Saturday, June 12, 2010

REVISION: Bring on the Clowns, or Revision, Part 1

So I have just begun the fun-filled process of revising FOREVER. When I mentioned the word on Facebook, I instantly had folks expressing puzzlement, fear, and distrust. Basically, it was the reaction most people have to clowns.

But revision is not clowns. Revision is not even a necessary evil. Revision is to drafting like finishing school is to pregnancy. After you carry that drafting literary baby for nine months and it pops out with snaggle teeth, bad hair, and the inability to carry a tune, you can take all the time in the world sending it to the dentist, finding a hair stylist, and getting music lessons.

In other words, revision is going to save your life, baby.

I solicited questions about revision a few posts ago and as they rolled in, I realized it’s waaaaay too much material for one blog post. So there for, I’m designating this whole week Revision Week on my blog and it’ll culminate in me showing how I would revise an actual piece of my writing.

To start it off, I’m going to do a really brief summary of revising, and I’m going to use the time tested method of 80s’ book reports. The Who/What/Where/When/Why. Oh yeah. You know you love it.

WHO: Who all’s involved in these revisions? Sometimes it’s your editor. Sometimes it’s your critique partners or beta readers. Sometimes it’s just you. There is nothing wrong with any of these methods. Surrounding yourself with good people will often keep you motivated, but surrounding yourself with people who are slightly out of sync with you is worse than having nobody at all. I have great crit partners and I blogged about how I got them here. The thing to emphasize here is that you don’t need to have anyone else. You can start your revisions with just yourself and ingredients you probably already have in your pantry.

WHAT: What exactly are you trying to do with revisions?
Revision is like water, it’s good for everything. You’re looking to fix pacing, make characters consistent, make dialog natural, delete unnecessary scenes, tighten themes, eliminate extraneous characters, add connecting scenes. You know what I don’t care so much about? Fixing typos. Changing word choice line by line. Making sure that I don’t have two Mondays in a row. That stuff will not make or break a book and it’s the very last thing you do. Revisions, to me, mean gutting the pig. Big picture. Global. Not line by line.

WHERE: Where do you start? This will depend on you, dear reader. Sometimes you have a very specific idea of a problem area and you know right where to fix it. Sometimes you have scenes that you know need to be written and you can go right to them. But more often than not, you’ve lost total objectivity and the whole thing looks like the same word typed 60,000 times. So I start at the beginning, because that way I can judge pacing. I often have a document with a table of all the scenes in it. Who’s narrating, what happens in it, how many pages it is. Color-coded to say which day it takes place on. I’m visual so the more I can climb out of my novel and make it into a box I can hold in my hands, the closer I am to feeling in control.

WHEN: When do you start? You need a month, at least. I’ve revised two weeks after finishing a draft, but it is not ideal, and if you’re not on an insane deadline, why do anything less than ideal? What you’re trying to get back is your objectivity -- that super power that allows you to read other people’s books and instantly see the flaws? Yeah, you want that back again. So you’re going to need a month during which you don’t open that document even to peek. Hopefully you’ll be reading and thinking about entirely other things during that month. And possibly you’ll even have your manuscript cheaply bound by while you’re waiting, because something about seeing your book bound like a book will really help you with pacing and objectivity in general. One month. At least. NO PEEKING.

WHY: Why don’t you hate revisions, Maggie?
Because I don’t fart glitter and unicorns. My words don’t come out of the faucet perfect. Even when I can write line to line in a way that looks pretty darn good, the overall themes and characterization and pacing always need help to be their best. It is in no way, shape, or form optional. Everyone revises, from the newbie to the Pulitzer winner. And it’s not something that you get “better” at, so that you eventually don’t need it. My revision for FOREVER is more sweeping already than the one for LINGER. But not quite as dramatic as the one for LAMENT. Every book is different -- the only thing that stays the same is that they’re all going to need to be prodded with the red hot poker of revision at some point or another.

Like the clowns, you can keep finding them scary, or you can learn to live alongside them. I’ve made my peace with the smiling buggers.

So. Um. More to come on Monday. As before, if you have specific questions (I have many that I’ll be tackling) about revisions or about one of the five W’s here, leave ‘em in the comments. It's a bit like being asked how you tie your shoes. It's unwieldy to figure out how to describe just what I'm doing.  


Dawn Embers said...

Well said. I'm on my first rewrite, but I'm enjoying it and I look forward to the following revision. Maybe it's because I once worked as a newspaper editor, but they don't seem that bad. Then again, I had fun writing a one-sentence pitch for my different novels and most people in the blogfest talked about how hard and evil the exercise supposedly can be. *shrugs*

I have yet to find a part I don't like when it comes to the writing process. But I have much ahead of me.

Good luck to you and your revisions. :-)

Caprice Hokstad said...

I actually enjoy editing and revising much more than writing the first draft. To me, it's much more satisfying. It's just too bad you can't skip that first part to get to the fun part!

sarah said...

if there is an award for 'coolest author on the planet,' i want you to win it, maggie. thanks for tackling this topic. when you write about writing a novel, you make it seem so *real* and *possible* and the kind of work that is hard but do-able.

also, its encouraging to know that not even *you* "fart glitter and unicorns." ah, the imagery. :)

Jen the bibliophile said...

I'm not so much scared of the revision (bring on the baby!!), I'm more scared of the critique partner aspect. I've really wanted to find one, but what if they are creepy? I mean, what if they are a thieving plagiarist? Does that happen? *shudders* Scary.

Anonymous said...

That last part made me snort. I'm so glad my husband wasn't around to hear that. Your words, my dear, never cease to astound.
PS- Your title made me think of the Simpsons. Infinite cool points if you can tell me why :)

Anonymous said...

Good luck. I hate editing. But I particularly hate rewriting. *on the sixth rewrite of a story and will go crazy if there winds up being a seventh* Dx

I hope life can only get better said...

I learn so much from you! If I ever get to the point of revision in my writting I will be in good shape. Now my characters take me in differant directions than I first thought when I started writting a particular peice. And I love the clown comparison. I once dated a guy who was terrified of clowns. He went on the become a Marine!

beth said...

Jen--I need a critique partner too, but I was worried about the plagarism aspect when sharing work with a person you don't know too. I think it might be a good idea to agree in writing that the owner of the email address the work is originally sent from is the owner of the work and then make sure to send manuscripts via email. I'm going to post on my blog for a critique partner and I think this is the route I'm going. Unless Maggie has a better answer! (I'm relying on a half baked legal education not real experience)!

Donna Gambale said...

"Because I don't fart glitter and unicorns."
^ That made me laugh out loud for a good two minutes straight. I'm still giggling. And on the serious-ish side, can't wait to read the rest of revision week!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Jen, regarding the thieving plagiarist thing. It's something that every author worries about when they first share their work but unless you have the most unique idea on the planet, it's really not a worry. Usually it's not the idea that sells a novel to an editor, it's the writing style, and that's not something you can steal. I know that some folks put unique details into each draft they send to people and that way if a manuscript gets leaked, they know who leaked it (obviously this is for published authors who have highly anticipated drafts, but the idea holds true for crit partners, I would think).

I'm glad you guys are finding this useful. :) Hopefully it KEEPS being useful.

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