Writers: Learn to Love Revision

When you look at some of the writing advice out here in the great etheric wonder that is the internet, what you'll see is a lot of the same information repeated over and over. This is because writing isn't a science, it's a very subjective process which looks similar to lots of different people, but with a few common factors which tend to influence the craft in immensely different ways. One of the big ones I always see is READ. And yes, it is a big one. Huge, even. Top two or three. Because...writers tend to also read. But for my dollar, there's one that takes the number one spot just above reading (number 2), and actually doing the writing itself (number 3). Yes, even above the writing. Why? Because the best way to learn to write is to read. That's all well and good, I assume you say, but what's number one? Well that leads us here, to the element of writing residing at the number one spot is:

Revision...Learn to Love it:

I know, I know, right? Kinda gave that one away. But the importance of this can't be overstated. Other writers will disagree with this in slight terms of importance. Learning to love and appreciate revision and editing is where the REAL writing happens. Writing, especially longer works, is not a one and done type of thing. Unless you are a one in a billion (with a 'B'), chances are you don't write something down and it comes out as if uttered from the lips of God. You make mistakes. There are typos. Information and back story is missing. Your characters aren't developed. Your bad guys are flat. And most of all, your writing probably sucks.

Don't take that last part personally. My first drafts suck big hairy, dangling, goat...appendages. I'm editing one right now, and it's the kind steeped for days in a mixture of vinegar made from raw sewage and second-hand baby diapers. So there.

So why learn to love it?

Because, as said above, it's where the real writing happens. Writing is called a craft for a reason. It's likely that your words will need to be crafted and shaped into something better than when they originally dribble out of your mind and through your fingers to make sloppy, magical brain juice on paper you may or may not have found in the vicinity of a toilet. In fact, most first drafts can hardly be considered magical, just about any author will tell you that. But the shaping, from barely formed clay into a gracefully sculpted, uh...sculpture, of finely hewn words, metaphors, and analogies, doesn't happen in one go. Heck, it only happens over time and experience with your story, and understanding the important things it has to offer.

So when you think about your writing and all these brilliant pearls of narrative glory that spring into that creative muscle precariously perched atop your neck, remember that they probably aren't great yet. But they will be soon, once you take the time to cut, shape, polish, and perfect your way into a true writer's work.

Tom Sawyering Your Writer Friends into Helping Revise Your Book

Boy am I enjoying revising this book…it’s so much fun!

Take that passive verb!

K-pow! Adverb say whatly?

What am I doing, you ask? Well, I’m not so sure I should say. It’s just…I’m having such a great time…and I don’t want to make you jealous…

Is it working? Are you wanting to help me revise this dumpster fire of a novel?

I knew you liked me. I just knew it!

Okay, so I’m going to outline how I revise and would love for you to jump in, giving tips, tricks, tools, and general help for anyone stuck in revising hell, which is the first level for those keeping track.

 This is my process, and mine alone. It’s probably not ‘best practice’, but it works for me (sometimes):

After typing THE END (which oddly, I don’t ever type at the end, but bear with me), I start back at page one, copy and developmental editing as I go. For those who might not know, a copy edit is placing the right period, fixing a run-on, and/or adjusting a passive verb. Developmental is the bigger picture stuff, keeping eye and hair color consistent, and/or tying up hanging loose ends.

Once I run through it once, I do the same thing again, looking for deeper POV/Showing options. And that means, if I come across this: He was cold. I would likely go into a deeper POV, and change it to: The air chilled his flesh, raising goosebumps along the hair follicles.

And that’s usually it until the editorial letter hits my email.

Sometimes I might have an added step of critique from trusted sources, if available. This is up for much debate, but I prefer one or two readers I trust rather than wide critiques. Too much of a good thing for me. I try to please everyone and end up with a bigger mess.

So how do you revise?

What sort of software helps? A time ago I used Rainbow Editing, which helped before I started to use active verbs in my first draft. I sometimes use those word count programs--ones that find my overused words or adverbs.

