The Never-Ending Cycle of Revision

So I spent this past weekend working hard on the third round of revisions for my WIP when I realized that I really, truly am a workaholic. Not that this comes as a surprise, but as I finished the edits on chapter 9 (of 26), I found that I’m genuinely excited for the next draft, and the draft after that and the draft after that.

Each draft presents an opportunity to clarify the story and bring depth to characters, which means that each time I read through a new version, I’m that much closer to having the product I want readers to [hopefully] enjoy.

Now every writer’s revision process differs. I wish I could revise as I go on the computer, but I’m weird and feel oddly attached to the words on the screen. So I print out the whole draft and ruthlessly rip into it, type in my edits, then do the whole process all over again.

(I have this irrational fear that there’s a tenth circle of hell for everyone involved in print publishing where trees punish us for turning their friends and families into paper, so every time I print out my MS or the magazine at work, I suffer this unsettling guilt…)

The process is a bit long and drawn out as I mark-up the entire manuscript each time. It’s not that I don’t like to concentrate on smaller pieces, it’s more so I just enjoy getting a feel for the pacing of the different character and plot arcs and how they connect. I participate in a critique group that looks at 10-20 pages at a time and their input is invaluable when it comes to improving the writing and avoiding certain issues. But as a novelist, I feel like I need to ensure the overall product is cohesive. To me, that means printing out the entire draft, sitting on my couch and reading through it from beginning to end, notating where things don’t work, what’s redundant and what needs revision.

Like I said, this is just my process and you have to find what works for you. Just remember that revision is an integral part of the writing process. Yes, it’s tedious and often frustrating, but when you do finally reach that final draft, you’ll be so glad you did!

Happy Writing & Revising!

The First Draft: Just get it out on paper

Oh first drafts. So full of joy and adventure and excitement – until you read them.

There’s a reason they’re called “ROUGH” drafts, folks, and it’s because they are usually, indeed rough. When we’re turning our stories into words for the first time, the writing isn’t always going to be presentable. Lord knows mine is in shambles my first go around, always including too much redundant character motion and not enough scenic details. Transitions get left out. Dialogue tags are out of control. Scene movement can get choppy.

But that’s okay because the rough draft isn’t the final draft.

A while ago, I was at a critique meet when I heard someone call their first draft, her “vomit draft,” and it’s stuck with me ever since. And here’s why . . .

A vomit draft implies a couple of things:

  • You throw your story onto paper as quickly as your body will allow.
  • You don’t worry about what’s pouring out of you being pretty or perfect, you just get the story out.

It’s crazy how changing one word in your vocabulary can alter the way you view writing. Thinking of my first draft this way helped me out in more ways than I expected, but here’s just a small list:

  • My productivity shot through the roof. I went from having 2/3rd of a rough draft for one book to (in nine months) having two complete drafts of two books.
  • It took the pressure off, letting me enjoy the adventure of writing instead of seeing it as a chore.
  • It also allowed me to dive deeper into the tension/pacing of each scene instead of worrying so much about the details.

But like I said before, the vomit draft should never, EVER, be your final draft. So now that you’ve gotten your story completely written out, go revise it then ask a fellow writer/reader to look at it – we’ll discuss the importance of critique partners and beta readers in a later post. Hint: You want one!

Happy Writing!

Why you should outline. Even if you’re a discovery writer.

So NaNoWriMo begins in less than a week and millions of writers are gearing up for the 50k word challenge.

Everyone has his or her unique way of prepping for National Novel Writing Month. For the intense planners like myself, we’ve already developed outlines, character profiles and have a stack of sticky notes allocated to our NaNo projects. Meanwhile, pantsers are clutching their pens [or keyboards], anxious for the green light on November 1st.

But this post isn’t about NaNo Prep. This post is about outlines.

As a planner, my outline is my road map through my book. I know where I’m going and what stops I need to make, allowing me to be a non-linear writer (which has helped me overcome many a road block).

But I haven’t always been that way. For my first novel and a half, I was definitely a discovery writer. But now that I’m revising and rewriting all my discovery work, I’m wishing I had outlined from the start.

Because an outline is more than just a road map.

An outline can help you detect plot holes, recognize pacing issues and help you further develop your story arch(s). I’ve had numerous conversations with other writers on how doing an outline (even after completing a draft) has improved their novel and helped work out some issues they had been dealing with during revision.

One writer [THANKS, JAMIE!] was awesome enough to share an outline format with me that has truly transformed the way I look at the structure of my novels: The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet.

Seriously though, Snyder’s outline format from his book, Save the Cat, changed my life. It separates your novel [or screenplay] into four parts: Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b and Act 3. Below is what his model looks like:

ACT ONE:
Opening Image (What we first see in the story, setting the mood and tone.)
Theme States
Set-Up (Introduction of world and characters)
Catalyst (Also considered “The Inciting Event”)
Debate (Does the protagonist want to take on this new problem?)

ACT TWO – A:
Break Into Two (Protagonist decides to move forward.)
B Story (Sub Plot)
Fun and Games (Solving problems before problems get REALLY serious.)
Midpoint (That moment where you say to yourself, “Well crap just got real.)

ACT TWO – B:
Bad Guy Closes In (The stakes are raised.)
All is Lost (The Protagonist’s low point.)
Dark Night of the Soul (Protagonist does some soul searching to find the solution.)

ACT THREE:
Break Into Three (Protagonist figures out the solution.)
Finale (The Climax)
Final Image (Resolution or “Wrap Up”)

The above is a very simplified version of this beautiful outline, but it really has done wonders for me.

You don’t have to use this particular model to outline your WIP, but I do recommend taking an afternoon to deconstruct your story. Taking that time to find plot holes prior to submission is kind of invaluable.

Happy Writing, Everyone!

References:
Snyder, B. (2005). Save the cat!: The last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need. Studio City, CA: M. Wiese Productions.