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Author Topic: How much revising is too much?
EmilyS
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I’m having trouble deciding what I need to be doing with my novel, so I’m hoping for some advice.

I finished the first draft in December, and I’ve been working on revisions since (with a couple weeks of resting around Christmas). I started with larger-scope stuff, plot structure and story issues, then moved to smaller-scale line editing. Unfortunately, I didn’t do a very thorough job on the line edit, and afterward realized there were all sorts of things I forgot to look for (plus, it’s still too long). So I started another revision.

I’m planning on getting a few readers to help critique it, and I know I’ll have to do at least one more revision after that, so I’m wondering if I should stop revising, let it rest awhile, and finish the line edits after I have a few readers look at it.

I’m guessing the answer is yes, so my related questions: How long should it rest? And would it be counterproductive to work on the sequel while letting it rest? My plan was to work on that next, but I’m worried it will keep me too close to the story.


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MartinV
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Write down ideas for any story as they come. Don't think about where or how to use them, just jot them down. I can't tell you how many times I got an idea right before going to sleep and saying to myself "This one I'm sure to remember until morning." Yeah, sure.

Letting the WIP sleep for a bit is a good idea. Giving it to someone to read is even better. You can do both things at the same time. Here at http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum2/HTML/000233.html we exchange chapters of our stories. I don't edit my chapters as reviews and opinions come in. Instead I keep working on chapters people haven't seen yet. When those are done, I will return to those reviewed chapters and modify them. The alternative is that I modify the first chapter over and over and in the meantime the rest of the story stagnates.
You can join our group if you wish.

Bottom line: until you are willing to show you story to the world, you will not progress with your story or your writing skill. Sometimes people will simply shread your story in pieces, leaving you with a broken heart. It's part of the process so get over it as soon as possible. You might want to kill some people but in the long run you will thank them.

[This message has been edited by MartinV (edited March 18, 2011).]


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History
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I'm sure others may be more knowledgeable than I in answering your questions. I can only share my experience and advice.

1. Put down the novel for three months [or a minimum of six weeks at least]--whatever it takes to get yourself away from thinking about it. Write something else. Possibly something completely different than the novel [I wrote/am writing short stories--even flash stories]. When enough time has passed, you will be able to return to your novel with fresh set of eyes.

2. Yes. Get multiple readers (as many as willing) for prooftexting and for critique of your novel. This is invaluable for finding wrong/misspelled words, grammar and punctuation errors, extra spaces, etc. Comments on what your test readers like, don't like, where they are confused, or bored, are all very helpful. [Note: don't make changes based solely on their comments--only the ones you believe have merit. It's your story].

3. If you have the discipline (and time), keep writing. It's an old but true adage: Practice makes perfect.
As you gain in skill at word-crafting, this will only benefit you when you return to your novel for final revision.

4. Don't over-revise to the point your inspiration at initial creation is lost from your words.

It's been a little over 6 months since I finished THE KABBALIST, and I am only now finding I can return with a completely fresh set of eyes. I've had a few who have read the entire novel. (I could use more.) However, I've had a a large number who have read the first few chapters, and they have been of great help. Their comments and criticisms I believe will be applicable to the entire manuscript as I go through it.

In the interim I've written or begun a number of short stories, and even published one flash. Everything helps.

In July I hope to return to my protagonist from the novel and move that story forward. If you are writing a series, take heart that Jim Butcher wrote the first three novels of his best-selling Dresden series before finding an agent. Keep writing and have fun.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob



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Meredith
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Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. And the shelved manuscript. It doesn't sound like you're in danger of over-editing yet, but it really can happen.

First, you have to find what works for you. Everybody's ideal way of writing is a little different. That said, I'll tell you what I would do.

After a first draft (which I just finished on SEVEN STARS) I let the manuscript rest for about a month so I can see it with fresh eyes. (I will jot down ideas that come to me, but I won't actually revise the ms.)

During this time I work on something else. Another novel, short stories, world building for a new idea. Anything except that story.

Then I do a second draft. This is because I know from experience that there are things I will have left out of the first draft. I tend to write first drafts fairly quickly. Plus. I'm a discovery writer so there will be things I discovered late in the story that need to be foreshadowed, etc.

It sounds like this is approximately where you are now.

After the second draft (which for me may also involve multiple passes) I find some readers. There's a chapter exchange group here on Hatrack that I haven't tried yet or you can sometimes get someone to do a one-on-one exchange. I let it rest from my end again while it's being read.

Once again, I work on something else.

Then I thank the critiquer(s) and incorporate whichever suggestions I think work. You don't have to accept all of them, but you should at least think about all of them.

Then, you guessed it, I let it rest again. But this time I work on things like the query and synopsis. If I've made major revisions, I may seek another reader or two.

Then a final polishing edit and start sending it out.

I wouldn't recommend working on the sequel for two reasons. The first is because it won't let you get your head out of this story enough to come back to it with fresh eyes. The second is that, frankly, if the first story doesn't sell (and, trust me, that happens), what are your chances of selling the sequel? Better to jot down the ideas for the sequel and start on something entirely new.

Good luck.


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MartinV
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Just today I made a major change in the plot of my current story due to the recent synopsis I've written for a competition here on Hatrack. So even that can change the story.
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Foste
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This might be hard to do, but don't obsess over it, you'll only edit it to tatters. I agree with Meredith - let it rest a month or two, get busy with something else and check it out later.

I usually run a story twice through general revisions before I let it rest and do the fine nitty-gritty stuff.


