How Do You Craft During Revision?

What kind of crafter are you?  How do you work the clay?  All at once and hope you don’t get it wrong?  Do you go back a thousand times and make changes?  Do you cut off an entire arm and try to fix a claw in its place?

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I usually favor funny internet pictures, memes, or cheesy quotes on this blog, but this time I wanted to go with an actual photograph.  I took that picture ten minutes ago on my back porch.  It looks a little too shiny to be printer paper, a little too thin for something that devoured so much time and effort.  It also looks more menacing than a stack of pages and far more ominous than a string (a long ass string) of words.

But, hey, it’s a book, I wrote it, I revised it three times, and I think it’s ready to be read.  That’s why it looks like more than paper to me – its more like a baby, or a loved pet, or the last piece of string cheese (try and tell me you don’t covet the last piece of string cheese) – and why it’s scarier than words.  Because what if, after I told myself there’s always revision, I revised and it’s still terrible?

There seems to be some sort of consensus on book writing: you either plan or you pants.  You either plan out your book (the plot, characters, settings, etc.) or you get an idea and you dive right in.  But either way, it’s agreed upon that when you write your first draft, you write it, start to finish.  90% of people will tell you that’s the way (though maybe they just say that to aspiring authors to help them actually finish a book).  Terry Pratchett says that, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”  Awesome, Terry, thanks.. What if you tell yourself a really crappy story?  What if you did an awful job of telling yourself the story and need to make it better?  Then what?

The one consensus on revision is that you always read it through once, with a notepad in hand, and pretend that skipping over grammar and spelling mistakes doesn’t make you think, ‘Shit, I’m totally not gonna notice that next time, maybe I’ll just fix this little one.’  Then what?  What do you do when you think you know the major problems with your book?  Dive in and fix or rewrite entire chunks?  But that may change details in other parts of the book, and then you have 400 pages of inconsistency.  Oy.

Well, this is how I did it:

1.  Waited two weeks.  It’s really important to let the book fade from your mind for as long as possible so you can read it with fresh eyes.

2.  Read once.  Noted major problems (and remembered to write down the page the problem occurred on to save a lot of hassle later).  Put the problems in order of magnitude, biggest problem first.  Fixed first problem, went through the parts of the book that this impacted and changed those parts to reflect the rewrite.  And on down the list.

3.  Waited a few days.  Was able to be lazy and justify it to myself.

4.  Read again. Noted problems with the story (plot, characterization, repetition, etc.), and fixed them as before.

5.  Worked on something else for a day.

6.  Read a third time, sometimes muttering to myself like a crazy person, focusing on spelling, grammar, and readability – flow of sentences, reuse of words or structures, etc.  Made sure it was a good, seamless read.

And… Done!  Maybe.  Hopefully.  For now.

How do you revise?  Do you change huge chunks of your story when you do?  Or do you think you mostly get it right the first time?  Do you have a formula for revision that you think works best?  Do you actually revise a little as you go along?

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I'm a 25 year old recent college graduate (who still clings to that title over two years after graduating) and aspiring author. I also love sports and going out with my friends.

15 thoughts on “How Do You Craft During Revision?

  1. Great post! Congratulations on getting to a place where you are ready for others to read your work. I have not gotten to that stage myself yet, but I think I am going to do something very similar to yours, except I will put my manuscript aside for a month or two for forgetting purposes.

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  2. At first, I found revision to be very intimidating for a lot of the reasons you mention here, mostly the “I might mess up stuff in other places!” fear. Then I wrote a lot of short stories in quick succession and had to spend time revising them, which gave me a ton of practice and allowed me to figure out that it’s really not all that scary, and can actually sometimes be more fun than the rush of writing the first draft! I tend to write my first draft, give it a quick once-over to pick up any glaring pieces that feel “not-right” to me, then fire it off to my first reader. Once I get comments from them, I go back and make revisions based on those comments. It’s good to a) have the time to think about something else while I wait for the comments to come in, and b) have a whole other set of eyes look at the story.

