Revisions have made me their bitch

My dad likes to remind me of my past writing indiscretions, namely, my refusal to revise anything I’ve written. It was actually bad enough at one point my English teacher at the time, Ms. Mikolasy (who was easily one of the most awesome teachers on the planet) pointed it out to my parents. Hence, my father’s point.

In my defense, the biggest obstacle to editing or revising was I didn’t know how. And to be perfectly honest, most of the time, I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.

When I first started writing seriously three years ago, I thought editing meant looking for misspelled words and grammatical mistakes. You know, the typical shit you’d look for when you’re going over that essay you’ve got to turn in to your Modern Mexican History class the next day. I hadn’t taken any workshops or classes; I hadn’t spent much time perusing the web looking for articles and websites to help me; I certainly hadn’t read any craft books. When I finished the first draft, I went through and corrected the spelling, capitalized words that needed to be capitalized (and let me tell you, that was incredibly time consuming), and tweaked sentences here and there. So my shitty first draft became a slightly less shitty second draft.

Fast forward, oh, a year and a half, and I still haven’t read any craft books. Well, I’ve read one. I read Bird by Bird. I’ve taken Angela James’ Before You Hit Send self-editing workshop twice. I’ve taken a few workshops at conferences on how to make the writing stronger in general, negating so much of a need for that self-editing. I’ve settled into a style that works for me – large documents terrify me, so I write each chapter as a separate document, so by the time I’ve got a finished product, I’ll likely be up to chapter 1.4 before I put all the chapters together as a single document.

Chuck Wendig wrote a post recently over on Terrible Minds about editing, and one of his points was that editing is often when the story becomes what you wanted it to be.

He is so right.

Part of the problem with being a pantser, at least for me, is that it’s often that I think of the details about halfway through the story. I don’t edit as I go – I think that’s a waste of time and can ruin the flow when you’re desperately trying to get to connection point D but have to go back and fix something in point B and by the time you get to D you’ve forgotten what it was you wanted to do – so I have to trust my brain to hold on to that thought until I can go back and revise. Sometimes I forget (and yes, I realize I could easily just make notes to remind myself, but I’m lazy and don’t want to clutter my Google Drive with even more Google Docs) and I have to think of something new.

Most of what I’ve learned has actually been from beta readers. I’ve learned what a comma splice is, and that I have a tendency to use them often. I now know what a dangling participle is, although don’t ask me to pick one out of a line up because I can’t guarantee I’ll answer correctly. I’ve discovered the power of brainstorming (thank you, Liv and Shannon, for putting up with my constant needy requests and off-the-wall ideas) which has helped immensely. That goes along with one of Wendig’s tips: secure a human sounding wall.

It used to be that once I’d finished a first draft, I’d set it aside for a week, try not to jump into writing anything else, and come back and start by eliminating my crutch words. Doing so necessitated altering some sentences and occasionally re-writing entire paragraphs, but once I was done, I’d then go back and look for gaps, logic jumps, and things that should just flat out be cut. After I finished with a chapter, I’d go through it again looking for my crutch words, then move on to the next chapter. I’d put everything together for my CPs’, wait for their notes, and then go back to the chapters and implement their suggestions.

I recently decided to switch things up. The last two stories I finished, I decided to do step two of the process (gaps/jumps/cutting) first, then go back and look for crutch words. The other thing I’ve never done before? Read one of my stories all the way through, making notes as I go. I figured since I edited sequentially, I didn’t need to. Yeah, I totally should have done it before, even if it just means I’m catching the little things, like the fact the guy’s eyes are one color in chapter two and another in chapter ten. So yeah – put your story on your Kindle and read that sucker.

Editing is a long-ass process, and sometimes it takes so damn long we just want to throw up our hands and say fuck it, and toss it in a drawer, never to be seen again, or convince ourselves we’ve done the best we can and send it out. Iron Jewel is in the middle of its fifth extensive revision, and I have to say, I’m getting pretty fucking tired of that story. But I haven’t given up because I know I can make it better if I just put in the time. So I am, and the day I can officially say The End and send it out on submission there will be champagne and cupcakes.

So. Anyone got any tips to share? Hit the comments!

6 thoughts on “Revisions have made me their bitch

  1. To me, the key to good editing is to remind myself (and remind myself, and remind myself) that NOTHING is too good to be cut or changed. If a reader says any element of the story isn’t working – like, say, a character’s too bitchy 🙂 – I need to at least consider tweaking it.
    So yeah, I make a pass to look for was’s and thats and buts, and make a pass to catch any participles that are flapping in the breeze.
    And then I let people read it.
    And then I get ready for surgery.

    1. I think that’s the hardest part, cutting those little pieces that I adore and know they’re fabulous but they just don’t work for the story, no matter how hard I try to jam them in there. Sigh…

  2. I’m currently on my 5th draft, having cut a 110,000 word first draft down 82,000 and counting. The story flows well, the plot holes have been filled, the prose is being polished, but a part of me is worried that I’ve cut out those things that makes the book my own. Kill your darlings is all well and good, but what if you’ve killed your voice too?

    1. That’s always the fear, isn’t it? Has anyone read the previous drafts (or at least A previous draft)? They may be able to tell you if that “it” you had before is missing now.

      But strong voices are hard to kill. Chances are, you’re probably fine 🙂

  3. I revised my first manuscript at least eight times (you lose count after the fifth or sixth time). Then when I sold it, I had to completely change it again. Not just little things, but major revisions. Editing has kicked my ass. Some days I hate the story, some days I love it. Some days I read it and cry. Sometimes I think – holy crap, did I write that? Thankfully my editor has been amazing and despite the changes she’s asked me to make, she’s made sure my voice hasn’t changed at all. Editing is stressful, soul sucking, brain draining work. The hardest job I’ve had. But I wouldn’t trade what I’m doing for the world.

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