Revision–Shannon Style (Part Two: Personal Revisions)

February 8th, 2011 | Blog Uncategorized


Last week I talked about my revision method during rough drafting, which–in a nutshell–is that I do SOME tweaking on big, important things, and try to leave the rest for later. (If you missed it, you can read the post HERE).

So now we're up to the second phase of my revision process: the Personal Phase. Which is basically just a more official way of saying: the phase where I dive in and try to clean up my own mess. And believe me, it's QUITE a mess to clean up.

(Ugh–I need a truckload of chocolate and Twizzlers just thinking about this…)

So this is basically the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-dive-in-head-first stage. And I always start by turning to the handy: Things I need to Fix File (which I talked about last week). It's usually at least 10 pages long at that point (single spaced no less–I told you, I am a MESSY drafter). And I read through it several times so I really familiarize myself with it.
Some of the things on there are clear what I have to do. But most of them are simply “problems.” Meaning I know something's wrong, but I haven't quite figured out how to fix it. Which means it's time for a brainstorming session with my CPs–another huge reason why I have them read the draft as I write it. That way they're up to speed with me and can help me figure this stuff out, (Yes, even though this is the Personal Stage, I make my poor CPs work) (Yes, I rely VERY heavily on my CPs.) (Yes, it's amazing they put up with me) (Yes, I probably need to send them more presents)
Okay, so, the brainstorming session. Basically I log into a chat with one of them and start with something along the lines of: THERE'S THIS BIG PROBLEM WITH MY DRAFT AND I CAN'T THINK OF ANY WAY TO FIX IT AND I'LL NEVER FIND THE ANSWER AND DOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!
And they (after most likely running to grab a GIANT bottle of alcohol) say: Okay, so tell me what the problem is.
So I ramble for…5-10 minutes. Explaining what the problem is, and what solutions I've already rejected and why (and yes, there's plenty of whining in the mix too). And then, we play the “What if?” game.
They throw out ideas. I reject them. I throw out ideas. They poke holes in them. Round and round we go. Usually for at least an hour. But the AMAZING thing about that process is: I ALWAYS end the chat with the solution. Every. Single. Time. 
There's something to be said for tossing out bad ideas. Nothing makes it clearer what WILL work, than thinking about what WON'T work. I highly recommend it.
So after thanking them a million, zillion times and telling them I'd be lost without them and promising them my kidney and a small piece of my liver, I am ready to dive in to the revision. Which means…rereading. A lot, lot, LOT of rereading.
I know some people at this point like to revise on paper. I hate it. I hate making notes for myself and then having to go back and apply them. I would so much rather save time and make the change right then. So I work in the actual file. And yes, I know, that does mean I might delete something I regret. Which is why I create a new file called: Draft One–Deleted Pieces. I cut, copy, and paste pretty much everything in there. Single words, no. But sentences–yes. And certainly big chunks. Every so often I do go back and take something from there, so it's worth the time. Plus, it's fun to see how much the draft has improved when I reread that garbage.
Anyway, when I work through the draft, I work chapter by chapter. I read the chapter once, tweaking anything from the “Things I need to fix file.” Then I read again, to see how I like the changes, and if they bring up any new issues, etc. I read again, watching for repetitive phrases and words. I read it out loud, to catch awkward rhythm–especially with the dialogue. I read again, trying to ask myself if what I'm saying is clear and if I've described the setting enough. Then I read again, to see if the writing feels like it's good enough, or if I need to push myself to do better.
All of which means I do a lot of: listening to my gut. 

Deep down, I KNOW when something's wrong with my book. Do I still miss stuff? Of course–because I'm just too darn close to the project. (That's why my revision process doesn't end here) But over my years of writing I have found time and again that whenever I let something go, something I'm just not happy with but think–eh, I'm probably over-thinking it. I WILL get notes on that very same thing. My inner editor isn't as dumb as I sometimes think she is. So I'm learning to listen to her. 
Usually takes me 3-4 hours per chapter to feel like I've gotten it to a point where there's nothing more I can do. At which point, I send it to my CPs for a much more thorough critique than they did the first time, and move on to the next chapter. (Okay, fine, I have a VERY bad habit of rereading the chapter one more time the next day and making a bunch more changes and sending my poor CPs an email titled: DON'T USE THOSE PAGES–USE THESE!!!!!!) (I always promise myself I won't do it) (And at least half the time, I do) (It really is amazing they haven't flown to California to beat me over the head with my laptop)
And from that point, it's out of my hands, until I get feedback from CPs. Which is one of the reasons why I like working chapter by chapter with them. I know it's a bit harder to get a feel for the pacing, but I like that I always have something to work on, so I don't get to that point where I've sent off the ENTIRE DRAFT and can now do nothing but bite my nails and obsessively check my email and try not to go insane while I wait for them to get it back to me. Instead, I have the next chapter to work on. And by the time I get to the end I have an inbox full of critiqued chapters to go back to. I let my Beta Readers address the pacing in the CP/Beta Phase. Which I will talk about next week.
So there you go–a relatively scary glimpse into the crazy way I attack my drafts. Sadly, all I've probably accomplished with this post is making you feel VERY sorry for my CPs (and VERY happy you're not one of them). And many of you probably work very differently from this. But this is what works for me. Still a long way to go from here. But I'll talk about that next week.
That was stressful. I think I need more chocolate. Anyone want to join me? *noms* And what about you guys: how do YOU attack your drafts during the first round of revision?

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