Revision–Shannon Style (Part One: Drafting)

February 1st, 2011 | Blog Uncategorized


As promised last week, this month I'll be using my Tuesday, Shannon-Style posts to talk about what is probably the most painful and difficult part of the writing process: Revision.

I mean, doesn't that word strike fear in your heart? It does for me. (I've mentioned the revision-is-stressful diet, right? Yeah, I'm down TWO dress sizes thanks to that bad boy.)
So why is it so hard? 
Because the way I see it: Writing is just word vomit on the page. Revision is when you have to clean that vomit into something good. It's icky. It can feel impossible. And most of the time you wish you could pay someone else to do it. But unfortunately, it has to be done. 
And there's a million-and-a-half ways to go about it. It's one of those things that everyone has to find their own method for. So all I can really do is share mine. It may work for you. It may not. All I know is: this is what works for me. And you've asked me about it. So I'm sharing. 
Basically–as always with these Shannon-Style posts–take the advice. Then salt to taste. Okay? Okay.
But before we get started, since we're talking about REVISION–and most of us are probably dying inside just a little because of it. And since this is Shannon-Style, and my AWESOME CPs send me revision care packages to help me survive…

*sends virtual cupcakes and chocolate and twizzlers*
Doesn't that make you feel better?
See, revision's not so bad now right? 
Okay, fine. It is. But let's get to it anyway.
For me, revision is a process I tackle in four different stages: the Drafting Stage, the Personal Stage, the CP/Beta Stage, and the Agent Stage. They of course have crossovers and what-not. But for organizational purposes, I'm going to break these posts up the same way, and cover one every Tuesday. Which means today we're talking about: the Drafting Stage.
But wait–you say. You've read time and time again from all these famous authors (who are way more successful than lil' ole me, btw) that you're not supposed to revise when you're writing your rough draft. That's why it's your ROUGH draft. You're just supposed to go go go go go until you type, “The End,” and THEN you can start revising. 
To which I say: Yes, I've heard that too. And I just. can't. work. that. way. 
I've tried–believe me, I've TRIED. I just can't do it. I'm too much of a perfectionist. I'm too OCD. 
Cause here's the thing: yes, when I'm drafting I get in that: ooo-shiny-new-words-everything-I-write-is-GOLD!!!!!!!! zone. I do. And MAN that's an awesome place to be. BUT, I still–even in the drafting stage–have those: this-isn't-working-the-scene-can't-go-this-way-it-just-can't!!!!!!! moments. And I just can't move on until I feel like I'm on the right track. I have to go back.
Now, I'll confess, when I first started writing, I did it wrong. I didn't just go back. I started over. I threw out entire chapters over and over. I was on draft ten before I even got to “the end.” And when I got there–as tends to happen–I realized what I'd REALLY been doing wrong. And I had to go back and throw a ton of it out and start over again. 
Don't do that. That was very frustrating and not cool and I definitely don't recommend it.  THAT'S why they tell you not to go back. Not just because its a big old time suck, but also because it's INCREDIBLY discouraging. It's so easy to feel like: I will never get this right and give up before you even finish. I'm very lucky that didn't happen to me. So I don't let myself do that anymore. I've learned from my mistakes.
But I've also learned that I have to sometimes listen to my inner editor as I draft. Why? Because a lot of times, she's right (the smug little minx).
That little voice telling me this moment shouldn't happen yet, or shouldn't happen at all, or needs to happen differently? She's right. And I'm not going to just pretend I don't know that and keep going blindly forward. I can't. I won't. And I don't think I should have to.
But I also don't want to fall back into my old, bad habits either. So I've come up with a few rules for myself to try to keep the right balance. 
When I'm drafting, I will revise IF:
-The scene/character/plot has started to go in a different direction than where I need/want the book to go. Otherwise I could steer way off course, and make a big old mess for myself. 

-I get to the end of the scene and realize NOTHING HAPPENED IN THERE! This is a dead giveaway that I've lost sight of my plot and need to take a minute and figure out what's actually going on. Then go back and include that in the scene.

-I realize the moment I've just written needs to fall in a different place in the book's timeline. Most of the time this just means moving the scene to a different document and adding it in later. But it needs to be done in order to move forward properly.

-I discover a giant, gaping plot hole that needs to be addressed–stat. Partially because this just messes with my head too much to ignore. But also because HUGE GAPING PLOT HOLES take a LOT of work to fix. Best get started on that early. And make sure it CAN be fixed.

