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Sunday, March 8, 2015

How Do You Revise?

Revision is one of the most important parts of writing, yet it never seems to be a huge discussion point in the writing community. Though, as both a writer and a freelance editor, I’m fascinated by it. Mostly because it’s a finishing process that is as unique as the writer who put words to the page.

My revision process is simple—because I’m always revising. I start out nearly each writing session reading what I last wrote. This puts me in the mood of voice, but it also allows me to catch little errors quickly and to avoid making tons of continuity mistakes. It also allows me to give fresh-but-familiar eyes to a scene, which I find helps me quickly firm up anything that was a little loose.

This method means that when I’m finished with a manuscript draft, my whole-draft revision tends to be relatively short. Unless there’s some major flaw, or I’m waiting forever on a beta read, the most I’m ever actively revising is usually a couple of weeks, and most of that time is spent rereading it and letting it air out in equal measure.

All that said, I know I’m not necessarily normal in my process. Mine is a gift from my days as a journalist. When there was a length, a topic and a time limit and that was it. Revision sometimes didn’t happen at all, so it was best to get it right the first time.

I know some writers, most especially “fast drafters,” who can churn out a manuscript in a month or less and then need four times that to revise or more. For these writers, moving forward is the only goal and going back—and getting mired in that detail—is death.

This “go back means death” process is also the case for a few very slow drafters I know. They just need to do the thing and will stall out and overthink things if given the chance. They also will take a long time in revision.

Of course, there are people who are in between these extremes as well. And that could be you.

What’s your preferred way to revise?


Jim Jackson said...

We write so differently, Sarah, there is almost nothing in common. With my novels, I am a pantser, so my first draft is in some ways like a plotter getting the nitty-gritty of the plot finished. My second draft pitches out what no longer fits and adds new necessary scenes.

After a cleansing period I do a total reread and note everything that is not perfect and start correcting them from largest to smallest. I combine characters, eliminate flat scenes, add or heighten tension, kill slow starts, wind up ends.

This January I taught a month-long course for the Kiss of Death chapter of Romance Writers of America on a systematic approach to revision.

I easily spend four hours editing novels for every hour writing. I suspect it is way more than that.

Glad yours works for you. I’d produce a lot more writing if I wrote as well as you clearly must.

~ Jim

Warren Bull said...

I revise as I write. I often go to sleep or wake up thinking of changes that need to be made. I review the entire manuscript noting what needs work. Then my mind picks out smaller changes that need attention. I find it helps to read the work out loud. That's when I hear what I cannot see.

Gloria Alden said...

Kait, I send each chapter to my Guppy critique partners. When I get their input regarding typos, missing quotation marks, etc. plus some suggestions I make those edits and in the process do a certain amount of changes I think are necessary. Sometimes further on in the book, I realize there is something I should have included earlier and go back to put that in. So when the time comes for my final revision, which should start later this week since I only have a few more chapters to go, I'll reformat the whole book chapter by chapter as I go into a book format and do my final revisions there. I actually enjoy doing that final process.

E. B. Davis said...

I can't help but polish as I go, but there are two problems that occur when I use this method. It slows the development of the rough draft, and the more I polish, the more set in stone the chapters become in my mind.

Although I'm not a pantser, I have a rough outline. I like to maintain some spontaneity while still knowing where I'm going with the script. So although I try to adhere to the outline, I find the spontaneous element can strengthen the script, but it can disrupt the outline. Linda's suggested a method this week that I will try, but I think it assumes that most essentials in the plot have been worked out.

What happens, Sarah, if you realize in the middle of the rough draft that you have a plot flaw or some other implausibility? Or a red herring may not be red afterall?

Shari Randall said...

Hi Sarah - I have to admit that I like the revision/editing process. It feels easier to me than the bloodletting that is writing!
Newspaper writing can be an advantage - no time to futz around makes one get the words on the page. I worked for my hometown newspaper for a year after college, and that training was valuable. If you've got the managing editor breathing down your neck for some copy, you get it done!
Maybe I need to hire a managing editor….

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I'm getting better about revising as I go, jump-starting each day by re-reading the previous day(s)pages. I'm a pantser, getting better about having at least a rough outline before I start, though the characters very often take over the plot, changing it, for better or worse. I'm writing a batch of short stories right now, good discipline for paring down to the bare essentials to keep the plot moving forward.

KM Rockwood said...

One of my "tricks" for getting me going for my next writing session is to write at least the opening sentence that will follow. I usually don't end up using that sentence, but it gets me going.

I reread what I wrote last time, making corrections as I go. Sometimes I realize this whole section has to go, and I don't add it to the main draft.

A member of my writing group just pointed out to me that my computer will read to me. I had no idea! I am experimenting with having it read out loud while I review a copy of what it's reading. (Unless you're a lot more tech savvy than I am, this takes two computers, one to read & one to highlight areas that need attention) or a print out.

I have always read most of my work aloud to myself, but I've been pleasantly surprised with how well this works. I hear all kind of things--words I've used too frequently, dialogue that needs a tag, etc. The voice is pretty mechanical, and if it doesn't recognize a word, it does it phonetically. Thus "hoodie," as in hooded sweatshirt, is rendered "who die" but that's minor.

Sarah Henning said...

It's so interesting to see how different we are. It's threads like this that remind me that it's best to find what works for you and not assume that there's a "correct" way to do it. All that really needs to be correct is the grammar (in my opinion!).