Those Pesky Revisions, Drafts 1 – Infinity
You know that moment when you look at your manuscript and go, “Screw. This. Shit.”? Yeah, me too! But then you take a deep breath and realize the only way to finish, the only way to get this sucker published, is to edit, revise, and change the fuck out of it?
“Those Pesky Revisions, Drafts 1-Infinity” is only partially right. Maybe I should’ve titled this “Where’s the Lighter? I Need to Burn This Manuscript.” Alas, that will get me, and any other writer, nowhere. Sadly. ‘Cause I’m sure we are all tempted every once in a while. Right? RIGHT? I can’t be the only one.
So Saturday I talked about my writing process. Today I want to discuss what happens *after* the first draft. You know, drafts two, three, and eighty. Yup, those ones. For those non-writers out there, this might open your eyes to the length some of us go through to bring you a story worth reading.
So here goes. This is what happens during each draft. I’ve attempted to make it sensical, but each book is different and may have more or less rounds of pesky revision fun!
Let’s list ‘em:
1) First draft is purely a skeleton. I don’t try for pretty prose or complicated details. I write basic action, many, MANY repetitive words, and basically leave it a big, fat, smelly mess. At times, I leave myself notes while writing that go a little like this: “Add detail here.” or “Look this up to confirm, then expand scene.” or “Change dialogue later so it’s actually funny.” or “I just made this up: check to see if this is real!”
2) Second draft is the hardest for me. It’s like pulling teeth or wrestling with a tiger while naked and covered in suntan oil. Now it’s time to expand. I usually add about 10-15k words (37-55 regular sized pages) during this process. So a 50k first draft (184 pages) becomes a 65k second draft (277 pages). I’m usually able to estimate the end word count by doing a little bit of math. I change wording, rearrange chapters, and breathe life into the skeleton. Also, if I’m going to change/add/manipulate the plot, this is where I *hope* it happens. Because later, it’s too much damn work. Really. I often contemplate the plot during my second draft revisions more than any other time besides outlining. Big picture is more important at this stage.
3) Third draft is where I have a program read my manuscript back to me (I use the Voice Dream app on my iPhone). I discover flaws in sentences, dialogue, and plot (also helps me find typos). Sometimes this means I have to go back and make major changes, but usually just small ones at this point. Hearing the words gives me a vision of my characters. Their voice, their dimensions, etc. If I’ve failed to give my characters depth in draft two, I catch it rather quickly while listening and am able to change it in draft three.
4) Fourth draft is all in the details. Normally, grammar isn’t an issue with me. If I make a grammatical mistake, it is for one of three reasons: 1) Typo, 2) Honest mistake (like I started a sentence one way and changed direction without fixing the beginning), or 3) Error in editing (which is when *most* errors are made). I’m lucky in this. I’ve studied the CMoS for so long that it’s rare I have to look up the proper way to punctuate a sentence or arrange it. Now, it’s second nature. Side note: if grammar isn’t something you’re good at (authors), like knowing where to put a comma or how to properly tag dialogue, then I suggest you learn. And fast. It’ll help in the long run. Anyway, back to fourth draft. By this stage, it’s about cutting out the crap. I use what I call the “Twitter Method.” When you tweet, you’re only allowed 140 characters, so you cut out unnecessary words when you have a lot to say. Of course, not all sentences are going to fit into 140 characters, but you get the drift. Simplicity is best. When I first started reading, I wanted to purple my prose. Now I realize it’s often a waste of words. Kill those darlings, baby. Chop, smite, and behead them.
5) Fifth draft is when my manuscript leaves my hands. First, my story editor goes over it. She’s great with plots and characters and narrative flow. Then it hops across the Internet to my copy editor who catches all the things I didn’t or couldn’t see. When more than two people are involved (sometimes up to 10 people), there’s much entertainment in the comments, including commentary and hilarious side notes about other book characters they love. When I get it back, I dig in and make appropriate changes (while laughing at commentary). I’ve gone through this process for ten books now, so I have a thick skin. I never take anything personally. Side note: if any of you authors are writing for the first time, keep this in mind. No one spends that many hours reading a manuscript and giving you advice and feedback because they *don’t* like you. Trust me: it’s never personal.
6) Sixth draft is when I can breathe easier. I send it to a friend who proofs it (make sure your proofer has *never* read your manuscript up to this point). She reads for fun, not for revisions. She gives me feedback like she would if she were writing a review, while at the same time finding typos or weird errors. I make changes. Again. Luckily, I’ve never had to make any changes that took more than a few minutes to fix during this stage.
7) Last draft before manuscript goes out on submission is a waiting game. I send it to my agent. She reads it between reading all the other manuscripts, query letters, and emails she receives, then she replies with a revision letter (I don’t know how she does it, though I’m pretty sure she’s a ninja). The Acid Method had, like, three bullet points thanks to my exhaustive drafting. I make changes, return it, and off it goes into cyber email space.
It’s a process, but it’s given me a lot of success over the years.
Now off I go to finish my revisions of the manuscript I’m currently working on. *skips away*
Halo of the Sun
Webs of Convexity
(Tocsin Saga, #1)
(Paradoxical World, #2)
(Summer Chronicles, #4)
The Stone Circle