If I were to equate the current stage of my writer’s journey with that of the classic Hero’s Journey, I’d now find myself at stage sometimes referred to as “The Belly of the Whale”.
Which, in my opinion, is perhaps the most perilous of all the stages – even more so than the main confrontation of the story’s climax – for at this stage, the hero still doesn’t have a complete sense of what s/he is up against; a true, Rumsfeldian “unknown unknown”.
That is to say, I’m getting ready to revise my first completed novel.
I’ve never revised anything this long in my life. My longest revision to date – my university thesis – was only 75 pages. Including many graphs, figures, and at least five pages alone of bibliography.
Bibliographies don’t usually need revising.
But the 400+ printed pages in the lime green binder I got from Wal-Mart do.
It’s not the fact that I wrote this book back in 2005, having years later, following a prolonged writing hiatus, made the debatable decision to complete the remaining two books of the trilogy in draft before going back to revise any of them.
(Although it’s also not not the fact, at least in part: 10 years is a bloody long time, and I know my writing style and skill and even my outlook on life as has changed considerably in the interim.)
It’s not the fact that book #1 isn’t even the correct genre at present, the entire thing having been conceived of and composed as a work of fantasy – historically-influenced, admittedly, but still, not true historical fiction.
(Although it’s not not that fact either: I’m going to have to try to shove my plot in between the narrow ribs of historical fact and plausibility and hope (pray) for at least a partial, easily re-shaped fit.)
Fear and a (mostly) forestalled life of crime
More so than anything, though, my pre-revision woes stem from the terrifying thought that it all begins here. That the future outcome of my publication dreams for this whole series hinges in large part on the strength and success of my actions with this draft of this book right now.
Which is likely the reason this draft of this book in its lime green Wal-Mart binder has been sitting untouched on my desk since the day I printed it a week and a half ago.
It takes a truly special sort of neurosis, I think, to be afraid of one’s own work. Funnily enough, the way I feel now is about the same as I did when I first started writing the book back on June 21, 2005. In the journal I kept at the time I wrote the following:
I started my new novel last night. I felt a little nervous and unprepared all day beforehand, however it really was time to start – I really was beginning to over-think the situation.
Obviously I found a way to push past my nervousness from that time (I wouldn’t be here with a similar feeling today if I hadn’t), so I’m confident I’ll do so again now. Like everything else in my life, I just need to make a plan.
Stage one of this revision plan has involved gathering all the essential equipment, which includes the following:
Printing manuscripts at print shops, I’ve come to discover, isn’t cheap, a 400-page draft (and just the first one at that) costing anywhere from $40 or more.
Thankfully, it just so happened I had an inkjet printer in my house circa 2008 that I’d been too lazy to cart away to the enviro depot during either my recent household move or the one previous.
I just needed to find some ink cartridges that would work in this legacy machine.
Cheaply, if at all possible.
I used compatible (i.e. third-party) inkjet cartridges all through university. By my third and fourth years, I was refilling the things myself with a kit containing four syringes and a bottle each of black, magenta, cyan, and yellow ink because I am both handy and stingy like that.
Nowadays, in the era of the Internet, compatible cartridges is cheaper and easier to find than ever. At $2.99 apiece, not only did the printer (eventually) work perfectly, the cheap ink yielded a good 50 pages more than its estimated yield.
I came this close to stealing a ream of paper from work, but ultimately refrained because I didn’t want the bad karma of theft associated with my novel.
Plus stealing is wrong.
Especially from a not-for-profit.
Stealing is wrong period.
When it comes to editing or otherwise making corrections, only one colour of pen will do for me. And since I have no desire to re-create the stress of every wrong answer I ever made on a test in high school, for me, that colour is green.
However individual green pens are insanely difficult to come by: I certainly didn’t find one in the school section of my local drug store chain, or even on the shelves of Staples Office Depot. I tried to order one in to my local Staples store, but discovered the shipping would be FIFTEEN DOLLARS – their standard price – for a three dollar pen.
