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?
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?