Slipping into your story during revisions

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Sanderling
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Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by Sanderling » July 3rd, 2011, 5:11 pm

I'm currently working on revisions of my WIP. I'm still at the scene-level stage, ensuring I've said everything relevant and cutting out wordy scene intros, excessive contemplation by characters, unnecessary explanatory sentences, removing irrelevant scenes altogether, etc. I read someone somewhere refer to these extra bits of text as "throat-clearing" and story equivalents of the spoken filler "um", a description I liked. :)

I find my revisions start out well, and then after a little while I suddenly realize I haven't made a single mark on the paper for three or four pages. I got sucked into the story and forgot what I was supposed to be doing.

Does this happen to other people? What tricks do you use to keep yourself from slipping into your story while you revise? I've heard it suggested for line edits to work backwards rather than forwards through the text, but this doesn't work as well for scene-level revisions.
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Re: Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by Mike R » July 3rd, 2011, 5:18 pm

It happens to me all the time. I just have to assume those pages are brilliant. What else could it be. :)

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Re: Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by polymath » July 3rd, 2011, 5:50 pm

I was asked a pointed question recently, pointed in the sense of, if I got it wrong, though it didn't have a right or wrong answer, per se, I was out of contention for something that matters very much to me. I got it righter than the questioner had heard or thought possible.

What is the most important part of creative writing?

My answer, Readers. My explanation, without readers writing is merely self-gratification of no account regardless of if it is great or mediocre or worse.

That for me is the answer to many writing questions, this thread's included. Is the reporting cogent and consise enough for readers to understand what is going on. Most importantly for creative writing, bar none, will it engage readers' interests in participating deeply in the participation mystique of the narrative. If not, why not and what will. The converse of which is what will disengage readers, which ought best be recast or excised so it does and continues to engage readers.
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Re: Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by DelicatePrincess » July 3rd, 2011, 6:41 pm

I do this myself, and while I'm sure both of us are brilliant writers, I read somewhere that it has more to do with being so used to seeing your own writing that your eyes and mind run through it without really "seeing" anything - almost like its kind of memorized. I change the font size and color and then print it out. I read somewhere (possibly on this forum?) that this trick lets you look at it with fresh eyes and stops you from getting lost in your own writing.

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Re: Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by justcrash » July 3rd, 2011, 8:59 pm

Sanderling wrote:I'm currently working on revisions of my WIP. I'm still at the scene-level stage, ensuring I've said everything relevant and cutting out wordy scene intros, excessive contemplation by characters, unnecessary explanatory sentences, removing irrelevant scenes altogether, etc. I read someone somewhere refer to these extra bits of text as "throat-clearing" and story equivalents of the spoken filler "um", a description I liked. :)

I find my revisions start out well, and then after a little while I suddenly realize I haven't made a single mark on the paper for three or four pages. I got sucked into the story and forgot what I was supposed to be doing.

Does this happen to other people? What tricks do you use to keep yourself from slipping into your story while you revise? I've heard it suggested for line edits to work backwards rather than forwards through the text, but this doesn't work as well for scene-level revisions.

How long did you wait after you were finished before you started editing (forgive me if this has been asked)?
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Sanderling
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Re: Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by Sanderling » July 3rd, 2011, 9:48 pm

That sounds like solid reasoning to me, Mike R!

You definitely have a point, polymath. The difficulty lies in distinguishing whether you're getting sucked into the story because as the author you know the story in your heart, inside, and the words are just a trigger reminding you of how it feels, or if you're getting sucked in because the words themselves are creating that connection between the reader and the story.

That's an interesting thought, DelicatePrincess. Definitely one's own writing style becomes intimately familiar so it's easy to become blind to habits you have. To this point in the process I'd done all the work onscreen, but for the revisions (this is actually second round of revisions) I opted to print it out, and to save paper it's in a different arrangement on the page and in a much smaller font. I think it's helped, but I still find myself disappearing into it.

A while, justcrash. I wrote the draft over about three months, finishing in mid-January. Between end of first draft and first revisions (the major plot adjustments and hole-filling) was about 8 weeks, I think, and then between first revisions and this round has been 10. It wasn't entirely intentional to leave it that long in between, but a couple other commitments popped up that sucked up a lot of time and I didn't want to return to it till I could give it my full attention again.
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Re: Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by polymath » July 3rd, 2011, 10:35 pm

Sanderling wrote:The difficulty lies in distinguishing whether you're getting sucked into the story because as the author you know the story in your heart, inside, and the words are just a trigger reminding you of how it feels, or if you're getting sucked in because the words themselves are creating that connection between the reader and the story.
That's why the admonition to read, read widely, read deeply. And, of course, reading closely for writing workshop narratives. Both of which reading for shortcomings and virtues and processing why they work or don't work. I've read or heard many a workshop comment, comments by screening readers, editors even that express an aesthetic hunch, like, it didn't work for me, something doesn't feel realized, I don't know, it's just not all there or some junk, it's boring, flat, emotionless, and so on ad nauseam, without an appreciable insight into what they mean. Deciphering what it all means prepares a writer for interpreting what they mean in the first place, then learning to spot it for one's self, certainly during rewrites, if not during revisions, if not during draft writing.

