Monthly Archives: March 2012
“I don’t write a quick draft and then revise; instead, I work slowly page by page, revising and polishing.”
– Dean Koontz
There are many ways to go about writing and revising a story, each of which is used by successful writers today. There is no single way, no magic formula, for this. It is something that is learned, experienced, and employed by each and every writer individually.
Some common methods are:
- Write an entire first draft, then go back and revise. Don’t go back and read the sentence you just wrote, just get the story down.
- Write some, revise some. This makes writing the first draft longer, but helps lessen the amount of revisions needed at the end.
- What first draft? Some writers make writing and revising a simultaneous process. It is no easy feat to make this work, and takes years of writing experience.
I, like Mr. Koontz, am one that writes a little and revises a little, adjusting the trim on the story as I fly through it. I feel this process works for me because I like to ensure that I’m moving the story in the right direction as I write it. In part, it’s because I’m afraid the story might derail as I go along, if I don’t go back and check on it. Plotting ahead of time helps this, though.
The main question I find with this process, though, is how much does one write before going back to revise? That is a question best answered by the writer employing the process, as every writer will have a different preference.
Which method of revision do you use?
As a writer, I’m often asked a question that is immensely difficult for me to answer:
What is your story about?
When I hear this question, my brain rifles through many answers, but can never settle on just one. I often find myself starting my answer with details about the story’s premise, but end up switching gears somewhere. It’s not because I’m a scatterbrain (though some might argue against this), but because I feel that I have so much to say.
It’s like asking Henry Ford, “tell me some things about an automobile.” Would he respond with “oh, well, it has an engine, some doors, and four wheels?” No! He’d likely go into laborious detail about it, because of his intimate knowledge on the subject. Much to the chagrin of the questioner, no doubt.
As writers, we are experts in the field of our stories. No one knows them better than we do. So, it’s only natural to have the urge to over answer on such a question. So what if your cousin obviously stops listening to you 20 seconds later, they asked!
But what happens when the question is posed by someone other than your cousin? An agent or editor, perhaps? Is it necessary (or appropriate) to give a long, drawn-out explanation of your story?
As soon as possible, a writer should develop a short hook about the story that can be delivered in 15 seconds or less. Think of it as the description that will go on the back of your book someday.
Larry Brooks of Storyfix.com has a great post to help you do this that can be found here.
Remember, you’re the expert here, you’ve got plenty of material/ideas/thoughts to pull from to put your pitch together. It’s important that you give just the right amount of detail to grab your listener’s (or reader’s) attention, then end with a statement that will make them ask for more.
When has your pitch worked for you? Let me know in the comments below.
My wife and I have a family friend staying over tomorrow evening and we decided to rearrange some things, put up some new shelves, and just generally tidy up the house. We went as far as switching our office and guest bedrooms, which took up a good chunk of the weekend.When we finished, the house had a fresh, new look. It was still the same familiar house, but was jazzed up a bit with the rearranged rooms and new shelves. And overall, we both agreed that it looked better than when we’d started.
This “revision” of our home is a lot like the revision process in writing. After completing a first draft, there are often one or many revisions that may be needed, whether it be of your own doing or that of your editor or critique group.
You may need to move whole sections of your work (rearrange rooms), add new elements (shelves), or just tidy up a bit. Whatever the revisions may be, your ultimately going for a fresh, improved story.
It may be that you have no issues with your work when you complete the first draft. You may be perfectly fine with how the chapters fit together, and thus don’t see a need for changes. Or, maybe you revise each chapter as you go along (this is why my first drafts always take me forever to write) to lessen the blow for later revisions.
Whatever the case may be, if you want your writing to shine with the fresh coat of wax a revision can offer, you can’t be afraid of change. You should expect change at the onset of your writing, knowing that things will be different at the end of the road.
When I set out to tearing down my desk and prepping our home office for relocation, I wasn’t sure what the end result would be, or how I would like it. I was fine with the status quo. But it turns out that I prefer things the way they are now.
Here are a few things to consider when making revisions:
- Begin with the end in mind – You are revising because you have the need to improve your last draft. Set goals around the changes you want to make, and stick to them.
- When in doubt, throw it out – You’re the boss of your writing, so don’t be afraid to “fire” any part of your story that you feel is not a good fit. Even if that particular part is your favorite, be honest with yourself about what your story needs.
- Say it loud and proud – As you revise, read your writing aloud to yourself. You may find parts that need rewording or don’t fit altogether. This will also help you actually hear your writing voice, which is an important part of what makes your writing unique.
Larry Brooks of Storyfix.com has a great post on the revision process, which he wrote for those completing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWroMo). Larry’s blog is a great resource for writers, if you’re not already familiar with it.
So let me know…How do you revise? Do you blast through the first draft and make many changes at the end, or do you revise as you go?
I’m the first to admit that I am a professional procrastinator. I’ve gotten better over the years, but there is just a part of me that often waits until the last-minute to do something. Whether it be cleaning the garage, writing an essay, or some other project, pushing a nearby deadline has always been more motivating than working on something that’s not due for a month. Or worse yet, a project that has no inherent due date at all (see garage example, above).
When I set out to write my first novel (my background is in short story writing), I knew that I would have to be in it for the long haul if I wanted to finish. And being familiar with that part of me that is most motivated by a short-term deadline, I went about setting up a plan for myself.
Arguably, the most common way to measure writing progress is by means of word count. Time is another. Once I got down to putting pen to paper, I set a goal for myself to write 500 words per day, which I thought to be obtainable at the time. After some weeks, I had only met my goal a handful of times. Frustrated, I turned to my trusty assistant for advice – the internet.
My assistant led me to a recommendation from James Scott Bell, who advocates a weekly word goal over a daily one. I loved it! For a weekend writer like myself, it is easier to get more writing in during certain parts of the week than others. And it’s typical for me to end some weekdays with a big, round, zero word count.
Along with Mr. Bell’s advice, I found information about SMART goal setting, an acronym that serves as a sort of goal setting template. It turned out that I had the SM down, but not the ART. My original goal wasn’t Achievable, Realistic (for me), nor Timed.
I added these elements, figuring out my weekly word count by working backwards from the time I wanted to have a certain amount of words done (i.e. complete the novel), and Blam!
I was doing it. Better yet, I wasn’t waiting to do it (okay, maybe I am a little in taking the time to write this post, but you see my point). Fact is, there was an innate part of me that acted naturally, knowing that there was a deadline just around the corner, that incented me to act. I felt empowered, rejuvenated even, knowing that I had the tools at my disposable to set up a writing plan and complete my manuscript.
Setting a goal for yourself is very important, whether it be in your writing or any type of project you take on in life (that pesky garage comes to mind again). Mix that with a focus and determination, and the sky’s the limit.
What is one project, right now, that you need to set (or improve) a goal for?