Brenda Cooper: Revisions

Adventures in Writing: Revisions

Welcome to the third installment of Adventures in Writing. This week I’m definitely deeper in the hard side of writing. I’ve been planning this post, and I clearly should have been planning one on sales instead of revisions. But hey, there’s always hope for next week!

Anyway, I got feedback from my agent with some excellent ideas about the book series I proposed (which means more revision) and I got a revision request from a publisher on some promotional material. All the advice is good, and I’m grateful for it. Besides, it goes with week’s blog post. But in both cases, I would have rather heard that I’m brilliant and the work is ready for prime time.

I have to admit that if my cold would go completely away, these things would be easier to take in stride.

To top it off, the story I’m targeting for Shine is, well, dull. As nice as it is to write about things with a positive spin, bad things are easier to write. However, the story isn’t done yet, so I don’t want to reject it yet. After all, this week has been full of sick days off work and writing, emergencies at work, and a major futurist presentation. My balance is off.

Last week, I talked about keeping the muse busy creating, and keeping the editor away while I lay down the first draft. Well, now the two get to play together a bit, and then the editor can play all by herself. Assume I’ve got a first draft.

Next, I let it lay fallow for at least a full day and I do something else entirely. This is an important step for me. When I skip it, I regret it. This lets me get a little distance on my own work. For a novel, I try for a lot longer fallow period…like weeks or even a month.

Then it’s time to read. The first time through, I may make a few notes, but I’m mostly trying to see if there is an emotional impact. If not, I might actually re-draft (start over at the beginning and re-write). Getting enough feeling into a story to cause readers to feel the story is one of my personal challenges. You might have a different one.

The second time I look for big stuff like whether or not I have the right scenes and scene breaks, and did miss an essential element? Is there, for example, setting? I take notes. Then I do the second draft, which is a place where the muse and the editor can kind of look over each other’s shoulders. I try to be careful not to be too critical here, still, and to feed the muse the most. But the editor doesn’t need to be slapped out of existence if she raises her hand and says, “Excuse me? Wouldn’t your reader like to know where you are?” Once more, if there are significant changes in a scene, a paragraph, or a story, I re-draft it.

After I get the second draft done, I do the line editing. It’s pointless to do line editing any earlier, since whole paragraphs go away or get moved or get added in the earlier stages. Now be careful: You can write all the voice out of your story if you line edit every line. So go lightly. But you do need to find repeated and forgotten words. Misspellings and anything else that will make an editor think they have an amateur writer submitting to them. At this point in my career, I’m mostly either cutting or looking for better word choices to strengthen sentences. The last step is reading my work out loud to find clunky prose and stilted dialogue. My voice finds a lot of stuff my eyes missed. It’s weird.

Last comment: rewriting and rewriting and rewriting is a common trap. It’s easier than submission.

And for another take on this – go by Jay Lake’s blog and look at his recent post on revision.

This week, I’m sending Jason Ramboz of Arlington, Virginia, a copy of The Silver Ship and the Sea. Next week, I’ll talk about first readers and submission.

Again, I feel compelled to mention that there is no one right way to write.

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  1. Wanted to drop a note of gratitude for this blog series into the comments. I always enjoy digging into the writing process of other authors. Thank you for the insight.




  1. […] advice (and he did a very nice job).  I contacted Shaun Farrell, and he agreed to let me do some guest blogs (and by the way, if you comment there, you may win a free book.  I’ve already given one […]

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