Tips or tricks you find helpful?

How much do you put into a revision? Meaning, you have to eventually let the book go. How many times do you go back to revision before sending it on its way?

Really any advice on revision is helpful. Maybe we can, as a collective, help each other become better at the awesome, super fun art of revision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Afterglow of Revision

At last, I hit Control Save on my revision of my second thriller, Red Sky, and emailed it to my editor. Woo hoo!! As writers I’m sure you all know how great it feels to type the end and know you’ve finished a scene, a chapter, a book. You also know how painful it can be to have someone critique your work.

I am a true believer of critique, but it didn’t prepare me for the editor.

When I sent in my first completed manuscript in 1999, I was sending it to an editor who hadn’t bought my series. The editor who had signed my three-book contract had moved on and a new editor inherited my series. To say she was less than enthusiastic about the book I turned in is putting it mildly. She sent me a three-page single-spaced revision letter that told me to remove one character completely from the story. She never wanted to see him again.editor

I cried, then I called my agent.

My agent, being a wise man, explained to me how I had two choices. Do the revision or let the editor pay a “kill fee” (essentially the advance money I’d already received) and revert the rights to the series back into my name. Of course, I wanted to have my book published, so I tackled the revision. It took me a month and half and, after I turned it in, my editor told me she was surprised that I had pulled it off, then offered me two more books on the contract for a total of five.

With her, my longest revision letter was the first one. The second book didn’t have any revisions. The third book a few minor things, the fourth book needed a thread tied up, and the fifth book went straight to copy edits. None of it prepared me for the revision letter I received on DARK WATERS, the first book in my thriller series. That revision letter was over seven pages long single-spaced and the manuscript looked etched in red track changes.

I cried, then I called my editor.

I asked him why he had paid me for a book he didn’t like. He laughed. He said he loved the book, but he thought it would be improved by a few small changes. The “small changes” turned out to require a total restructuring of the first half of the novel and some not so small changes to character and plot. Again, I buckled down to the work, finished the revisions in a month and half AND I got back another three page single-spaced revision letter.

I cried, then I called my editor again.

He calmly assured me that he loved the book, that we were almost there and then complimented me. He told me that I had shown the mark of true writer. When I asked what he meant, he told me that often authors dig in their heels about making changes. They like their book the way it is, they resist any changes or suggestions, and they insist their purple-ist prose is golden. From his perspective, an editor is there to make your work the best it can be.

For what it’s worth, I agree.

dark-waters-final-cover-200x315DARK WATERS ended up nominated for multiple awards, sold to book clubs, sold internationally, sold in audio. That book got wonderful praise from colleagues, friends and authors I respect and admire. The book was better for my editor’s work and suggestions, and I thank him and share with him the credit for how well that book has done.

The second book went to a different editor for the first go-round. She was a bigwig at HarperCollins and now does freelance editing. She had four single-spaced pages of revision suggestions and the manuscript was etched in purple track changes.

I cried. (Have you noticed the trend?)

Then I didn’t call anyone. I complained to my husband, stomped around the house and complained to my dog. I let the revision letter sit for a week, took another look at it, let it sit a while longer, and then I picked it up and got to work. I didn’t agree with all the recommended changes (I never do) and I didn’t make every suggested change (I never have), but she was dead on with about 90% to 95% of what she felt didn’t work. The issues were different than the issues my editor had with the first book, and yet some things had a familiar ring. I’m a quick learner, and I’m not. This time it was the second half of the book where I needed to do some restructuring, fortify character motivations, and lay things out more clearly.

Now my original editor has the book, and I truly expect to get another revision letter before we’re done. I look forward to it. Having finished the hard work of going through the manuscript and making the first set of changes, RED SKY is a much better book. If going through it again will improve it more, I’m game. In fact, the final edit is sometimes the best. It’s when you can tweak the words, change some of the passive verbs to more active verbs, rewrite the clichés and make the similes and metaphors more original. It’s when you can put that final polish and touch on the book making it stand out as yours.