I stole one from work instead.
It doesn’t count as actual stealing if I’d already taken possession of it for office use.
I’ll take it back to work when I finish with it.
Lime green to match my manuscript binder since the soon-to-be start of my first ever novel-length revision is yet another special occasion worthy of commemorating with colour.
Stage two of my revision plan involves reading – not of the various how-to-revise books and web pages I’ve amassed over the years.
Rather, I’m going to go straight to the offending document itself, reading it through from start to finish while making note of general notes corrections.
This book is so old and out of step with where it needs to be, before I get too involved in learning the finer techniques of revision, a large amount of re-writing unfortunately has to happen first.
The question is, though, how large?
What do you do to get ready to revise your writing? What revision tips can you offer a first-timer like me? Let me know in the comments.
13 thoughts on “Getting Ready for Revision (for the Very First Time)”
The first revision is always the funnest, most energizing part of the writing process.
That is, of course, a complete lie. If there is a scene in your novel that involves a character descending a set of twisting stone stairs into a dark, damp abyss as a metaphor for the near-impossible struggle she is about face, I predict you are going to say, “Oh. Yeah,” when you get to it. I certainly hope you have such a scene. I mean, you have the time period and the castle. Readers will want a dungeon.
The first revision is always the funnest
I believe you! Words can’t express how much fun I’m having just reading the first draft. Currently, I’m only making general notes, one of which so far has been “Fix ALL of that” and another, “OMG, what??”
Interesting thing about medieval dungeons (from the word “donjon”, which was another name for a castle keep): a prisoner would be placed there to await ransoming or sentencing as would a flight risk suspect to await trial, however it wasn’t a punishment in and of itself. Long-term incarceration of the sort practiced today was an utterly foreign concept to medieval people. Instead, they’d just chop off one’s hands, hang them, or charge an exorbitant fine and be done with it.
Sounds positively medieval! Oh, wait…
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I basically went from an extremely rough draft of the whole story that figured out all the plot points, to a finished draft of the first book in the trilogy, in one step.
I’m not sure that’s the best way for other people, but it worked for me – though some of those scenes literally took months to write (I was learning to write at the same time, so it isn’t THAT surprising).
Today I finished proofing Book 1; I have a few changes per chapter of the first 7 chapters to make to the Master file, and then we’re done for all eternity with Book 1.
I don’t even want to tell you how long it took me, but that’s irrelevant. I’m god-awful slow.
All I can say is to think a bit before you plow in, asking yourself whether the STORY is now clear in your head. Once it is, the editing/revising/rewriting is just to make the story in the rough draft actually do what the story in your head says it needs to do – on the page.
I can’t imagine printing Pride’s Children out to edit it! I gave up on paper a long time ago; Scrivener’s split screens work for me, with the ability to float any number of other files, and its amazingly fast search even when you have the whole book at one time.
As I was putting things up on the blog, I did print out each scene as I finished it, but I’m an inveterate tinkerer, and almost immediately would start making tiny changes, so the printouts are nowhere near the latest version.
Keep lots of backups. Trust instincts. Close your eyes and visualize your scenes. And enjoy: it will be the most intense period of your life. And when a scene is right, you will know it.
Thank you, Alicia, for this lovely comment!
I could never give up on paper, especially for revising. I need it to help me see the work in a different way, plus I do enjoy the physicality of scratching things out and scribbling notes in the margins.
I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be going from first draft to final draft in one fell swoop. Since the book is currently the wrong genre, I’ll have a lot of rewriting of just that to worry about before I get around to anything else.
I am thinking hard about the story as I read. Right now, as I finish reading a chapter, I’m taking notes on what the goals of it were; once I start re-writing, I’ll do the same at the scene level. I’m also using coloured paperclips (green, yellow, and red) to bind each drafted chapter I finish reading based on the amount of rewriting it requires. So far, after three chapters, my colour sequence is red, yellow, red. Oy vey! But it’s to be expected I guess since those early chapters were the first new thing I wrote after the first novel I attempted (and ultimately shelved).