Understanding how readers experience a narrative benefits the process immensely. Thus reading for learning how to evaluate a narrative's shortcomings and virtues.

The process can be represented by an arch, what I know as the narrative arch, similar to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The left leg represents a writer's creative vision. The right leg represents any given reader's creative vision informed by the writer's creative vision, but incorporating the reader's experiences and expectations as well. Ideally, they meet at the apex of the arch. Some writers stop short of the apex, Hemingway, for example. Some writers span the apex and enter the readers' leg, Faulkner for example. But they do their respective hitting the mark artfully, without withholding information or underestimating their target readers' capacity to span creative gaps.

In sum, learning to evaluate whether one's creative vision is mostly making it onto the page is the point of reading as a writer.
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Re: Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by Sanderling » July 3rd, 2011, 11:17 pm

I do know what you mean, polymath, and definitely agree. I think without that knowledge of what makes good writing and/or enjoyable writing it's very difficult to produce it in our own work. If you don't have that experience base to start with, it's going to be a lot harder to write well yourself. I read like a fish, and have since preschool, so I definitely know when a book isn't working for me, and why.

That said, though, I think analysing one's own writing is a little like trying to identify our own faults. It's really easy to figure out other peoples' faults, we know exactly what traits make certain other people irritating, but it's really hard to recognize these things in ourselves. As far as I'm concerned, I'm perfect. :D Similarily, I think the ability to recognize what makes a good story/writing and be able to objectively critique a piece of writing to this effect is a whole lot easier when it's not your own work.

The trouble is just the familiarity. When I go back to look at stuff I've written two or three years ago, I can vaguely remember writing about the topic but the words might as well have been written by someone else for all that I recognize them. I don't doubt that if I left this manuscript to sit for a couple of years I could come at it with a very objective eye... but I'm not sure I have the patience for that. ;)
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Re: Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by CharleeVale » July 4th, 2011, 2:02 am

All. The. Time!

It's definitely a struggle to stay focused.

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Re: Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by cheekychook » July 4th, 2011, 9:29 am

First off, yes, most people find themselves slipping into the story during reading/revision, and although it's not helpful for revisions, it is overall a good thing. If you're not in love with your story enough to get lost in it, no one else is likely to be either, so take it as a good sign that this happens.

You're doing a lot of things very right in terms of trying to give your story a proper edit. Reading and reading are big things. You'll wind up doing it hundreds of times (literally) before you're anywhere near "done". Printing it out is a great step, as it does offer a different perspective and allows for a different kind of note taking and/or shuffling. Eventually you will want to do the "read it backward" technique. That's excellent for finding repetition (makes it easier to see if info is given twice in a convo or in a description and tends to point out long sentences and overuse of words). It's also interesting to examine your plot in reverse and sometimes you can spot gaps or see better ways to arrange things

In the meantime, plow through this round, then do another, and another, until the story is so ingrained that you stop getting lost quite as much. Most important, in my opinion, have other people read it. Lots of other people. People who write, who will be honest with you, who can point out what is and isn't working, can tell you where the story lags, can tell you they don't understand exactly why something is happening, that they want more info about a scene/character, that you always use a particular way of describing something and it's either repetitive or too poetic----there are a million things that readers will see in your writing that you may never be capable of spotting in your own.

When looking for readers most people are more comfortable finding "partners" where there is a swap of writing so that you're on equal ground in terms of being vulnerable. Critique partners can be invaluable, usually more so than writing groups, though they're good too. And a good beta can also be extremely helpful. No matter who you find, just get it read, by several people. Not everything a reader points out is going to be something you want to (or should) change, readers just point out what stands out for them, and those are things you want to examine as the writer. Never feel like you MUST make a reader's suggested changes, but give it a long, hard, honest thought and see if they have a point. If you make the change, know you changed it the right way, if you decide not to, know you considered your options and be happy that you opted to stay true to your idea because in that instance it was so important to you.

Best of luck to you. This is the tricky part, and it's not a fast process. Keep us posted on your progress!
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Re: Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by polymath » July 4th, 2011, 9:43 am

Sanderling wrote:I think analysing one's own writing is a little like trying to identify our own faults. It's really easy to figure out other peoples' faults, we know exactly what traits make certain other people irritating, but it's really hard to recognize these things in ourselves. As far as I'm concerned, I'm perfect. :D Similarily, I think the ability to recognize what makes a good story/writing and be able to objectively critique a piece of writing to this effect is a whole lot easier when it's not your own work.
Yeah, I've been there. That's the whole basis of writing workshop effectiveness. Except the overwhelming tendency to find fault can drag one down into a cruel slam fest. Finding fault always gets more emphasis than finding virtue. Finding and identifying the mechanics of virtue is a way if not the way to break through the difficulties of analyzing one's own writing.