It’s my belief that every book is better for having a good editor—someone who takes the time to look at the big picture of what you’re attempting to do, who scrutinizes the story line and is willing to point out where things go awry. It’s also better for having a good writer—someone willing to take a hard look at their own work, to dig in and to make the necessary changes.

Go forth and revise--and if you have any revision stories of your own, I'd love to hear them.

Chris

Book Revision, The Extreme Version

This week is the beginning of a new year. And for me, a new book. Except it’s not really a new book. I’m going to re-write a historical romance I wrote, and which was published, nearly fifteen years ago.

I’ve revised and re-released most of my backlist, so this isn’t a new experience for me. Except in this case, revising this book isn’t a matter of tightening and improving my prose and tweaking the story. This time I’m going start from the beginning and re-write the book the way it was meant to be written.

The reason I didn’t write it that way the first time was because this was a book I was coerced into writing by my publisher. They were starting a new erotic romance line, and since my books were fairly steamy, they thought I would be a good fit. My editor found a proposal I’d written for her predecessor (I was on my third editor by then) and suggested I write the story as an erotic romance. I told them no, that even though I wrote hot love scenes, I didn’t put sex in my books just for the sake of writing sex. In fact, I told them no three times. But in the end I gave in. Not for the money, or to revive my flagging career, but because they said if I wrote this book, they’d buy the third book in my Dragon of the Island series. I really wanted to see that book-of-the-heart published, so I agreed to write the other one.

They’d sent me several books to read, to give me an idea of what they had in mind And they came up with an underlying theme for the story and a title. I thought I knew what they wanted, and I did my best to give it to them. The process was intense and agonizing. Normally my stories just happen and I let the characters do what they want. I may have to push them in a certain direction to keep the plot from sagging, or rein them in here and there to give the story coherence, but I don’t force them to follow a certain formula, like having sex every X number of pages. But with this book, I had to do that. And to keep the sexual tension going, I not only had to force them to have sex, I had to keep them in conflict for most of the book. (The title they gave the book was No Surrender.)

The result was a disaster. I don’t know if my editor hated the book, but her boss, the head of the romance line, did. She disliked it so much she pulled it out of the erotic line and published it as a regular historical romance. Which meant it shocked and upset quite a few readers who bought it expecting an R-rated romance and who got an X-rated one. Other readers were turned off by the relentless conflict between the hero and heroine. Despite its flaws, the book actually sold fairly decently, proving it’s true that “sex sells”.

But it was demoralizing experience for me. It shook my confidence in my writing and in my judgment. It tainted, and eventually ruined, my relationship with my agent, who had strongly encouraged me to write the book. I felt as if I’d sold my soul for nothing. Even having the third book in my series published didn’t help. The Dragon Prince sold poorly and ended up being the last book I sold to my publisher. In fact, it would be another ten years before I contracted a book with any publisher.

But one good thing was that I used a pseudonym, so in some ways, it’s like No Surrender never happened. I’m free to start over and write the story the way I originally conceived it. I can take my characters and set them free. At the same time, I don’t have to develop the setting and the historical details and all the things that make up the world of the book. The framework is already there. It should be fun. And even if it’s harder than I expect to be, it will be wonderfully satisfying. My characters get to have their romance, as it was intended. And I get to write the story I envisioned so many years ago.

How Many Drafts Does It Take To Get To the Gooey Chocolate Center of a Bestselling Novel?

So recently, in the writing community, we’ve been a-buzz over a blog post that warned no writer should ever write four books in one year. I won’t paraphrase, but issues came up over quality and care and other such fears for people who write fast.

I thought I could write a big long blog post defending the slow writer, or villainizing the fast writer, or saying nasty things about political candidate, but naaaahhhhhhh.  Other people who are smarter than me have already done all that.

I wanna talk about drafts. How many drafts does it take to complete a finished novel? And then there’s how many drafts do I WANT it to take to get a finished novel.

