I started to beat myself up about how often I print out what I’ve written in Cat Skinner, mark it up and then revise before moving ahead.
To check my sanity, I Googled “novel revision” to see what I could find. Am I procrastinating? Am I too much of a perfectionist – all the while knowing this historical novel of my father, Webster Warren Bateman’s early years in the 20’s and 30’s will never be perfect? Thankfully, I found I’m not losing my mind and what I’m doing is okay with the one exception – I need to keep writing new material.
Following are excerpts from Revision and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques that Transform Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells by author James Scott Bell. He suggests four ways to revise, some of which I’m already doing. And yes, I decided to buy the book.
Revise Your Previous Pages
Look at what you wrote the day before (or during your last writing stint), and do a quick edit. This practice puts you back into the flow of your story and gets you ready to write the new material.
I’ve been printing out a hard copy of all the chapters I’ve written and I agree with what Bell said: The act of reading physical pages more closely mimics what a reader will be doing, and I catch more things this way. He also suggests, Write as fast as you comfortably can on your first draft. My “fast” is everyone else’s slow.
Try the 20,000-Word Step Back
Whether you’re an NOP (No Outline Person) or an OP (Outline Person), the 20,000-word step back can be a tremendous tool. I’m an NOP; it’s in my head. I know where I want to go and I’m letting the stories determine how I get there.
I haven’t reached 20,000 words yet, but when I do here’s his advice: After 20,000 words you stop, take a day off, then read what you have. By this time your story engine should be running. You’ve done enough of the novel to know pretty much what it’s about. You then take some time to make sure you like the characters and the direction. If you don’t, make some changes now.
It seems I step back every day – as soon as I leave my computer. I’ll walk upstairs and something will dawn on me like: I need to flesh out the chores the women did in the hotel while making the characters more real. I go to bed thinking about the story and wake up at times, with new ideas.
Keep a Journal
The free-form journal is a great way to record notes for yourself as you go. Often, these notes will become fodder for your revision. Remember, that first draft is also an act of discovery. Don’t try to get it perfect the first go-around. Let it breathe. Then you’ll begin the process of cutting out all that isn’t your novel and adding more novel to it if you have to.
I’m not keeping a journal, but as ideas pop into my head, I jot them down and when incorporated (or not), check them off the list.
Take Advantage of All Your Tools
Writers today have a lot more tools available to them than ever before. It’s not just blue pencils anymore. Here are just a few that you can fine-tune for yourself.
The ones that follow are those I’m employing or plan to:
- Running Outline (Seems this would help with synopsis writing as well)
As you write your first draft, keep a running summary—an ongoing outline—of your story. I suggest you copy and paste your first couple of paragraphs from each chapter, and the last couple. Then put a summary statement of the action at the top of each, in all caps.Spreadsheets or Tables (Even though I’m not outlining, I’ll do this to keep track of scenes)
Some writers, almost always outline people, like to put their outlines in a spreadsheet or table. Then, using color coding and other markers, they can see the outline of their story, the characters involved, and a summary of the action, at a glance.
- Critique Groups (My writer’s group, Wordsmiths, serves this purpose and I’m asking certain people to read my drafts)
Many writers have benefited from critique groups, reader networks, and paid critiques. If you need that extra push, especially early in your career, a critique group can help. But make sure the following factors apply:
· Look for people you have a rapport with. Previous relationships help.
· Keep the group small. Four to seven, give or take.
· Give as much as you get. Make sure you give adequate time to everyone else.
· Establish realistic deadlines and stick to them.
· Make sure the people in the group understand the genre you’re writing in.
· Build trust. Check egos at the door.
· Be aware of the envy issue. It happens. If someone’s writing takes off, it’s going to cause some strain. Best to talk about this up front.
My goal for this weekend is to revise the 12,000 words I proofed two days ago and get on down the road to writing about Dad and his brother, Ray’s crazy experience as teens working for a traveling circus.