Have fun – if not, what’s the point?
If the book has stuck with you through thick and thin, there is something very valuable and important to you in it, but that’s no reason to not enjoy the process. It is the only way (other than reading) I have right now to generate flow – I LOVE flow.
I bet it feels good to have a hard copy in front of you Janna. No tips from me – for better or worse I’ve only every tinkered with first drafts and have trusted my initial instincts. All against the stern advice given to writers I know.
But I have just had my fifth novel first draft printed out and – wow – it’s all over the place as it was basically vomited out during NaNoWriMo last year. A lot of work needed 🙂
It does feel good having a hard copy. I always prefer the physicality of pen and paper when revising shorter works, so it was only natural to do so for my novel as well, at least this first draft and this very first time.
Ah, NaNo. Once again, I’ll be saying “No no” to that. 🙂
I’ve edited a few books, including one that was definitely so wrong. You’re doing great, reading through it first!
When I first started editing, I got caught up in typos and tried to clean everything as I went, while there was still story structure issues. That is painful and doesn’t help you get anywhere fast.
Now, I sit down and sketch myself an outline from my head of where the story needs to go. This is AFTER I wrote the first draft. So I’m outlining what my gut has told me is the “real” thread of the story after the messy first draft. I keep this with me as I go through the story, reading it and make notes to myself in scriverner. I don’t print, but you can to the same with pen and paper.
If I could go back and tell myself anything, it’s to be ruthless and cut what you know instinctively you need to cut and clean out everything that shouldn’t be there first. What’s left and what needs to be added and changed shows up much clearer once that is done. Then I start form the beginning and (this is just what works for me) and force myself to rewrite in chronological order, from front to back. If there’s every a point where I find myself avoiding writing a chapter, I reassess whether it needs to be written at all. If I’m finding it too boring to write, then my readers are likely going to find it too boring to read and there has to be a better way to bridge points A and B, so to speak.
I like editing, actually. It’s the point where the books starts feeling very clear and focused. Happy editing! You’ve got this! The page isn’t blank!
This is a great comment, Ciara; super-encouraging. Thanks!
When I first started reading my MS, I was getting caught up in typos and line edits too. I’ve pretty much weaned myself off of that for now, thankfully, but at the same time, it felt like a wasted opportunity to just read and not do anything else.
So instead, I’m underlining phrases and scribbling notes in the margins like I’m marking the world’s longest term paper (I wonder what grade I’ll end up with!) As I finish each chapter, I’m writing an outline for it as currently is and then making notes on the way it should be. Once I finish reading, I plan to go back and either revise or fully rewrite each chapter one by one, almost viewing each as its own discrete unit (although, of course, connected to numerous other chapters). This to me feels like a more manageable way to perceive the story than as a behemoth, 400-page mass of words.
I see how revise could be an enjoyable task, but seeings as it’s my first real rodeo, I’ll have to wait and see for sure. I’ll let you know!
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Best of everything! I’d say good luck, but it’s really not luck, it’s consistency and persistence! It sounds like you have a good system going. Congrats!
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Congratulations on competing your novel! Personally I love editing because I feel like the first draft was simply collecting all the sand and now you get to shape it into a masterpiece.
Also, can I just say how much I love that you’ve got a specific nail color for your editing. I think I’m going to do the same once I’m done with my own book/ready to edit.
Hi Sam, thanks for the comment! I agree with you – it definitely seems like it should be easier to fix something that already exists rather than create something whole cloth (although the creating has its own benefits). So far, I’ve just been reading my MS and making tons of notes, but I look forward to plunging in up to my elbows and digging in to it.
And yes, I’m currently wearing my green nail polish. Colour-coding my nails according to my writing stage became a thing as I was nearing the end of writing my first draft. It’s just a little something to help keep me excited about writing when I’m not totally feeling it. I highly recommend it. Good luck finishing your own first draft!