Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for November: 11/2 Lois Winston 11/9 Christin Brecher 11/16 Laurie Lowenstein 11/23 M.V. Byrne

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Speed Dating Your Own Manuscript

I’ve blogged about my crazy writing schedule many times. Balancing being a mom, having a full-time job, tons of freelance, and writing my crime fiction—it’s not easy, but, boy, is it worth it when I actually get to write.

Revision is the same way for me. I tend to revise quite a bit as I go, mostly because I find it so much easier if I get it all out right the first time. Yes, I know this is a bit unusual—I have many writing buddies who feel like if you go back during a first draft, you’re dead in the water. They much prefer to get it all out on paper and then spend time combing through it once the base is there. But that’s never really been me.

All that said, my most recent manuscript has required more heavy, after-the-fact revision than I’ve ever felt was necessary before. I revised as I wrote, just like usual, but the nature of this manuscript (dual first-person narratives) and the real “plottiness” of the story meant it has needed much, much more time in revision than anything I can remember working on, aside from my very first stab at a book. And we all know how those first manuscripts go—they’re a writing lesson wrapped in a marathon, to be sure.

To go with the unusual nature of this manuscript’s behavior, I decided to try a little something different once I thought I might be FINALLY done revising it.

Spend a day with it.

I hadn’t gotten a chance to read the thing in a short time period. Rather, because of all my other commitments, it would normally take me two weeks or more to read the full 467 pages. (Yeah, it’s super long).

And with that long a period between when I started and when I finished a read, I felt I might be missing something.

I couldn’t tell if I had the emotional ebb and flow right. Had I parsed out enough of the backstory? Did a running joke actually run through the whole thing or did it only show up when it darn well felt like it?

So, as a very, very rare luxury to myself, I took an entire day off work, just to read. Maybe a silly use of vacation time, but I felt it was important to see this one as a whole.

And you know what? I learned more about this manuscript in that day than I probably had in months of here-and-there revision. Spending that many uninterrupted hours with it meant I could see the little things that worked, the things that didn’t, and what could get slashed out all together.

I also figured out that despite the necessary changes, the manuscript was in way better shape than I thought. Thus: I feel super relieved.

I also have a few days of inputting my notes (I read it on paper rather than on a screen—another glorious change, no offense to my MacBook or Kindle), but in the scheme of things, that day really saved me plenty of time and frustration.

Do you ever take a large chunk of time to read your writing in revision or another part of the process? Does it help you?


KM Rockwood said...

Revision is such a huge part of writing. Like you, I often do some revision as I go along, especially when I realize something needs a prior mention earlier in th manuscript, or a detail conflicts with something.

I do try to set aside a hunk of time--usually a weekend--when I can have minimal other responsibilities and dive into a completed draft almost nonstop.

It sounds to me like you've figured ot what works for you, and that is more important than any suggestions anyone (including instructors) can give you.

E. B. Davis said...

It's an essential for me, Sarah. I always read my script from beginning to end in as short a time as possible. At first I transferred it to my Kindle, but that meant going back and forth between my Kindle and computer to make changes. Hard copy is the best even if I feel guilty printing out all those pages. Evey revision made must be kept in context to the entire manuscript.

Warren Bull said...

I also revise as I write. Whatever works for the writer.
Paper is easier to use for revision. I also read my work out loud, which helps me catch errors.

Gloria Alden said...

Sarah, I revise as I go. I print out a hard copy and when I receive edits from my two Guppy critique partners as I send each chapter as I finish it, I mark their comments on my hard copy - red for Ann and blue for Mary. :-) I also keep a hard copy chart at the beginning of the book in progress detailing each chapter; day of the week and time of day, a brief synopsis of what happens and a list of the characters who appear in that chapter. That way I have an idea of the flow and which characters should be brought back, etc.

I've never read the whole book in it's print version, though, but I think I will with this book when I finish it.

Sarah Henning said...

I'm definitely going to use the "steal a day" revision technique again. It was a real treat and was super helpful.

Jim Jackson said...

I do read my manuscript from beginning to end in a compressed time for the reasons you articulated. At least once, I will read it out loud because that catches different issues.

~ Jim

Kara Cerise said...

It's easier for me to catch errors on paper. I can spread out pages and compare them to make sure I didn't repeat a scene or dialogue, but I can only see one page at a time on the computer.

I like your "steal a day" idea, Sarah. It sounds like it was very helpful.