Friday, September 2, 2016

Revising and Self-editing

A popular post from August 2012.

by Annette Lyon

The other day, TJ sent a great set of questions to me and a few other writers, asking for suggestions on how to go about self-editing and revising. He wasn't talking about the full-on, rip it apart and put it back together kind of revising, but the last big passes before you send your baby out into the world on submission.

I'm sure every writer has  different ways of going about revisions and self-editing, so take what I have to say in that sense. Below is my experience in relation to TJ's questions.

1) Do you go in order? Page 1 to page X. Or do you jump around?

Both. First I'll do the spot-check thing, filling in holes, double-checking scenes I'm unsure of, and so forth.

But in the end, nothing can replace going through the whole thing from front to back before you submit. That's how you catch transitions that don't work, jumps in time, inconsistencies, see how the arc works (or doesn't) and so forth. It's the closest you'll get to reading it as a reader before you send it off.

2) Do you outline and make sure the order is right?

I semi-outline. I can't outline like some people do, down to small details, with an outline that's several pages long. Instead, I need an idea of where I'm starting out, where I'm going, and several major landmarks along the way that create the arc I want. My outlines are more like long bullet lists.

The outline gets more detailed the farther into the manuscript I go, as the more I figure out of the nitty gritty details, the more I fill in.

But at the self-editing stage, all that flies out the window. If the story is drafted, I don't see a point in creating an outline after the fact, unless it helps you write a synopsis. Hate those.

3) What about a line that doesn't fit in the scenario but you love it. Do you just find a way to make it work or do you move it somewhere else?

Easy: cut it.

Really. I've had to do that several times, and it's always the right decision, no matter how painful it is. A few times years ago, I tried making a line work or moving it (it was just so good!), but in the end, if a line isn't organic to the story, it ends up sticking out like a sore thumb.

In other words, the reader is pulled out as you shine a spotlight on yourself as the clever writer. It's showing off.

In short, those lines are the "darlings" that need to be killed.

If you love the line so much you can't bear to delete it, do what Josi does: create a file specifically for cuts from the manuscript. That's where you paste everything you aren't using but love. That way it's not deleted, and you can always retrieve it, even using it for a later project where it works better.

But definitely, if it's not working where you originally put it, cut it for the good of the whole work.

4) Do you read aloud to check word/dialogue flow? If so, to whom do you read? (How's that for proper, Annette?) [I'm so impressed! Star on your forehead!] Your spouse, your dog, your kids as they're duct-taped to a chair with their mouths duct-taped so they can't overpower you vocally?

Most of my reading aloud is at critique group, and because we rarely have time to read through entire books nowadays, not every scene gets read aloud. But it's not uncommon for me to sit in my office and read quietly under my breath (to myself, unless the cat's sitting on the back of my chair) to see if a scene, especially dialog, flows well.

Reading aloud is worth doing, even if people think you're weird for doing it. But you should be used to people thinking you're weird. You're a writer, after all, right?

5) When you have a critique from your writing group, do you go chapter by chapter, person by person, one-potato-two-potato-three-potato-four?
I personally take a meeting's worth at a time, so a chapter or scene at a time, going through everyone's comments on that one section before moving on to another one.

This helps me target my revisions, because I see everyone's feedback in a short span. It's easy to see who agrees that page 34 stinks and who loved the line on page 38, and who agrees or disagrees with so-and-so.

6) You're all awesome!

Why thank you! :-D

Thanks to TJ for inspiring this post. Best of luck to all our readers on their revisions!


T.J. said...

Awesome post! I love it and find the information helpful.

By the way, I HATE this stage of writing. I just want to rewrite instead of revise/edit.

Anonymous said...

Two other hints:

1. Keep a list of lazy, passive words, and words/phrases that you tend to overuse then run a search on your first round draft (I found 198 "justs" today - ugh).

2. Scrivener basically outlines for you even if you're a pantser-style writer. Highly recommend it.