Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Four Things I’ve Learned During Revisions

What a lame-o title. Sorry, folks.

I’m still revising. I know. It probably feels like forever to you too. I swear, I’m almost done. I’ve got about another 50 pages to cover, I think, and then I’ll be ready for people to read it and let me know where it sucks for them. Because I’ve done what I could with the sucky parts that I see.

You know, the past three months have been a real eye-opener. I’d love to say in only good ways. Like I'd love to say I’ve had some massive epiphanies and that the heavenly host alighted while I revised or some such. But I’d be lying. I’ve had to fight hard for the eye-opening parts and some of them just hit me on the head by accident.

So, I thought I’d share these things for you. I give you, the four things I've learned.

1). Take a Break. No, seriously, this is huge. After you hit the end of the first draft, for the love of all that is good and holy, TAKE TIME OFF! Find something to distract yourself. Go on vacation. Plan to finish right before the holidays so festivities sweep you away. Take on a DIY project. That’s what I did, I painted my kitchen cabinets. You don’t have to be that ambitious (read: crazy), but do yourself this favor and step away. A first draft needs time to ferment in your mind. Right after I finish, I can still hear the way I thought it should sound echoing around in my head. I needed the time to stop hearing it, to forget what I “meant” to say so that I could read it and hear what I really said. Definitely worth it.

I’d like to say I’ve always taken this advice. But I didn’t. Not my last two completed manuscripts.

2). Make a Game Plan. This one is my own personal thing, but maybe it’ll work/help you readers as well. For me, revising my novel seemed like this huge, insurmountable undertaking. So, I went at it like I do other seemingly insurmountable undertakings: I came up with a strategy to get from Point A to Point B.

In this way, I formulated a plan to tackle my manuscript. I decided to do Big Picture things first and then tackle the finer details (ie grammar, word choice, etc).

I write in Four Acts. So I went back to my outline and started with the first act. I looked at each scene, tried to picture how the story “should” flow, and I rearranged scenes. Then I thought about what each scene accomplished and made sure that they did what they were supposed to do. I moved forward in this way through each of my acts.

When I finished that, I went through and looked for emotional flow. What was keeping them apart physically? Then, after they did the nasty, what kept them from being together emotionally?

I’m just finishing up that part right now. Then I’ll hit it for grammar and word stuff and then I’ll let people read it.

I have no idea if this will work for you, but it’s how I did this one. Will it work for everything I write in the future? No clue. But it was something and certainly something better than staring at my monitor and feeling helpless.

3). Be Strategic about the Reveal. When I started to revise, I decided to wait to let others read it until I’d done what I could with it. I’m not sure yet if this was a good tactical decision or not. My thought process was that I wanted to get through my own “vision” before I let anyone have any input into how my vision translated for them. I’ll keep you posted on how this works out for me.

And--- my final thought here---
4). Emotion Trumps Plot. Please note, I have not become a pantser. You may all have a seat again, relax. What I mean is that I have realized that no matter how you plot, if my story doesn’t have that emotional pow, it’s going to be boring. This is sort of a topic for a bigger blog post, but I will add it here anyway. I’ve just been struck again by how plot is important but we read for the emotion.

So, how’s writing going ladies? What have you learned during revisions? Any major epiphanies? Anything that you’ve heard people say before but didn’t listen until you got there and made the mistake anyway?


Maureen said...

Well, I have one really important thing I believe is the key.

Learn. To. Love. Track. Changes.

I mean, if you really master it, you can use it to find key word usage that denotes passive voice, and all the other too many repetitive words, too.

(No, I haven't mastered it yet, but I'm working it...)

I so admire that you can move thru revisions with such an eye toward detail. So much agree on giving it time for distance so that you can 'hear' your voice as you wrote it, not how you believe it sounds.

I'm fighting my way thru a revision/edit of an older MS and wow...it's getting there, but... Wow.

Marnee Bailey said...

Mo, have you tried http://editminion.com/ ?

This website lets you plug in chapters of your story and it flags common copy-editing problems. It's been helpful finding the "that"s and adverbs and such. I've left some adverbs in there (*gasp*) but it's helped me do it purposefully.

An eye for detail? That has never been my prob, really. I'm a Virgo. I'm all about the details. My biggest problem has been forcing myself to look for the big picture stuff. It would seem that would be the easier stuff, sort of the "my story's about this love story" but the temptation to mess with the little stuff has been really hard for me to resist. That's why I've forced myself to wait. After all, why fix grammar, passive voice, word choices if I'm just going to adjust the entire scene or cut it entirely?


