What's Your Approach to Revision?

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JustAnotherJen
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What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by JustAnotherJen » October 26th, 2011, 10:17 pm

I've been writing my first "real" novel for what feels like at least 238 years. Seriously! However, I recognize that this has been a non-stop learning process and I'm assuming (desperately hoping!) that when I get around to novel number two, it will go much more quickly. In the meanwhile, I'm about ready to get into the revisions and I have a question for all of you more experienced people. Is it REALLY necessary to take a break (two weeks or so) from your novel before you begin revision? I'm interested in hearing what people actually do and how it works out for them. I am fairly certain that if i stayed away that long my hands would start shaking and my mouth would be watering all the time... So I'm inclined to just jump right in. It's not that I don't understand why people make that suggestion, I just don't if it'll really make that much difference in the long run. Input??

Thanks!

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CharleeVale
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Re: What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by CharleeVale » October 26th, 2011, 11:52 pm

Well, yes and no...

When I finished the last few scenes of my MS and started revising, I had just come off a month where I had barely done any work. So I already had enough distance from it, and I wasn't burnt out. Also, by the time I get back to the scene I just finished, it will have been long enough for me to have gotten editorial distance.

A lot of people finish after a long bout of writing, and their minds are tired. It necessary for mental stability to take a break.

But from a non-mental perspective, you generally need the time. When you finish the MS, you're essentially the proud mother of a newborn. That MS is a beautiful, glowing little bundle of joy that can do no wrong. The phrases you have so lovingly written and gently placed in the oh-so-correct order on the page are ingrained in your brain. You actually might be able to quote parts of your book.

Taking the two weeks (or more, if necessary) takes the edge off. The exact wording becomes a little hazy. The rosy glow of fresh motherhood wears off in a sense. Now you're faced with the sleepless nights and the spit-ups, and the dirty diapers (In the most literary sense possible).

Basically, you'll be able to see the cracks in the whole when you step back. If you really get twitchy, start on something new, or a short story, something to keep your appetite whetted while you get that distance. Hope this helps!

CV

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Re: What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by Kristin » October 26th, 2011, 11:58 pm

I have been revising meticulously as I go. It is getting time consuming to go back through the whole thing (say, for consistency when something about a character or a part of the premise changes) now that the manuscript is longer, but I have to fill my cracks as I go. I don't think my advice should hold for everyone, or possibly anyone.
Last edited by Kristin on November 9th, 2011, 12:33 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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polymath
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Re: What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by polymath » October 27th, 2011, 12:02 am

A benefit of putting aside a writing project, perhaps a pivotal reason, is so the creative vision features still in the writer's mind are noticeably missing from the page. The writer knows the content so intimately that it's easy to make an assumption enough of it made it on to the page. It's not there as fully as the writer believes. Time and distance allows the writer to see the project, what's working and what's not, what's there that's artful, what's surperfluous, what's missing, from the audience perspective.

However, in a rhetorical context, knowing and appreciating audience response to a text is part of several principles for approaching revision. One, a top level rhetorical principle, that of kairos (the opportune moment), audience (discourse composed in appreciation of the target audience), and decorum (suiting the writing to the circumstances and the target audience). Those three are closely related if not inextricably connected to audience in both general and narrow senses.

Another related rhetorical principle: text, writer, and reader. That one's as much semiotics as it is rhetoric. Semiotics meaning signal, signaller, signifier, signified, and signallee, the way any given one either broadcasts intent and meaning or receives intent and meaning. In a sense, a writer is an encoder signalling signals, thus signifier of intent and meaning of a text. Readers are decoders, signallees interpreting signified intents and meanings of a text. What's signified. The text is, so to speak, fixed and immutable; however, intent and meaning are elusive, ephemeral, subject to interpretations other than a writer intends, considering any given word, phrase, or context may have an assortment of contextual meanings, some of which may be at opposite ends of a spectrum. And when context is too brief or incomplete, misinterpretation and miscues are likely.

That to me is the most productive use of a reader panel, critique partner, or writing workshop: audience testing response in order to discern intent and meaning dissonances.

However, I firmly believe a writer may enagage in productive revision without resorting to putting aside a project or reader panels. It's much, much more difficult to do revision on one's own initiatives though. Yet revision is much more rewarding to do on one's own. Personally, I find the degree of interference that reader panels input interferes with my creative vision. They're prone to assert too strong a control over my writing and in consequence steal ownership of my creation. Thus alienating me to the point I lose interest.