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EmilyS
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I have actually let some people read it – my mom, my sister, and my husband. They're just not writers.

So I guess this is the new question: if I need to let it rest & get it critiqued, is it possible to do both at the same time? Seems like a bad idea to collect feedback and not look at it until the story's done resting.


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izanobu
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If I have to make a major change in a novel or short story just to get the story to work, I start over. It'll be better written from scratch than if I try to go in and stitch parts together and "fix" it.

Otherwise, all my stuff gets read by first readers, I fix any minor issues (why are her shoes gone in the next chapter when she clearly put them on before? that sort of thing) and do a typo/spelling check. Done. Write the next thing.

That's what works for me, anyway. I find I just muck stuff up and get mad at myself if I try to edit more than this (and it stops me from writing new stuff, which is where I'll be doing the bulk of improving anyway since rewriting is *not* writing).

There are, of course, other schools of thought


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Meredith
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quote:
I have actually let some people read it – my mom, my sister, and my husband. They're just not writers.
So I guess this is the new question: if I need to let it rest & get it critiqued, is it possible to do both at the same time? Seems like a bad idea to collect feedback and not look at it until the story's done resting.

A reader doesn't absolutely have to be another writer. (Although, we will normally pester you about things other readers might not even notice, like dialog tags. ) But friends and family in general aren't going to really pull it apart and sometimes, painful as it is, that's exactly what you need.

It is absolutely possible, even recommended to do both at the same time. It just depends on how the reading is being done. With a chapter exchange, I normally do the edits as soon as I have (all of) the critiques back for that chapter. Also, chapter exchanges take longer, on the whole to get through the whole book.


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izanobu
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Are you writing for writers? Or readers? My first readers aren't writers. I want readers to read my stuff because they will notice things that readers notice and not get hung up on nitty stuff like dialog tags (and if they do get hung up on the dialog tags, I've done something REALLY wrong since readers shouldn't notice your punctuation or style other than to want to keep reading it). But my aim with my fiction is for general appeal, not literary brilliance. So it depends on what you want.

I'd say anyone who can give you honest feedback as a reader is a good person to have read. That might be a writer, it might not.


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Natej11
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For my part I tend to write like a demon, burn myself out, need to take a break, and then get back to it gradually. By the time I finish a manuscript taking a break from it isn't a luxury but a necessity or I'll start hating it .

For your first revision I would advise concentrating on the story as a whole: its structure, its flow, its timeline, its characterization, details, world-building, etc. Make sure it's written engaging and descriptive from start to finish before you get to the important but close-view things like grammar and spelling. Which isn't to say you shouldn't correct any mistakes you see, but don't make it a priority.

Unfortunately this is usually the revision where you have to pull teeth, identifying the stuff that doesn't work or bogs down the pace and cutting it out. I usually copy this stuff into another document since it might have flavor for the world or the characters that I can toss in later or at least mention.

Best luck with your revision .


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Robert Nowall
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Usually, I go through two drafts typing from scratch and then pasting the second one into a new file and doing nitpicky revisions on the text. (The last one I finished went through three drafts---I interpolated too much new material and thought it needed another going-over.) However, this constant revision gets to be like chewing used gum---all the fun is long gone.

I've been thinking about cutting down on the nitpicking---many fine writers leave things in their text that I remove.

(Also, I usually let it sit awhile between drafts---a pathetic attempt to gain some perspective on things.)


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JamieFord
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If you over-edit the book can really die a death of a thousand cuts.

What I'd do is let it sit for a few weeks, just a few, but then just rework the first 50 pages. Have a few choice readers crit the first 50, etc. Don't jump into the sequel. Don't revise the whole thing. Make the first 50 SING! If the first few chapters aren't drawing readers in, revising the other 300+ pages won't matter.


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Robert Nowall
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That reminds me...my "revised" stuff runs from just over five thousand words (the last thing I finished) up to twenty-five thousand.

Novel-length eludes me, with my last attempt aborting at just over one hundred thousand words. Unrevised words.

(I dread the thought of revising a novel the way I've been doing shorter stuff, actually...)


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Meredith
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quote:
That reminds me...my "revised" stuff runs from just over five thousand words (the last thing I finished) up to twenty-five thousand.
Novel-length eludes me, with my last attempt aborting at just over one hundred thousand words. Unrevised words.

(I dread the thought of revising a novel the way I've been doing shorter stuff, actually...)


Robert, you just chop the novel up into chapters and revise them one at a time. Comes out not so very different.


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Brendan
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quote:
But friends and family in general aren't going to really pull it apart and sometimes, painful as it is, that's exactly what you need.

Not always. When my brother was around 9, he wrote a note to my parents detailing why he was running away. My father, a high school English teacher, corrected the spelling and gave it back to him. It took three revisions before my brother decided that it was too hard to run away, if you couldn't even get the note right. Now that is one of those true stories that I might use somewhere in my fiction.

[This message has been edited by Brendan (edited March 20, 2011).]


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LDWriter2
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Brendan
You could use that story in a non-fiction setting. There are magazines and web sites that want true stories. Some like them to have a humorous slant to the story like yours.

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Robert Nowall
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My last story had what seemed like a beginning, middle, and end...the action took place over the space of a couple of days...there was stuff that happened before (running from a little past now to about four hundred thousand years from now), and stuff after (running beyond to an indefinite end)...but none of it was anything I particularly wanted to write or read. I can't pad things out to make a novel---unless it comes naturally.
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