I think it's gone... okay. I am not going to say it's been easy. But it's moved forward, so that's something.

Donna Cummings said...

Marn, I think these are excellent strategies. One reason revisions are so draining for me is because of the level of detail that is required, the kind you suggest in your "Make a Game Plan" section. I think it's easier to keep track of all of it when you break it down like this though. And it's great to see it all put back together. :)

Congrats on the revisions. It's exhausting, but I know you're gonna be thrilled with it. :)

Scapegoat said...

Marnee it sounds like to me you are learning quite a lot!

I haven't gotten to the revision stages yet so I don't have any wise words or insight to help out.

I have heard that stepping back before starting revisions really is best.

Now, as for how crazy it is to repaint your kitchen cabinets - that one I can attest to! We painted all of ours white and installed a backsplash and it was an insane amount of work. But, the kitchen looks like it was completely remodeled. I think we spent under $300 total and ended up looking like we spent thousands. Painting the cabinets is a big win in my mind.

TerriOsburn said...

Here's what I've learned trying to revise this MS.

1. I know too much.
2. I don't know anything.

For #1, I know too much about the story and the characters. And I don't know how to unknow it to know if what the readers needs to know is coming through on the page.

Ya know?

For #2, my know nothing is about structure. I've read and studied and read some more on this subject. But structure alludes me. I'm afraid I'm not tackling this the way I should and missing obvious things that are right in front of me. It's quite frustrating to be in these two conditions at the same time. LOL!

TerriOsburn said...

I forgot to mention the cabinets! I'm desperate to paint my kitchen cabinets. I'd also like to add a backsplash but I'm not sure I could manage. And paying someone else to do it not an option.

Scape - I also want to paint mine white. And add hardware. (There's no hardware right now.) I know my kitchen will look phenomenal afterward, I just have to muster the courage. LOL!

Marn - I might email you for advice on how to start. I'm pretty sure sanding is involved. Right?

Marnee Bailey said...

Donna - I hope it's work it. I think I'm still too close, so I have no clue yet. I was venting to Caroline a few weeks ago about it and she said, "Don't you know, a book isn't done until you hate every last apostrophe in it." She truly is a mentor. So true. LOL!!

Scape - Stepping back IS the best thing. Seriously. I think it was the best and most important of all of these things I've learned. But it's RIDICULOUSLY hard. Once I hit "the End" all I want to do is see how it'll look when it's "finished." I'm impatient. It was hard.


As to the kitchen, ours looks completely different too. We're going to replace our countertop and backsplash too, probably later this year. But even painting the cabinets has made a huge difference. I changed out all my 30 year old hardware too (all by myself, used the drill and everything. I felt like Wonderwoman.) And we bought new appliances because our old ones were BEAT. I'm pleased.

I'll send you guys before and afters if you'd like to see it.

As to what I used, Ter, check this out....


It was still a LOT of work, especially because I needed to do it in the laundry room because I couldn't exactly spend all day in our garage with my 1 year old running around. It took a couple weeks. But no sanding. Seriously, it is an amazing product. And I love the results. I did my whole kitchen with one kit. So it cost me 80 bucks, plus supplies. Awesome.

And Scape, I love a white kitchen. We did ours in a dark espresso brown color, which I love too. :)

Marnee Bailey said...

Ter - I know too much about the story and the characters. And I don't know how to unknow it to know if what the readers needs to know is coming through on the page.

Ya know?

I know EXACTLY what you mean. I wish I didn't know, but I do. :)

And the structure thing, I think, has been my biggest obstacle. I worry that I spend all this time messing with it and I'm still missing obvious plot holes. It's nervewracking.

Sin said...

Balls. Stupid site deleted my comment. Grr.

Anyway. I think I said something to the effect that I'm feeling really inspired right now. I have all these plot bunnies frolicking inside my head, demanding I pay attention. So I've been spending every little bit of free time writing like the wind.

I'm musically driven and I just got a new CD. And this new CD is just spurring the Muse on. I don't think I've been this inspired to write since 2006 (when I first started writing and I had just gotten the first Evans Blue CD). Maybe closer to the compulsion to write in the mid 90's when Jewel's CD Pieces of You came out. The Muse is inspired. Must write fast.

TerriOsburn said...

OMG! That stuff looks amazing! I had no idea you could get a product like that. Now I want to start this weekend. But revisions should probably come first.

I'm glad I'm not the only one feeling like I'm wading through deep waters with no idea how to find the shore. Or a life raft for that matter.

Marnee Bailey said...

Sin - that's awesome! Use that inspiration while it's there! :) I am not musically driven. If anything, I'm silence driven. Might be why I'm having difficulty thinking about the plot of my next story....

Ter - the stuff is awesome. I'm really impressed by it, the quality and everything. Very cool.

Janga said...

Marn, I really like the game plan metaphor because a game plan can be whatever prewriting strategies or combination of strategies works for the individual. And I suspect that no two game plans are identical even for a single writer.

Someone whose name eludes me at the moment compared revision to scrubbing a floor with a toothbrush. My biggest problem is that there's no off switch on my toothbrush and I keep scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing and . . .

MsHellion said...

I agree wholeheartedly with all these strategies! Taking a step back is imperative...and of course, I've never done it. *LOL* Not on purpose. I've come back to books later and realized, "Yes, they were right. This does suck" or "This is better than I thought. Now I can figure out what I was saying." It helps.

And I agree that "emotion trumps plot" but not mean that plot is not important or that planning is not important. But this is a story...we read to CONNECT to characters, we're here for the emotion: the thrill of the chase, the newness of the relationship/courtship, the suspense of how it will all turn out. It's so much more important that you have emotion in your writing than the cleverest twist or phrase. People remember emotions, how they felt--not the other stuff.

MsHellion said...

Only thing to add is "Read it aloud" as you're revising.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Haleigh said...

I'm showing up as "unknown" but it's Haleigh. Great post, Marn :)

Haleigh said...

I cannot wait to read this, Marnee! I'm so glad you're almost done with the revisions. I'm still revising as well, and staring at an ending that needs to be re-written I think.

I like your advice. Especially that emotion trumps plot. I realized this recently as well. We have to do what the characters need, even if it looks nothing like our original plot outline. Some of those plot points that I thought were so clever I'm sad to see go, but it's for the better. I read for emotion, not clever twists and turns (though those are nice too), and I want my readers doing the same.

TerriOsburn said...

I'm a big proponent of that "read aloud" thing, but I don't think I've been doing it as much on this pass. Need to do that more.

Also agree about emotion. I just wish I knew how to get emotion ON the page. Guess that's another blog. Someone cover that, would ya? LOL!

Marnee Bailey said...

Janga - I completely understand the whole just keep scrubbing thing. That's part of my game plan. I figure I'm only going to give myself a two read-throughs for wording/grammar. Then it'll be what it is. If not I'll be polishing forever. I have to tell myself, sometimes, just to walk away. LOL!!

Hells - I definitely agree about the Read Aloud thing. I think I'll do that when I do the grammar read-through next. I can't wait til this is done.

Also, I agree about the emotion and all that. I don't mean that plot isn't important, but I don't think we can get bogged down in whether we plot or pants. Ultimately, after it's written that first draft, then we have to figure out if it has that emotional pow. I suspect that both pantsers and plotters alike struggle through that. Because nothing guarantees emotion.

Marnee Bailey said...

Hal - I can't wait for you to read it too! :) I have no idea if I'm doing what's right for my characters any more. I can't even see the forest for the trees. And, what's worse, is that I can't tell if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Does it mean I'm so involved that the story is now super-totally-awesome. Or, is it as I fear, that it is a big pile of steamy dog doo?

No idea.

*Slinks off to a corner to fall into the fetal position.*

Marnee Bailey said...

Ter - Also agree about emotion. I just wish I knew how to get emotion ON the page. Guess that's another blog. Someone cover that, would ya? LOL!


TerriOsburn said...

Get your ass back here. Pirates do not slink! We may stumble from too much rum, that no slinking.

I'm POSITIVE you do not have a steaming pile of poo. You've worked like a crazy woman on that MS and I'm sure the shine bursts from the page.

Maureen said...

Ah. Lessons. Another great one. Save someone off the laptop.

I lost 50 pages last night, three hard days of revisions. Gone. Poof.

Back to the treadmill.

I so get the floor/toothbrush thing. Though it's horrible how it too often turns into trything to redo grout with that toothbrush. Sometimes, you gotta know when to change tools!

Marnee Bailey said...

Thanks Ter. LOL! Actually, I suspect it's somewhere on the scale between super-totally-awesome and steamy dog poo. I just am not sure exactly where on the scale yet. We'll see. LOL!!

Mo - I so get the floor/toothbrush thing. Though it's horrible how it too often turns into trything to redo grout with that toothbrush. Sometimes, you gotta know when to change tools!

This is sooo true. I think sometimes revision is about trying to figure out what to do next. Or what needs to still be done. And definitely it's about knowing when enough is enough.

P. Kirby said...

Terri. We spruced up out tiny kitchen by painting the cabinets and adding hardware. The existing cabinets had a sort of pinkish stain, with some glued on geometric shapes to make them look Southwestern. Anyway, we peeled off the stupid doo-dads, did some sanding, and painted them a burgundy color with a dark stain to give them an aged look. Added a clear coat since they're in the kitchen and would get food splatters and whatnot. Then we added hardware (they didn’t have any). It really spruced up the kitchen. (We also took out the existing range, replaced it with a new cabinet; added a countertop stove; and turned a closet/pantry into a spot for a wall oven/microwave with added storage above and below. But the paint alone would have made a HUGE difference. It’s a cheap fix.)

Regarding revision, I always start immediately after the first draft, which is totally daft. I know I should let it set, but off I go. Ugh! Maybe when I’m done with the current WIP, I hope I’ll be strong and let it settle. Instead of an outline, I write a couple of synopses: a long (3-6 page) version and a one-pager. This really helps me, even though the one-pager is tortuous. I don’t send a manuscript through critique unless it’s been through at least one revision. I know some folks like the workshop as-you-go approach, but that doesn’t work for me. (It makes me fiddle with early chapters instead of just getting the thing done.) Also, I don’t see the point of getting feedback on a rough draft. Mileage may vary, of course. Since I’m a pantser, a lot of what I end up doing is filling gaping plot holes.

TerriOsburn said...

*hugs Pat*

I'm the exact same way about the critique stuff. WHY would I share the rough stuff knowing it's ROUGH? LOL! NOT that I knock anyone else's choice to do this, I just know it makes me crazy to even think about it.

Do you mean you write the synopses before revising, after revising, or before you write anything?

I can't do that much construction in my kitchen, though if I could move the heating unit to some other area of the house (it's in a closet in my kitchen) I'd be really happy and have something I could turn into a giant pantry.

Scapegoat said...

All this talk of cabinets so I had to show mine.

White paint, hardware and a backsplash we found on clearence...

Before (horrible pic)

After (still not great)

That's only one side of kitchen but gives you an idea.

Marnee Bailey said...

Pat - Thanks for sharing your process! I think it's good to see how different everyone's Game Plan is and get ideas for how we can streamline our own process. :)

I like the idea of writing outlines at different phases. I usually write one right after I finish first draft and then revise before I send out. At least that's the plan this time. I wonder if I had adjusted it more as I went, if that would have helped. *ponders*

And your kitchen sounds awesome. :) Ours isn't really big. I would love to find more storage space in there somewhere, but it'd probably be fine if I spent some time simplifying and getting rid of extraneous stuff.

P. Kirby said...

I write synopses AFTER I've written the beastie, approaching the exercise as though I were writing them for an agent/editor query. This forces me to really look at the story: plot, characterization, etc., as though I were trying to "sell" it. In the process, it exposes a lot of weaknesses.

Our kitchen remodel didn't in any way change the floor plan. We were dealing with small kitchen (tiny house), so the remodel was more like "rearranging." Anyway, I married Tim the Tool Man Tailor, so construction happens at our house--a lot. Next up, the master bath...

TerriOsburn said...

Scape - Flickr says I do not have permission to look at those pictures. And I want to see!

Ah, write them after. The only reason I write a synopsis is because I enter the GH. So right after I finish the rough and have revised the first 50. This last one was easier than the first and I see how you'd have to focus on HOW you showed characterization and such. Hmmm...never thought of it that way.

P. Kirby said...

Scapegoat. I tried to look at your images, but it sends me to my Yahoo login. I actually obliged it, but it still says I don't have permission to view the images.

Marnee: I hear ya. I think some of the foodstuff in our cabinets is Civil War era.

TerriOsburn said...

I found something in my kitchen last weekend that had an expiration date of BEFORE we moved into this house. Really? I moved EXPIRED food? Seriously??

Marnee Bailey said...

Scape, I can't see your pics either! :( Boo!!

That's when I write mine too, after I finish the first draft. I think writing a long and then a short one might be beneficial for me. *adds to list of stuff to do*

And any construction in my house is usually me. My DH has many wonderful qualities, but he's as handy as a rock. I grew up with a construction worker. I can find my way around a tool box. Problem is that I'm a big wimp, so big jobs are not up my alley. But I do some plumbing and I do minor repair work. I've done some electrical stuff. Stuff like that. I put together the furniture, blah blah. It works for us. He holds the flashlight while I fix the garbage disposal. We're a 21st century kind of couple.

TerriOsburn said...

I'm a fix-it girl too, Marn. Partly because I'm single and don't have a choice but even when I was married, my ex was totally useless. Couldn't even change a tire.

But this reminds me of something kiddo said last weekend. I was putting together a desk and a bookshelf when she declared, "I hope I never have to do this stuff." I told her it's not that hard and she should be able to take care of herself. To which she said, "I'll find a guy to do it."

A knife straight to my independent woman's heart. Have I taught her nothing?!

P. Kirby said...

LOL. I know we've moved expired food. Why? Because it feels wasteful to throw it out. Oy.

The synopsis approach is probably old school, but it's better for me because I'm a pantser and my stories experience tremendous thematic drift during the first draft. E.g. My current WIP started out as kind of as a straightforward story about a supervillain who tries to go straight. A redemption story. Except the backstory has evolved, adding all kinds of themes (commentary?) on the nature of celebrity, entertainment, and the negative and positive impacts of war on society. Not that it's meant to be preachy or "relevant" in any way. But nonetheless, all that thematic stuff impacts characterization and plot and I often end up trying to get earlier chapters to play nice with later chapters. The synopsis really helps for this.

P. Kirby said...

Terri. My mom's approach was thus: She brought home furniture and told me to put it together. Anything that was "some assembly required" was mine to deal with.

Marnee Bailey said...

Until the first time she wants something done and all the dudes she knows evaporate, the way they do when they're faced with tasks they don't want to do. There are guys who are into this stuff, but just having the tab B genitalia doesn't equate with a desire to wield a hammer. In fact, there's a decent chance that she'll fall in love with someone who thinks, "I planned to just find a girl to do this stuff." LOL!!

TerriOsburn said...

I didn't grow up putting stuff together, mostly because we never bought anything. But I learned quick if I wanted something done, I had to go it myself.

Marn - Since her father is the useless one, I'm blaming this on his genes. LOL! And you're so right. Her luck she'll find a guy whose never touched a power tool in his life. Though if he can afford to pay the guys with power tools, more power to her.

P. Kirby said...

Yup. My husband is a fabulous handyman mechanic, because he has an aptitude for it, and he grew up on a cattle ranch. (His sister is pretty self-sufficient too.) In my experience, a lot of city folk, male and female aren't all that handy.

I, admittedly, had an aptitude for mechanical stuff. Plus, it was just Mom and me. Somebody had to "man up" for lack of a less gendered term.

Maureen said...

I feel really good when I put together Ikea stuff... My guy is more the tech genius and thou he flirts w/tools, they really aren't his first love...

Seems like kiddo needs to consider a profession that includes enough cash to hire a handyman.

No, not that kind of handyman. ;-)

Scapegoat said...

*hangs head* I've never been able to figure out those stupid online pic sharing sites.

Maybe these will work:



Scapegoat said...

P - I think for my next WIP I'm actually going to write the synopsis first and/or an outline...I have a feeling that's the balance that will be what I work best with.

Maureen said...

I find a basic plot summary, in paragraph style, gets me started. The outline might come next, but I mostly enjoy the outline after I have a first draft...

And the outline is a godsend for writing a synopsis!

TerriOsburn said...

Pat - My ex grew up on a farm, but he was coddled and never had to do anything for himself. His father had the nerve to complain about his lack of "mechanical" skills and unwillingness to do anything that required manual labor.

I explained that it was HIS fault for doing every damn thing for him. LOL! Is it any wonder I'm not in this family anymore? :)

TerriOsburn said...

That looks great, Scape! That backsplash is amazing.

JulieJustJulie said...

Very interesting Discussion. So interesting to see the different things that work for different writers.