And, yes, putting aside a project is difficult to do while the imagination is hot. Again, though, revision at that stage becomes a matter of independently appreciating audience response on one's own initiative. I actually get more excited at that stage of the process because I'm seeing the whole picture more clearly and consequently have productive strategies for strengthening the creation.
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Re: What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by Rachel Ventura » October 27th, 2011, 12:19 am

Wow, polymath, I never thought of it that way (because I actually have no idea what a lot of those words even mean). :oops:

I'm thinking that when the time comes for me to edit a full work, I'll find a way to pay for a pro editor to have a look. I have a few services bookmarked, and their credits seem pretty good. Not fond of college professors or teachers to have a look, because they'd chop it apart for not being "literary" enough. :roll: I'd rather have someone professional who is nonetheless familiar with all different kinds of works, and doesn't turn up his/her nose because my author's voice doesn't have an underbite. :lol:

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Re: What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by CharleeVale » October 27th, 2011, 3:04 am

Rachel Ventura wrote:Wow, polymath, I never thought of it that way (because I actually have no idea what a lot of those words even mean). :oops:

I'm thinking that when the time comes for me to edit a full work, I'll find a way to pay for a pro editor to have a look. I have a few services bookmarked, and their credits seem pretty good. Not fond of college professors or teachers to have a look, because they'd chop it apart for not being "literary" enough. :roll: I'd rather have someone professional who is nonetheless familiar with all different kinds of works, and doesn't turn up his/her nose because my author's voice doesn't have an underbite. :lol:
Just as a head's up, I've been working my way through the archives of QueryShark, (www.queryshark.blogspot.com), and several times she has said that it might not be the best idea--and if you do do it, NEVER mention it in a query letter.

Generally novelists are expected to edit their novels themselves, because when you get assigned an editor at a publishing house and they send you the editorial letter, you're expected to sort through those suggestions and be able to implement the changes.

CV

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Re: What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by Hillsy » October 27th, 2011, 7:45 am

JustAnotherJen wrote:I've been writing my first "real" novel for what feels like at least 238 years.
OK, serious advice, though I add the disclaimer this is totally a personal thing and by my nature I'm quite self-critical, but.....

By first 'Real' novel I assume you mean something other than short stories, or writing exercises or false starts or whatever. And so I'd say drop it for, give or take, a year, or however long it takes to complete something else. Then I'd consider going back over it, but even then with a mind to novel three getting underway soon.

Slightly harsh, I know, but here's why.

1) You wanna write for a living someday, right? Then get cracking on something else ASAP. The best habit you can get into is one of writing and finishing projects, not tinkering endlessly with them.
2) 1st novels will often suffer from Identity crisis. I know when I went back to my 1st MS (after most of number 3 had been drafted out) It was like someone else had written it. I'd refined my style over the intervening books into something I was happy with, and so drafting MS No.1 became a more invasive, but ultimately more prodictive endeavour.
3) 1st Novels tend to be smothered with love. Kill your darlings - sound familiar? Let me tell you it's much easier when you've got another 2 books worth of darlings to fall back on.
4) And of course the break helps....writing other things will help you forget all the words you didn't put in the first draft of MS No.1
5) Oh, I just thought of a 5th. By writing and plotting other novels you'll get more practised and find new tools to solve problems in your first MS. Without writing something else, you might not develop the tools/solutions you need to fix the completed MS, therefore the problem will persist.

This is all stuff based on anecdotal stuff from blogs (agents and authors) as well as my own personal opinions of my first few meandering novels. If I'd revised MS No.1 after a few weeks, it'd still be appalling. At the moment it's just not very good......but hey, the first million words are all practise, right? 625k and counting...........

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Re: What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by poptart » October 27th, 2011, 7:56 am

Personally I'd say two weeks isn't long enough to leave a project. You need to get it out of your system if you want to review it with an objective eye. I'd suggest at least a month and during that time write or plan something else so you're not just obsessing about it.

If you've been working on this one for a long time, maybe you need a long break from it while you write something else?
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Re: What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by Sommer Leigh » October 27th, 2011, 9:17 am

I'm with everyone else on setting it aside and leaving it for a while. While everyone is different, I personally think this should be required of all manuscripts. You need that break to forget what you wrote. Your brain is a beautiful and efficient thing and when it remembers how a scene is supposed to read, you'll often read it that way even if that's not how it's actually written. When you give your brain a break and fill it with something else, when you go back you'll see those things that don't work more clearly than you would have otherwise.

And when it's no longer your "baby" it is easier to slash it to pieces. Time will divorce you of that sentimentality.

Time will also make critiques easier to accept. If it's not something you just finished, when you're still living in the glow of OMG I JUST FINISHED THIS NOVEL IT IS MINE AND IT IS BRILLIANT, hearing that it's not brilliant, not quite, can be devestating. When the manuscript no longer feels so precious and it's just that, a manuscript, taking criticism and implementing ideas feels more like part of the process and less like disecting your precious beautiful baby.

