Friday, April 15, 2011

Four Thoughts on Revision and Editing

Lampost: near Moore Square, Raleighwood 2011
Last weekend I sent out Rev 3.1 of THE BOOK for review.  This revision was a thorough polish of the more-than-doubling in word count that was Rev 3.0 along with yet another extensive line editing of the entire manuscript.

A few things struck me over the past weekend when I was transferring all of the changes from the print out of the manuscript and various notes into the digital document.  In no particular order, they were:

"Writing" is 10% First Draft Writing, 90% Editing and Revising
When I was a kid and first thinking about being a writer I would not have believed this.  My favorite books all seemed to flow so effortlessly on the page while my attempts appeared clunky and disjointed.  Those authors, I reasoned, must have the innate talent to effortlessly type out perfection, page after page--a talent I completely lack.

Even after reading Anne Lammott's thoughts on (ahem) first drafts and revisions in BIRD BY BIRD it still took me quite a while to accept the universality of the truth that the distance between a first draft and the published work is more properly measured in light years, not seconds.

Come to think of it, my 10% estimate may be high.

Revision is Like Working On a Jigsaw Puzzle
As a kid I played a lot of board games and worked on a lot of jigsaw puzzles.  There were a number of years where as soon as it got cold outside, a jigsaw puzzle would be on the large board that covered the living room coffee table until the spring.  I suppose it's only natural that my mind sees a lot of things in terms of board games and puzzles.

When it comes to THE BOOK, I can see the picture on the box in my mind's eye.  Some of the puzzle pieces are in front of me and others I have to create myself.  Discovering how to create those pieces is usually a puzzle in itself.  Throughout the process, though, I know all of the pieces exist somewhere--I just have to find them all and then put them in the right places.

And since I like puzzles, looking at revision this way helps to make it not seem quite so daunting (and unending).

Even After So Many Revisions, There Was Still a Lot in Need of Revising
This probably surprised me more than anything.  Having gone over (and over and over) THE BOOK this many times I thought I had cleared up any words or phrases that were lacking in clarity.  I can only guess that I was so used to seeing them on the page that I had stopped thinking about what they were--and more importantly, what they were not--saying.

Clever but unclear word choices, amusing bits that ended up misdirecting the reader's attention, and lots of words that just didn't sound or look right in their sentences were left on the cutting room floor like so many first-person shooter video game carcasses that wink out of pixelated existence.

I Must Now Go Through the Same Quality of Revision for All of My Other Work
THE BOOK is the first in a planned series.  The catch, though, is that I wrote two other stories in the series before friends convinced me that BOOK2 and BOOK3 needed THE BOOK (i.e. BOOK1) as a full introduction for the others in the series.  BOOK2 and BOOK3 are "completed" in that they, like the draft of THE BOOK that I sent out to agents, were about about 20,000 words each.  THE BOOK is now pushing 57,000 words.  This means BOOK2 and BOOK3 need to be expanded by two-thirds.  In other words, take what I've already written for BOOK2 and write twice as much.  Then add in that same amount again.

BOOK2 and BOOK3, to my mind, have a certain snap to them.  They move along at an engaging pace without being too brief nor too quick.  They're compact stories that I intentionally trimmed to focus on the characters and the action.  And now I have to figure out how to expand them, while keeping the quality of the story and characters to the high standards I've now set for myself with the revisions to THE BOOK.

I'm currently hitting my head against this one with BOOK2.  I have about two, maybe three extra chapters I know I can squeeze in, but otherwise, I'm no closer to finding the pieces to this puzzle now than I was two months ago when I first took another look at BOOK2.

What's your take on the editing/revision process?  Do you have any insights you'd like to share?  Helpful hints?  Magic tricks?  Mystical Secrets of the Orient?


p.s.  You still have time to enter my contest to win a copy of Alan Snow's HERE BE MONSTERS.  I'll wager your chances of winning will be better than just about any other contest you enter anytime soon!