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  3. Nice! I enjoyed reading this and hearing about the way you revise your own work. Writing clean through the first time does help complete a manuscript (I think) but I’m still in the habit of going back each day and reading, revising, fixing, removing, changing … and then proceeding. I’ve done everything you do, too. What I haven’t done since a long time is to actually print out a manuscript. That would mean I fully intend to send it off to a Publisher. Still working up the nerve to do that. I also like to read my writing aloud. I catch more spelling errors that way, and hear more ridiculous sentences that way. Still, even after uploading my first manuscript at Smashwords, I still found a word that had ‘ment on the end when it wasn’t supposed to be there. (face palm).
    Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I have a bad habit of writing and rewriting. It makes it really difficult to finish a first draft. Fortunately I have a group of peers to share it with. We meet periodically and that keeps me moving forward.

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  5. Apparently this is what I do – write a 50,000 word first draft in a month. Take another month to work up the courage to actually read it (what if it’s all crap!). Ask other people to read it, you know, before I waste my own time on it. Take two months to read it the first time through. Read Wonderbook with this story and these characters in mind. Start a second draft. Scrap it all after two weeks. Start two other novels. Start from scratch on the first with a whole new outline. Write a few chapters. Comment on WordPress blogs for a month. And so far that’s where I’m at. Writing a whole book is hard. You should be very proud.

    What are you going to to with this book of yours now?!

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    1. Sounds like a journey – some authors claim they revise 10 times before they’re done (you couldn’t pay me). I honestly don’t know what I want to do with it. I’m letting a close circle of friends and family read it right now, and have gotten some positive (honest) feedback. I’ll probably take their comments into account and then move on. This book was more of a learning experience for me – each one of the books that I’ve written so far has been miles ahead of the one that came before. I’m really excited about my next idea, far more than I was for this one, and I’m hoping that with what I’ve learned in the last 9 months this next book will be something I’ll want to send out into the world.

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      1. In the chapter on revision in Jeff Vandermeer’s book Wonderbook, 23 different authors share the number of drafts they went through before putting out the finished product. Some of them only wrote one, two, or three drafts but some went through eleven, twelve, or twenty six drafts. Can you imagine?

        When I think too hard about it it doesn’t make sense to me that just writing more would improve a writer, but it does! I’m sure having finished this and hearing positive feedback will greatly impact your next project for the better!

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  6. I’ve never finished a book, only very short pieces, but I think that the most important part is to let the written aside for at least a couple of weeks to create some distance. This way some strange and ugly discoveries pop up sometimes. Stephen King recommends to give it to read to a friend after that because, still, you are too close to your book to see it as a reader.

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  7. I accidently wrote my first book last year. I just charged through it and then realised that a character would have needed to be about minus 5 when she gave birth so it needed an age/date rewrite. Apart from that, I did minimal revision as I found it overly daunting. I hadn’t planned to write a book, it just sort of evolved, so I was pretty insecure about it and didn’t want to dabble with it too much. On completion, I couldn’t let friends or family read it as I was worried they might not like my beloved characters. I went straight to ebook publishing, partly because I thought no-one would notice it. To my horror it was bought and read. Writing the book was far less stressful than letting the world loose on it. I think my next one would be a full write and then lots of revision to make it an easier read. Loving the comment to read the work aloud. Great tip Raibal. Thanks for this post. It has got me wondering when to start my second effort.

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  8. I revise as I go. Too much work to fix everything at the end. It’s too easy to make huge errors and I don’t want to write the thing more than once. My final edit is usually for grammar and spelling so I like to let it rest a bit afterwards. It’s easier for me to spot mistakes that way.

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  9. I don’t think I’ve ever made it a full hour without going back through the pages I’ve just written to correct the spelling and grammar! All those read and blue lines, for me, detract from what I’m doing. Of course, it doesn’t help that I look at the screen as I type so I see most errors as they happen so my OCD English Grammar Nazi cringes and makes me go back to correct before it will let me go forward.
    That said: I find it easier to read others work in order to correct than I my own. I don’t edit for profit but for fun.
    Oh, and thanks for the idea for another post, lol. It’ll be up in a few days with a ping back to you.

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    1. I agree – if I see a problem I can’t not correct it. And I’m glad this gave you an idea for another post! It’s great to know that you find some of the stuff on here useful.

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