I've also given myself some Don'ts, to keep myself in check. So I am NOT allowed to go back for:
Bad/repetitive writing. I know it's there. It happens to all of us. But it's not important at this stage. I'll clean it up later.

-Pacing issues. Pacing is IMPOSSIBLE to determine until the draft is complete. So even though I KNOW I'm running long/short, I'm not allowed to go back and cut/add. Yet. 

-Tiny plot/character inconsistencies. They happen as you get to know your characters. But there's no way you're going to find them all unless you reread the entire draft. So save that for the revision stage.

-Clarifying/adding description. This is one of my big tics (probably stems from my screenwriting experience). I tend to forget to like, describe the setting or the characters or clarify the rules of my world (what–I know this stuff, don't my readers like, instinctively know it?) Again, it's one of those things that affects every scene. I can fix when I work through the draft as a whole.

Makes sense, right? (Well, it does to me at least). And I try try TRY to follow them. But, I'll confess, sometimes it's hard. So I've added three other tricks to help me obey. 
1) I keep a separate document titled: Things I need to go back and fix. Anything that falls into those red “don't” categories that's driving my inner editor crazy gets noted here. It tends to shut her up. Like, oh, okay, it's been noted. We're aware of the problem. We have it on a “to do” list–often cited by page and chapter number. NO NEED TO PANIC.  Makes a big, big difference. Bonus: it makes it nice and easy to know where to start with my REAL revisions. I have this clear, organized list to get started on.
2) I set self-imposed deadlines and word count goals and force myself to meet them. Which means I HAVE to move forward, even when my inner editor is SCREAMING at me to go back. My inner self disciplinarian is stronger than her. She shuts her up like none other.
3) I send chapters to my CPs almost as soon as I finish them. I know. This is SCARY. It was really, really hard for me to get to a point where I was okay with this because a) um…my pages are a MESS at that point. And I don't like anyone to see my mess. It's like letting them peek under my bed and see all the clutter and vomit I try to hide from the world. (Okay, there's no vomit under my bed. At least I hope there's not. *eyes the cats suspiciously* But you see my point. ) And b) getting notes from CPs could, very easily, tempt me to go back and do all kinds of tweaking I'm not quite ready to do. 
So why do I do it? Because what's even SCARIER is that voice in my head saying: this sucks. I'm wasting my time. No one will like this. I'm a hack. I'll never write anything good–ever. DOOOOOOM! Yes, my head is NOT a pretty place when I write. I have all kinds of different voices I battle. It can be a little debilitating. 
Fortunately I have the incredibly awesome Sara(h)s, who have no problem being my cheerleaders. So I send them my very rough chapters as soon as I'm done writing them, with the only instructions being: let me know if this sucks and watch for any huge, gaping plot holes. And they read quick and respond with the: OMG I LOVE THIS AND WANT MORE! encouragement I need to keep going. 
Do they sometimes give me notes for things I'm not really supposed to be adjusting yet? Of course. And I even tell them that if they notice something I'd prefer they mark it. But I'm pretty good about copying and pasting those notes into the “Things I need to go back and fix” file, and saving them for later. Plus, sometimes they find some big, gaping plot holes I missed. And then I can fix those before I weave the mistake through the whole draft. Win and WIN.
So basically, my approach is kind of a middle ground approach to drafting. I'm not a pure “word-vomit only” kind of person. I do revise as I go. But I try to limit the revision to the essentials only. Just enough to stop my inner editor from going insane, but not letting her run the show either. 
Because there is a LOT to be said for getting to the end of the draft. It's AMAZING how clear so many things become once you get there. You really do want to save the bulk of your revising for after that point. But that doesn't mean you can't do SOME along the way. It's all about balance, imho. Works for me anyway. 
And that's the real lesson. Like I said at the beginning. It's about finding what works for YOU. Try different things until you find the right system. And never do something just because it's the way you're “supposed to do it.” There's no x + y – z = International bestseller (at least, I don't think so. If you guys know about it, please–do tell.) You just have to find your own way through this frustrating, murky process. Write. Revise. And Repeat.
Okay, I *think* that covers my drafting process pretty well. Any questions? Comments? Concerns? Tips? Pointers? Revision snack of choice that helps more than chocolate or Twizzlers? Feel free to share in the comments. 

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