to answer and waiting helps me find, or figure them out. This is content editing.
It seems like, on some level, we’re working on these questions all the time—even though we’re not doing so consciously. Letting a story percolate in this way and not rushing those “content” issues will, invariably, make for a stronger story. Sometimes I try and help this process along by brainstorming ideas, going as far-flung as possible. In one story, I found the solution to a very long block by thinking of a relationship in its opposite. What if they’re not a couple, but siblings? That sort of opposite. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense out of context, but in the world of the story, everything clicked into place. I just had to go looking for it a little bit.
05-21-2007 09:51 PM
05-22-2007 04:22 AM
As for my routine, here’s a bit more of Stephen king’s wisdom: Write first drafts with the door closed; revise/rewrite with the door open. I tend to take this to heart, both literally and figuratively. For me, the process goes something like this.
First drafts are highly personal exercises—opportunities to explore ideas, experiment, play, let the characters evolve and tell their stories, and make lots of mistakes, mechanical and otherwise. Keeping the door closed at this point encourages inward focus and prevents inhibitions resulting from random (albeit well-meaning) comments from those who may not yet understand fully where a story is going or how it might develop. As I’ve said several times before, I tend to overwrite in first drafts, so there is usually plenty of material with which to work and plenty to prune.
I then step away from the work, not particularly challenging since my adult ADHD keeps me working on multiple projects at once. Since I “retired,” I divide my time between family obligations, taking care of my livestock, writing (journaling, maintaining my stupid blog, taking copious notes on new story ideas, drafting outlines, etc.), music (composition, performance, and recording), and travel. Lately I have added radio production to the mix. I generally leave a first draft alone for a time, giving myself plenty of distance and time to let my emotional attachments to cool. Depending upon the work, this “germination” may last anywhere from several months to a year.
When I think I’m ready to revisit a work with an eye toward revision, I reread it and check my internal thermometer. If I’m still too warm (too attached to it), I put it away. If I can read it dispassionately (usually meaning that I kinda hate it), I know I’m ready to begin revising.
I make it a point to read the entire piece in its entirety. At this point, I’m really looking more for an emotional reaction. If the story still touches me, I proceed. If not, I put it away again. Assuming that the emotional hooks are present, I then reread the piece from more of an analytical perspective, and that’s where the fun begins. At this point I read for inconsistencies in theme and character actions, try to spot logical gaps, check for pacing, and so on. It is also at this point that I call in my Ideal Reader—a trusted and rather brutal critic who I know will read actively and attentively, and who will perform a sort of a layperson’s fact check. I read the work aloud to try to spot rhythmic (beat) problems, dialogue realism, and more pacing issues. My IR does the same.
Based upon my own notes and notes from my blessed IR, I then commence a rewrite. For me, this consists of a genuine rewrite—not merely an edit of previously written material. Sometimes while rewriting, I may end up keeping snippets of material from the first draft—phrases, bits of dialogue or description, etc. But that’s really rather rare. Almost everything ends up getting a somewhat new treatment—one that is almost without fail more concise. Since I am still learning, a rewrite tends to reflect the lessons that I have learned since producing the first draft. Once the rewrite is complete, I subject it to a rigorous mechanical edit, again relying on my IR to help spot stupid mistakes. Finally, I generate a “clean” copy.
Then, I leave the piece alone again. And revisit it a final time when I have, once again, gained some emotional distance. I reread it, and if I don’t toss it in the bin at that point, I figure it’s ready for additional input from other folks. Luckily, I have a few friends who, while they seem to like me, have no vested interest in my writing and are willing to give me honest feedback.
I currently have 4 novel-length pieces at various points in the process, along with a handful of short stories, something that I suspect will probably end up being a novella, and a wagon load of essays (that I’m now trying like hell to adapt to radio).
I tend to read 2 or 3 books at a time, and my writing routine reflects that habit. I suspect that I have way too many irons in the fire (please pardon the cliché), but I find it difficult to work on only one piece at a time (I had my fill of that at university). Honestly, I’m such a novice that I’m still experimenting with the revision process and my routines are still evolving. At any rate, this is it for now.
♫ Legalize Bluegrass ♫
05-22-2007 11:44 AM
I have found it helpful to take notes on my writing while I'm creating the first draft. If I know a section is long-winded, but I don’t want to stop to fix it, I’ll make a note of it and where to find the section. If the wording on something just doesn’t sound right, but I can’t put my finger on why, I note that, too. I also keep a list of minor characters, plot points, etc that I might be able to expand upon or lose down the road.
05-23-2007 02:18 AM
Brandi, I've done a similar kind of questioning in my NanoNovels. That works best when I've planned the structure and find the writing attempting to drift somewhere else. I also do that when I'm feeling stuck. But it's not revision behavior. I don't think I could start a long piece unless I have some kind of plan.
I don't have enough experience with short story writing to know any more than I've written already, but having themes or ideas to investigate through characters and their actions help a lot in both the origination and the revision. In the revision stage, having a theme to explore or question I want to answer help me shape what I want to read.
tsullivan-- Radio! My favorite medium. Since I've started recording for librivox.org, I've paid more attention to the sound of my writing. Part of my input is listening to audiobooks. That allows me to question the author's actions on the fly. Since my dialog needs a lot of work, generally, I like hearing the texts rather than reading them.
Also, having a lot of input from difference sources also pushes ideas around. Since I write fantasy and scifi, everything gets massaged into the story process somehow. My brain storms with too many ideas as it is and writing them down seems to turn them into distracting story fragments.
05-26-2007 12:16 PM