I might be a bad person to talk about this. I mean, I was pantser for a long time. My first novel took four years to write. I can’t tell you how many drafts I had. It was re-write city and I was the mayor. I then turned around worked on a book for seven years. Again, playing dice the story. Paper cuts, man, nearly bled to death because of paper cuts.

Then I discovered story structure by reading Robert McKee’s STORY. And I started outlining. And while that helped, it’s still taken me years to write books.  Several. Years.

I’d be lucky to get one book every four years let alone four books every one year. But I’ve been talking to people. I’ve been looking to see what other writers do.

It seems Stephen King writes a book, puts it aside for six weeks or six months, picks it up, goes through and reads it for big stuff (in one sitting if he can), does that second draft, and it’s off to his editor. He incorporates the edits into a third draft, it goes through line edits, and bam, four drafts and he is out the door. But that’s Stephen King. He’s been at this for a bit.

Other writers I talk do something similar though. They do this:

  • Rough draft
  • First draft
  • Beta reader’s draft
  • Editor’s draft
  • Copy edits draft
  • Line edits draft

And out the door. So that’s still six, which is a whole lot less than what I’ve done in the past. Now, most of the novels I’ve written were practice, working on my chops, getting my sea legs under me. But others, well, I didn’t want to give them up out of fear.

What if I sent a bad draft out and no one loved me anymore? I’d die alone.

So I’d go over the words again and again and again. Out of fear.

Notice in the bullet points above, there’s no entry for “Edit Out of Sheer Terror Draft”. Nope. That’s not up there because the brave warrior writers I know get their books done and out into the world. Bam. Fearlessly!

I think people can write successful books and publish multiple a year. I believe that. I also believe that books need several drafts to be tightened up and beaten into shape. In the end, it’s how much time do you want to spend on this?

And the other thing?

There are no rules. Crappy, unedited books do really well sometimes, while golden books of platinum-level editing go unnoticed. No rules, baby. Do what you want.

I’ve been lucky. Well, I’ve been lucky and I’ve been smart. I paid a copy editor to go over my last draft even though I’ve had publishers edit my stuff. RMFW’s very own Chris Devlin is a great copy editor, and she’s saved my books.

But in the end, no matter how much editing you do, you’re not going to please everyone. People will find stuff. A million people could read your book, and the one million and oneth person would find a typo, or find a plot inconsistency, or notice your character probably wouldn’t have eaten the English muffin on page fifty-fix.

I’ll leave you with an example. I was talking to a Star Wars fan, and he pointed out that it was quite the coincidence that you had a Skywalker on Tatooine after the Anakin became Darth Vader. Wouldn’t someone had called up Mr. Vader and said, “Hey, kind of a funny story, but there’s this kid named Luke living on Tatooine and his last name is Skywalker. Is he a relative of yours?”

Yeah, editors missed that one. But it’s pretty safe to say Star Wars did pretty well however imperfect it is.

I’m thinking six drafts, multiple readers including a professional editor, will do for me. I don’t know about you. Find your own path, Padawan learner, find your own path.

 

Once, Twice, Three Times a Manuscript….(Anyone Under 40 Won’t Have a Clue What Song The Title References But I’m Using it Anyway Because it’s My Title and I Can…Sing it!)

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

The weekend before last I was lucky enough to hang out at the Pikes Peak Writer Conference. I also did some teaching but it was more about seeing old friends and making plenty of new fabulous ones. Besides having a great time abusing whiskey, wine and food I spent some time talking with other writers about their process.

It was at this point I had an epiphany.

Or maybe you could refer to it as a drunken revelation.

Either way, this is my point-- tables have dancing naked weight limits.

No, scratch that. I had two epiphanies and a bruise on my coccus the size and shape of Texas.

Anyway....we all have such different methods and madness for our works. And each, while valid, might not be the best choice for us, like dancing on a table when you're old enough to know far better.

Here's what I mean. I'm a pantster. A REALLY BIG ONE. I sit down to write and start at page one, word one. But I can learn to be better at plotting and that could make for more words, and more books. I can learn how to be a better marketer. I can learn to write deeper characters and better description. An old dog can be taught new tricks, as long as the teacher talks real slow and plenty of cookies are involved.