The amazing thing is the more I worked on finding virtues in the writing of others, the more I could find shortcomings in my writing and the shortcomings in myself. Finding myself. More amazing yet, figuring out why things worked out that way led me to understand or at least appreciate walking in someone else's shoes. Understand their sorrows, miseries, motivations, agendas and build rapport, at least so I could unravel their characters, personalities, and behavior traits for the purpose of writing true-to-life characters.

I still find certain behavior traits irritating. But through a herculean effort not to show my irritation, I get past the surface issues and see into the decent human being behind the masking attitude and why they carry that burdensome baggage, maybe make their day a little less trying through compassion, though men and women have different outlooks in regard to compassion. Women favor emotional bonding and men favor status competition. Notice women's sentiments and notice men's accomplishments, but don't overlook men's sentiments and women's accomplishments. And darned if they don't pay it forward. Like a pebble dropped in a still pond, kindness and consideration ripples radiate in all directions. Kindness and consideration are just as contagious as meanness and indifference, only, meanness and indifference are more likely to cause unpleasant scenes.
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Re: Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by Sanderling » July 4th, 2011, 11:16 am

It's reassuring to hear from others and know I'm not the only one, Charlee.

Thanks, Karen. I appreciate the advice! I'll continue working through it, and do my best. This is my third novel, but definitely the first one that I've felt so attached to that I really wanted to work through the hard stuff, to make it shine so others will love it too. I just hope I'll be able to do it justice!

I have had one other person read it, so far, after my first set of revisions. She reads more than I do, even, and I definitely trust her judgement when it comes to story. She's finished reading it and already provided me with some really good detailed feedback for part of it, and some comments for the story as a whole, but is expecting a baby soon and hasn't had time to return to the rest. Part of her overall feedback is what I'm using during this second round of revision.

I'd love to have some others read it, too, but finding people is tricky! Among my in-person family and friends I don't know anyone who would have the interest and would also have the time (though I know a few with one or the other). I've tried contacting a few writers online but despite some initial interest nothing came of those. Is there a "critiquer classifieds" somewhere, perhaps? For me, I feel a swap is preferable not only because of shared vulnerability but also because they're getting something in return for their favour to you. I do feel it's quite a bit to ask of someone to not only read your unpolished manuscript but also to provide useful feedback on it.

That's a really good point, polymath - to make sure we're not only looking for the faults, we're also identifying the virtues of someone/something. Sometimes it can be tough to do. I just finished a book that I thought was pretty poorly done but which has received 4 stars on Amazon, and has been made into a movie. Initially I was thinking about all the things that didn't work in the book for me... but then I thought: wait - I /finished/ it, didn't I? So there must have been some redeeming qualities to it. And obviously other people have thought so, too, for it to be rated so highly. What, then, were the good things? It is actually pretty eye-opening to look this way at books you weren't crazy about.
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Re: Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by Watcher55 » July 4th, 2011, 2:21 pm

Sanderling wrote:I find my revisions start out well, and then after a little while I suddenly realize I haven't made a single mark on the paper for three or four pages. I got sucked into the story and forgot what I was supposed to be doing.

Does this happen to other people? What tricks do you use to keep yourself from slipping into your story while you revise? I've heard it suggested for line edits to work backwards rather than forwards through the text, but this doesn't work as well for scene-level revisions.
This happens to me a lot and what it tells me is that it's time to take a break. I scroll back to the last part I revised. I stand up, walk away and waste five-ten-fifteen minutes away from the desk. After that, I focus on the task at hand.

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Re: Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by cheekychook » July 4th, 2011, 2:44 pm

Yes there are "critiquer classifieds" around---including here---there's a forum where people post if they are looking for a critique partner. I met my critique partner on this site, but just by chatting about similar subject matter on a thread, not by going through the thread that's for finding critters. There are lots of other sites that offer match-ups. I don't know what genre your book is---there are more forums for some genres than for others. There are also several sites that allow you to post some or all of your story for critique by other members (you can post a first chapter, synopsis or query letter here for critique----other sites encourage posting of greater portions of the manuscript). Hope that's helpful.
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Re: Slipping into your story during revisions

Post by Sanderling » July 4th, 2011, 3:42 pm

That's a good suggestion, Watcher55. I like to keep going once I'm settled in, but it would probably help to take short breaks.

Thanks again, Karen. I obviously missed that set of forums in my looking about. I'll give them a shot!
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