When I finish with a piece of writing, no matter how long or short or important, I put it aside for a while, usually about a month but I've gone longer, and I do something else that is not writing. I read a lot, usually things that are nothing like what I wrote, and I draw and paint or design a new website. I create something that is not writing because I love to create things and would never be able to stop, but I like working other parts of my creative brain, keep those parts strong too. It helps to stave off writing fatigue and allows me to be inventive in many ways, which I think inevitably makes my writing better. I hope.

Sometimes I will start work on writing something else, but not usually.
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Re: What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by dios4vida » October 27th, 2011, 12:02 pm

Agreed, especially with Sommer and Charlee. Time away is very good. It's so hard to see your mistakes when you're still close to the story and in love with the novel you've written.

That being said, I'm terrible at following this advice. I get antsy and I tend to jump in far too soon - usually after three days. Bad idea. I can tell you that from experience. The revising goes great for a while, you make notes on what to change and do change some, but then you get lazy and tired and then you end up doing nothing but tearing your hair out because one of two things happen:

1. You see no wrong in your novel, everything is perfect, though you know that can't be true (no one writes a perfect novel the first time around), or
2. You see no right in your novel, it's a ginormous piece of drivel, what a waste of time, you can never make this work.

(If you don't believe the second one, there's a thread buried on this forum where I bemoaned those exact traits of my last novel. It's trunked now.)

So - taking time off will be hard. You will give anything to go back to it. You wanna get this done! You can do it. You know you can have an objective eye and manage to get these edits done. It'll be okay.

NO IT WON'T! Step away now. Don't touch it. Do something else. Anything else. But seriously, do yourself a favor and wait on the revisions.
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Re: What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by MattLarkin » October 27th, 2011, 1:15 pm

JustAnotherJen wrote:Is it REALLY necessary to take a break (two weeks or so) from your novel before you begin revision?
I don't know that I'd call anything "REALLY necessary" since the process is very individual. But most people find it a good idea to step away. I believe between major revisions for my current project I've taken at least a month or so. And I do believe the novel has benefited from this.

It makes it easier to see what you wrote and not what you think you wrote. It allows new ideas time to percolate in the back (or front) of your mind.

We all understand the desire to complete a project you've been working on for a lot of years. But when you do publish it or start trying to find an agent, you'd rather have it be the best it can, right? This first novel will help shape your entire career. So if that extra month even might improve it a small amount, it's probably worth it.

Of course, that's just my feeling and experience. Your brain may work differently. Maybe you can just go right to the revision and do just as well.
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Re: What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by Sanderling » October 27th, 2011, 1:26 pm

As most of the others have already said - that time away really is necessary. Unless you're extremely objective and can look at your own work with a completely unbiased eye. And let's face it, how many of us are truly like that? We're either biased to think it's brilliant, or that it sucks, but we rarely can see it for what it is until we've put some time between us and its creation.

I'm on my fifth pass of revisions. It'd been nearly three months since the last time I looked at the manuscript (hadn't meant to leave it that long, but got caught up with other projects, projects with actual deadlines). I got to one point in the story where one character had said, "Give her over, or else." And I'm thinking... did I seriously write that? "Or else"? How corny is that? And yet it'd managed to make it through four passes of revision without me noticing it. I'd taken 4 to 6 weeks away from the manuscript after I finished it, and short breaks between each subsequent pass, but this was the first time I'd taken such a long break, and it really did help give me a clearer perspective on what I'd written.

If you're feeling the creative itch pushing you to get back to it sooner, perhaps try starting a new novel/project. It'll give you a creative outlet, plus it'll also be potentially productive.
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Re: What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by JustAnotherJen » October 27th, 2011, 7:14 pm

Thanks for all the responses everyone! It's good to know what other people are doing. I have some other projects already in the works, so I'll probably spend some quality time developing them a little more and give myself a break.

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Re: What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by Mike Dickson » January 6th, 2012, 2:38 pm

I took Holy Lisle class "How to Revise your Novel" to revise my first novel early last year. I had no idea how to revise to begin with so it helpd a lot.

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Re: What's Your Approach to Revision?

Post by guichizango » January 7th, 2012, 1:57 am

I agree with Hillsy, especially when it comes to a first novel. I know that once I finished my first novel, I thought there wasn't anything else I could add to it to make it better, or any way that I would change it. Then I had someone I trusted read the manuscript and they told me that it was one of the worst stories they'd read. I took the manuscript and shoved it in a corner (figuratively, since it was all on my computer), and I lived. I know that sounds weird, but I went off to college, I lived in a different country, I fell in love, etc, and then when I reopened the manuscript 5 years later, I was a different person with different perspectives. I was able to look at it and realize what was really missing and it took almost 6 months to completely rewrite it, but it turned out for the better. I would say, set it aside, work on something else and experience life. I always try to keep 2-3 stories going, so that once I'm done revising one, I can revise another and when I come back to it, it will seem completely new to me.

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