Maybe I can learn these things from a class or a workshop taught from one of the amazing instructors already selected for the RMFW Conference in September. Or I can learn from the fantastic community we are a part of.

One of the interesting things I learned a few weekends ago was from a longtime RMFW member -- Mike Befeler. Mike never knows who is murderer is going to be. Right up until the end. It's a good lesson if you've ever read his work, it feels organic for the protagonist when he figures out who done it. Now I am not saying I could pull it off, but it does give me insight into his process.

I'm interested in your own process. How many revisions does it take for the finished (or as close as you can get) product? Do you know what is going to happen when you start? Do you have any advice that has helped you greatly along your path? Let's open up and share all we can together.

Or else I will get on that table!

 

The Fairyland Murders_ebook (1)J.A. (Julie) Kazimer writes books. So many books that she now has to use her toes to count them. Learn more at jakazimer.com or friend her on facebook because she's pretty lonely. You can also tweet her at @jakazimer and she'll share some gruesome stories about decaying bodies or puppies. Tweeters choice.

Also, her latest book, THE FAIRYLAND MURDERS is on sale for the low, low, how the heck am I going to afford my Rolex now, price of $1.99. I don't know how long it will be on sale as my publisher never tells me anything....So pick up a copy today. Or don't. I'm not going to beg...Okay, I will beg. Please, please--

Guest Post: Maura Weiler – Your Non-Agent Might Know Best. Or Does She?

By Maura Weiler, Author of Contrition

ContritionFinalCoverWhich is worse– an impersonal rejection letter from an agent, or a personalized rejection letter with feedback that would require a massive rewrite of your book with no guarantee that the agent would revisit it? Both. Oh wait... I mean, it all depends.

I entered the submission process for my debut novel, Contrition, with this policy: If two or more agents offered the same feedback, or if one person gave feedback that resonated with me, I would listen to it. If only one person made a particular criticism I didn’t agree with, I would disregard it. My policy seemed sound until I promptly ignored my own advice.

I was very lucky to have a great return rate on my initial submissions. Two of the seven agents I contacted wanted to take Contrition on. A New York agent was ready to send it out with very few changes. A California agent hit a roadblock when the founder of the agency didn’t give her blessing. What that founder did give was two pages of notes on how to improve the story.

I was initially cranky about the rejection, until I realized what a compliment it was for an established agent to give such detailed notes on a book she didn’t want. Sobered, I stopped to appreciate that. Then I got cranky about the notes themselves.

One of her suggestions was to turn the main characters- a journalist and a cloistered nun who clash over the meaning and purpose of art- into sisters raised apart. Oh, how the delicate genius in me gnashed her teeth over that one! Twins raised apart felt like reality-show drama and would entail a major rewrite of a book that another agent was ready to send out. This fancy founder/agent clearly didn’t understand my vision.

But I still wondered if she was right. Her other notes were very insightful and she understood the market. So I told my delicate inner genius to get over herself. Then I told the New York agent I was going to spend a couple of months rewriting some elements of the book, and silly me, I believed it.

It turned out that I needed at least two months to pout and mourn the loss of my original version before I could even fathom cutting it up. I had already written numerous drafts over numerous years– did I really have to rewrite it again? Yes, I did. Because as wonderful as I felt my original version was, I would now always question whether or not it could be better.

In the end, it took me three years to rewrite the book. I made most of the suggested changes, including turning my main characters into twins raised in different homes. The twins’ separate upbringings and freshly minted sibling rivalry brings a great deal of texture and complexity to their relationship. Now readers tell me they can’t imagine the story without the characters being sisters.

By the time I finished, the interested New York agent had left her agency. My subsequent querying didn’t result in a new agent until four years later when an agent discovered Contrition in her old emails and signed me. Three years after that, she sold Contrition to Simon & Schuster’s new imprint, Infinite Words. It was all very unexpected and wonderful and I am thrilled to celebrate its publication day today.

