Saturday, January 17, 2009

Nit Picking Revision

Last year, in October, I worked my way through Margie Lawson's lecture packet on Empowering Character Emotions. While I'm sure it will all filter eventually into my first drafts, I spent a lot of time revising a manuscript using her techniques. It made a huge difference to some things I'd been struggling with for a while. I think we all have weak spots in our writing, and we spend a lot of time kidding ourselves that no one else will notice. And maybe if the voice or the story concept or the dialogue is fantastic, the weak bits do get overlooked.

But when you get to the point where you can't ignore your own weak areas in your writing, you have to do something about it, or the love of writing dissipates into continual dissatisfaction. So my weak area was deeper characterisation. Not all the time, mind you. But when I had novels I had written that didn't work, even after eight drafts, I had to find out what the problem was. Good readers will soon tell you. "Great read but ... felt a bit shallow." Yep. I needed to find a way to go deeper into my own characters and deepen also my writing.

So having worked hard on ECE, I decided to take the next step (revision was my goal again in 09 - I still have plenty to work on). I bought Margie's Deep Editing packet. It's like a book, except I can't read it on screen - I have printed these lectures out too. That way I get to use my highlighters and make my own comments. The result of this extra study? I am now working on the same novel, aiming to make a minimum of 25 improvements per chapter, and sometimes that can even be 5-10 per page, depending on my level of concentration.

I've learned to give each chapter a "going over" at least three times, and that if I can't find something to improve on the third pass, I'm not trying hard enough. Yes, it's time consuming, and yes, it's hard sometimes to apply that deep concentration and focus. I've developed strategies to help. One is to take a chapter to work with me, and do the editing in my coffee and lunch breaks. The change of venue helps. Another is to edit the chapters at random, not in sequence. It stops me getting caught up in the story, and has already helped me pick up an accidental duplication of some information.

Like writing, everyone revises in different ways. Some people do it as they write, others wait until a first draft is complete. How do you revise? Any tips to share?


Snail said...

No tips from me. I edit at the first draft and get bogged down, so that's no help.

But I can pass on a tip from Russell T. Davies' 'The Writer's Tale'

Edit as if you're ashamed of it

Sherryl said...

That's a good one!
As in "oh man, did I really write this rubbish?".

Kristi Holl said...

I think the hardest part of the revising for me lately is slowing down and not letting myself feel rushed and panicky that I'm not turning out the finished product as fast as usual. After writing series for a few years, with tight deadlines that allow for little revision time, it's hard for me to slow down my internal editor that is always saying, "Hurry up! You only have ten minutes to spend on this page!" Old habits die hard.
Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog