Patricia C. Wrede on “Revising” and “Layering”

I figured it had been long enough I could share another post by Patricia C. Wrede.  It’s no secret by now that I like her blog.  She posts twice a week (Wednesdays and Sundays) and gives solid advice each time.  Of the many writing blogs I’ve found and explored, hers is one I consistently go back to.

I’ll blab below about my own screwy process to-date, but here’s Patricia C. Wrede (a well-established, successful author) on Revising and Layering.

So, for me personally:

One of the debates people have is about when to revise.  I’ve seen some recommendations to just put down words and keep going until you get to the end of the novel and then circle back.  For me, I need to ease into writing each day and remind myself of the pacing/voice of the piece I’m working on.  So, what I do is revise as I go along.  I write a chapter on Monday and on Tuesday I re-read that chapter, making edits as I go, and then start on the next chapter.  (Same with short stories.  I re-read what I already wrote and then keep going.)  My current novel has three main characters, so I often skip back to the last chapter involving the character I’m about to write about and reread it to remember where that character left off.  (This is once I’m in the chronological writing stage and have stopped hopping around.)

I also found it very useful to set aside my novel after the first draft.  I was going to do so for six weeks, but life (i.e. that job that pays the bills and kills my creativity when it’s too full on) interfered and I set it aside for three months.  When I came back to it I could see clearly that one of my issues in first drafts is that I tend to mention painful scenes but not to write them.  In my first draft, a key emotional moment shows up as a brief memory rather than a fully developed scene.  I also tend to focus more on dialogue and action in the first draft as opposed to incorporating the senses (smell, touch, etc.) and I tend to throw info dumps in when something new happens that I need to understand.  I also find on the second round that I’m tightening up connections between characters, meaning that two characters that each appeared in a few scenes in the first draft are now combined into one character.

After that three-month lull, I printed out my first draft, sat down with a couple colored pens and read through the whole thing marking grammar/spelling errors (my brain likes to just throw out unrelated words that start with the same initial sound sometimes), plot issues, and text rewrites.  I then typed them all into the Word doc either directly or as comments.  (Track changes is your friend – learn it, love it.  I use it extensively for work and it’s a must have skill if you’re going to be in a professional environment where you’re dealing with group edits to documents.)

Once I’d done my read-through, I started at Chapter 1 and started rewriting.  Early on I had a lot of scenes to add.  (I didn’t start off with my main character as my main character so I gave him short shrift on some of his early scenes.)  Now I’m finally at the point where I’ve caught up to what I had actually written, but I’m still rewriting a lot of scenes using what was there before as a skeleton.  If it’s close enough, I copy and paste it into the new chapter and revise it.  If it’s too far off, I just rewrite.  And I still have those painful scenes that need to be fleshed out.

I fully expect one more round of setting it aside for a few weeks, printing and marking it up, and then editing.  I figure that round will be about a fourth the effort this one was.  And then one more set aside, print and read, and clean up of little details like religious references and individual character quirks, etc.  And then hopefully it’ll be ready for a few betas to read.  (I realize that’s a little late in the process for bringing in betas, but if I can find the issues and clean them up first, I’d prefer to do so.  I get a little cranky with myself if I get a criticism on something I should’ve seen.)

My first draft was 55,600 words.  My current draft is 55,400 and I’m a little past the halfway mark.  Gives you an idea of how much meat I’ve been adding to the bones.  I’m hoping to come out around 85,000 words or so, but I’ll let it be what it needs to be to tell the story and then worry about it.  I was all paranoid that the first draft was a little short and now look where I am.

I just have to trust the process and write the book the way it needs to be written first.  I’ll figure out how to sell it after that.  (If I can.  It’s…murky.  Everything is gray; there are no easy answers.  But I’ll worry about that when I actually have a completed novel.)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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