Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Novel Revision Process: Becoming Friends With That Red Pen

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been three weeks since I finished writing my second novel! Since then it’s been on to revising. Sitting down with the huge stack of paper that is your manuscript can be kind of daunting, but it’s also really cool to hold  that near-ream of paper and realize that you wrote that, that everything on those pages is a result of all of those hours of writing. So after all the writing, comes all the revising. Finding the best red pen is key here for all the marking up you’re going to be doing (Pentel Sign Pen being my favorite).

Electronic v. Paper revision

For my first novel, I didn’t print out a first draft, choosing instead to edit it all on the computer. I saved pushing print until I had gone through and made all of those changes to save some trees. For this second one, however, I’ve decided to sacrifice the forest (something I always feel guilty about—sorry, trees!) and I printed out all those imperfect first-draft pages. So I’ve been slowly taking my red pen to them and revising, and I must say I’ve been enjoying doing that so much more. 

It’s easier to see the words on the page and flip around and see the bigger picture, for me at least. And I can scribble lots of notes around on the page and play with word choices without actually going in and making the changes. It also allows me to write longer notes in the margins and at the end of chapters on things I want to tweak and incorporate.

The best thing will probably be getting in that secret extra round of editing when I go in to make the changes on the computer in Scrivener (the MOST amazing writing tool ever..more on that another time). Just getting that extra pass over it and having the whole thing fresh in my mind again before actually making the changes I think will go a long way.

So there are definitely perks to the electronic revision process, but right now I’m really enjoying being able to hold those pages in my hands and stack them up. Seeing all the red marks and notes scribbled on the page makes me feel like I’m really making tangible progress too.

The cool thing though is how little it’s changing, even throughout the revision process. All the ideas and scenes are kind of there so far and I’ve just been doing minor edits that I didn’t bother to take the time to do while writing because they would slow down the flow of ideas. Which brings me to writing v. revising:

Writing v. Revising 

I am generally biased toward the process of writing and don’t think of myself as particularly keen on editing. I’d much rather just get the ideas out and enjoy the process of creating rather than the technical nit-pickey editing process. I usually think of writing as the fun part and the revising as the work. For my first book I really didn’t spend too much time editing.

But of course, this novel is different (hopefully better as it comes with two more years of life and experiences) and what I’ve found is that I really have been enjoying the revising process. It’s really cool to be able to change things and to realize you aren’t limited to keeping what’s on the page. You can tear out whatever you want and add things that may be more true to who the characters developed to be in the end. Plus, I am very detail-oriented, so editing is something that comes naturally.

Also the difference now is a change in my frame of mind. Rather than thinking of revision as a way to fix all the mistakes from the first round, I’m approaching it as a way to improve and really make this the best that it can be. It’s a cool opportunity to be able to tweak that dialogue to say what it did in my mind the first time, or to add an extra scene that might develop the characters or reveal some back-story in an important way. So it’s kind of fun in its own way. Kind of like you’ve almost solved a puzzle and if you can just fit the final pieces together you’ll reveal this beautiful picture.

But then of course there are the other rounds of editing. And the beta readers. And more editing. So by then the pieces get jumbled up a bit more and need rearranging again. But hey, as Anne Lamott said in her book on writing, Bird by Bird (which you should read), you’ve just got to take it "bird by bird."*

(*The explanatory quote from Bird by Bird: "Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said. 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'")

What’s your revision process like? What are you working on now? What have you found particularly helpful (or not) while revising? I’d love to hear!

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  1. Someone gave me Bird by Bird years ago, and I have read part of it but never made it all the way. But I have never had problems engaging in writing like some have, and the blank page inspires rather than frightens me.

    I have to say how very proud I am of you to be managing so much at one time. When you get done editing this second book please give yourself some downtime that is not filled with cupcakes and instead is filled with perfection to take care of you!

    I don't follow many other students from my classes, but I have loved following you and seeing everything you are doing. You are inspiring.

  2. Thanks so much for the comment! I really appreciate you checking out my blog and reading my posts :)


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