If I had known that putting off a committed agent to do a rewrite she hadn’t asked for and I wasn’t sure I agreed with would delay the publication of Contrition by more than a decade, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I’m happy with my choice, because Contrition is a much better book as a result.

What would you do? What’s your policy on agent criticism?

Maura WeilerMaura Weiler grew up in Connecticut and earned her BA and MA in English Literature from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, respectively. She is a former columnist for The Connecticut Post and a trash artist whose work has been featured on NBC Television and in galleries and shows across the country. As Director of Development at Blue Tulip Productions, she helped develop the screenplays for such films as Speed, Twister, The Paperboy and The Minority Report. Contrition is her first novel. For more information or book club queries, visit www.mauraweiler.com.

Facebook: Maura Weiler Author

Twitter: @mauraweiler

Simon & Schuster Author Page: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Maura-Weiler/475408214

Maura is kind enough to be giving away her novel, Contrition. Just comment below and one lucky winner will be picked at random. You can comment until Friday, April 24th by midnight. Winner will be contacted by email.

Snip, Snip, Snip. Oh, the pain! Cutting your manuscript.

By Robin D. Owens

But that was the best line. The funniest. The most heartfelt and tender. And the whole scene must be cut.

I write long – that is, for a 100K word novel contract, I usually hit 103K, and have been known to go up to, ah, I think 120K. That means, for a hardcopy book, more paper, more expense for my publisher, and/or smaller print (wince). I once signed on for a short story, 16K words max, and mine came in at 17.5. I got it down to 15,900, but other people had come in long and I was cut from the anthology. (I later put the words back in and the story was published in my only collection, Hearts and Swords, which also ran hideously long and should have been 3 stories instead of 4, but I said 4 for the back cover copy, and...).

Or, and I've heard this (lately), "the pacing is too slow, cut words from the front of the book." Snip, snip, snip and 3,000 are gone, scenes I loved.

Or, "This is a novella, not one of your regular books, the hero and heroine need to meet sooner..."

I've gotten really good at cutting. The easiest way is to tighten the book until it squeaks. No, "the ghost dog jumped into the bed of the truck." Nope. "Enzo jumped into the truck bed."

First, check chapters. If I really have to cut, any chapter that has less than thirteen lines on the last page gets tightened.

Look at every paragraph in your manuscript and check for those that have one word at the end, and see if you can reword and tighten. And, yes, this takes time. And, yes, sometimes the answer is "No, I can't tighten this." For me, the answer is "no" about five percent of the time.

That's the technical part. What about the emotional part?

When I was writing my second fantasy romance, since I hadn't sold the first fantasy romance, I cut all the romance and changed the story to a straight fantasy. I was about half way through the story when my first fantasy romance sold. So all the additional world building and strictly fantasy scenes I put in Had To Go. Talk about painful.

What I finally decided to do was put "cut scenes" up on my (old) website, particularly for that book. That eased my emotional pain considerably. The scenes weren't totally lost forever, never to see the light of day.

This has continued to serve me well. My fans know that I write long, and I have "cut scenes" for almost every story. On Facebook and my blog I've instituted "Celta Thursday" for the readers who like that particular series the most (a Celtic pagan society set on another planet colonized by Earth people with psi powers). Sometimes I put up maps, of the world, or of an interior room. Sometimes I put up images of the characters. But most often I compare the rough draft of a manuscript with the final copy edits and pull out cut scenes.

DON'T DELETE THOSE SCENES YOU CUT, ALWAYS SAVE THEM. (All right, if they are worth saving. I do have a "learning how to write book" that will never be seen.)

You will have people who like your stories. You will want to give extras to them because they say wonderful things about your writing. Save your cuts, and tell yourself you'll put them somewhere else to be admired, that funny line, that whole lovely thread or subplot... This will help you get through the snip, snip, snip.

And, trust me, baby, eventually it does get easier . . . mostly.