Sunday, May 20, 2012

Revising Your Work or Self-Inflicted Baldness

After a flurry of real-life activity, my life is finally calming down. Not that I don’t have spring chores awaiting me—but now I’m ready to read my rough draft in its entirety, and I will do so—with trepidation.

I download many books on my Kindle. Some of those books are poorly written. One author, who had a series listed with ten books, started so many sentences with “ing” phrases or gerunds, I stopped reading the book after three chapters, and the plot had great potential, but I just couldn’t bear reading it. I hope that his writing improved, but I will never know because the first of the series that I downloaded gave me no incentive to download another.

I know my book isn’t of that poorly written caliber, but I’ve also read a lot of new books from some of my favorite authors, Jacqueline Winspear, Marian Babson and Nancy Atherton, giving me a high benchmark I fear I’ll never achieve. I’m hoping for Winspear’s ability to intrigue the reader, Babson’s humor and Atherton’s imagination—which is why I approach reading my rough draft with trepidation. Whom am I kidding? I’m already defeated. But at least I’m not fooling myself like the “gerund” author, who evidently never thought of hiring an editor or who must never read quality writing.

Immediately after finishing my rough draft, I started reading and revising. I couldn’t help myself, so I stopped reading. I’ve waited to put some distance between myself and my creation. The distance is necessary so that I’m not baffled by the forest for the trees. When I read it the first time, I should be looking at the major plot points, ensuring that the mystery itself comes together, that the clues are there for the reader, that the characters’ motivations match their actions and that the plot is without artifice.

After I read for those major points, only then can I wordsmith. It must be done in that order so as not to waste my own time. If rewrites are necessary (as I’m sure they will be) then why tweak what may disappear. It would be like taking the time to decorate a cake only to discover that a new cake must be baked.

I have this idea that for every story, there is an ideal way to tell the story. When I read books that come together explosively in the end, where all is revealed in a breathtaking pinnacle, I ask myself how the author did that and can I discern the best way to tell my story. But, when I wrack my brains trying to answer those questions, I know that my critique partners’ perspectives are invaluable. With their input and my decisions, I still feel that gnawing trepidation.

Does each story have an ideal composition? How do authors discover that ideal?


  1. There might be an ideal way for each particular author to write a specific story. How to get there? Work it until it is as perfect as you can make it at this point in your writing career. Later on when you see what was finished you'll see how it could have been better. Perfection is a moving target. That means the more you write, the better you get.

  2. How many concepts do you mentally try out before you put a word on the page, Warren?

  3. Every time is different. I try to throw something on the page, whatever I have, and work from there. For a longer work I have a list of characters and a time line in a notebook to refer to while I write on the computer. When I use a formal outline, it doesn't work well. I wish it did. I'd spend less time being totally lost.

  4. I actually like the editing part. In fact, I've edited my first book so many times it's become not exactly a different book, but a better book. My critique partners, both local and Guppy have been very valuable. I think once you get started, E.B. you'll actually find little nuggets that you'll say, "Wow! Did I write that? It's good." :-)

    I understand how we are a bit intimidated when we read authors we greatly admire. I like Jacquiline Winspeare, too, but another writer I'm totally in awe of is Louise Penny. Our own Linda Rodgriguez is an author to intimidate, too.

  5. All true, Gloria. I find it intimidating, mainly because I've done this before and never feel as though anything is good enough. I got hits from agents wanting to look at my last ms, but no takers--it makes you feel as though you must be writing drek.

  6. Hey, EB,

    Hits from agents are signs you're doing many things well. Asking for a partial or full manuscript is additional proof. LIke job interviews, it only takes one.

  7. Thanks for reminding me that the glass is half full, Warren. I will endeavor to preserver. (as said in "The Outlaw Josey Wales")

  8. I wrote my novel by developing the characters and their back stories first then lead into the heart of the story. I've had comment that it takes some readers too many pages to get into the storyline. Should I give in to everything has to bite you in the first ten pages or keep the a straight time line?
    Ideas, Warren???

  9. Editor Ramona Long says to keep backstory to the minimum and work backstory in a little bit at a time, and she's right. If you aren't published on the novel market as yet, it's much better to get the action started as soon as possible. I know you asked Warren, but I knew the answer to that one. Ramona used to be a blogger here at WWK. Click on her name under the labels. I think you can still access her blog about that topic.