This is topic I need help... in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by JohnColgrove (Member # 9236) on :
Are there any books that can teach me how to revise? Reason I ask is because I honestly don't know how. Actually I do, but it involves starting from scratch. This will be my fifth time starting from scratch and I honestly do not want to do that again. I know which direction I want to go with the revision, but I draw a blank when it comes down to applying it. Any tips from my fellow writers?
Posted by EmilyS (Member # 9447) on :
"Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" by Renni Browne and Dave King is excellent (though perhaps it didn't all sink in for me on one read-through--my fault, not the book's!).

As for method, I like to work top down. So, start with story structure. Are there scenes missing, or scenes you need to cut? Then down to smaller story changes that need to work their way through the book (e.g. giving a character new motivation, changing something about the setting, bringing out a particular character trait, etc). Only after all the story-changing stuff is done, I go back and look at grammar-type editing. I like to keep a list of things I know need to be changed, and mark them off as I finish. That way, I can focus on smaller, more manageable portions without worrying I'll forget something.

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

Posted by KayTi (Member # 5137) on :
I like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, too.

I do a Stephen King-style review round. I print the whole darn thing out (once it's complete. Not before if I can avoid it.) I start from the beginning, and make notes directly on the page. I keep a front page or two of "make sure to go through and verify..." kinds of things - mostly consistency points, or character names, or some foreshadowing I did in chapter 1 that i want to check in chapter 10.

I read the whole way through, making notes the whole time. Then I go back to my digital file and start on page 1, processing through.

I will generally go back after I'm done with this one revision round and do some cleanup - some additional spellcheck, searching for words I overuse, a little bit of checking for adverbs and things, but mostly I try to read, revise once, tidy up, then go.

I also generally invite my first readers to read when I'm reading, so then I interleave their edits/suggestions/confusion points with my own as I'm doing the text editing.

While I write, I insert comments to myself about things I need to do, so when I'm doing my printout read, I take action on those things. If I tell myself I need to write a new scene wherever, I go wherever in the text and at least write the beginnings of the new scene there on that page (or the back or what have you) so that it's waiting for me when I begin typing in the edits.

If i might be so bold as to suggest...if you find yourself revising and revising one piece, you might be better served to just tidy it up, make sure it makes sense (you know, take out the comments you wrote to yourself or make sure to remove all references to that character you ended up killing off in chapter 2...) and just sending it out into the world to see what happens. And then write your NEXT book.

A lot of times we get caught up in knowing we haven't quite gotten it perfect with the story we are working on. But honestly, there is no perfect in writing. There really isn't, no matter what all the MFAs in Creative Writing and Literary Critics might say (who am I kidding? They'd be the FIRST to say this, as NOTHING is perfect in their eyes, right? lol)

So often the best thing for us as writers is to learn a few lessons with one book, and then move on and try to apply our lessons learned to a NEW book.

I know when I was first starting out I thought of my ideas as a limited thing, there were only so many of them, once I wrote those ideas down I'd be out of ideas. I was also afraid to write some stories because they were so important to me, I didn't want to screw them up!

I've learned since then that the idea fountain is infinite, so long as I keep reading and keep writing, my ideas keep coming (some times more than others, so I try to respect that natural flow and write in ways that suit me. I am a burst writer - I'll write a lot for a short period of time but then might not write much for a month or two after.) And if I find that I disappointed myself with the way I wrote something, I don't have to share it with a soul. And then the best part? I can write a whole new version if I like, or take a different spin and write it from a different POV or with a different overarching theme but same setting and primary conflict. We writers are all-powerful in our made-up worlds, we can do whatever we want. Learning that and knowing that I could always write it again has helped me tremendously.

Good luck to you!

Posted by LDWriter2 (Member # 9148) on :
I have the self editing book also. It has some good stuff in it.

But the way I revise is to reread the story and as I go over it to look for places I goofed up on. Bad grammar, lines that don't make sense, something I didn't clarify, or extra words that aren't really needed or phrases that were left out. That type of thing. Sometimes I change a sentence to something I think sounds better. Notice I said I think. These days I really don't know if half of those types of changes really improve the writing or make it worse. But I take a chance anyway because some of my original sentences are lousy.

There's a term for completely rewriting a story from scratch and even though I forget what it is right now, it isn't revising.

Posted by Jeff Ambrose (Member # 9437) on :
Best revision advice I ever got: DON'T REVISE.

Once you finished, just spell-check, send it, and get on to the next project.

Why? Because revision depends on understanding deep story principles, and the only way you learn those is by writing new stuff, not rehashing the old. Once you begin to understand deep story principles, you'll begin to see how to fix your stories. But it's a natural process that comes with writing new stuff.

I've found this to be completely true. It was hard for me to trust that this might be the case, but once I stopped revising my work, I saw VAST improvements in my writing.

I still don't revise once I finish a story, but I'm beginning to see the gaps in my story, and now my process is to cycle back through my MS as I write making changes as I push forward with the story. But once the story is finished, I don't mess with it. I spell-check and proof read, then send it out or publish myself, and move on to the next project.

It's a very freeing and wonderful way to write, and I learned more in eight weeks writing this way than I did in eight months.

Posted by BenM (Member # 8329) on :
I'd put in a plug for regular critiquing, as it'll help you see what makes other stories work or fail, but then... this is free advice on the internet, you get what you pay for, and your mileage may vary. ;)
Posted by Wordcaster (Member # 9183) on :

Gulp -- I could never get by without revision. Every writer is different.

I'm doing a rewrite on my novel right now - but I hope to never do it again. Revisions, of course. Rewrites, hopefully not. There were just too many plot turns/revisions that required a complete rewrite. Five rewrites sounds quite excessive.

I haven't read the self-editing book, but I think I'll check it out too. I revise the same way LDWriter mentions

[This message has been edited by Wordcaster (edited March 21, 2011).]

Posted by Owasm (Member # 8501) on :
The self editing book is a great one. There are others that talk about revisions.

My own method is to go through a draft after you've written it and fix the obvious errors: spelling, grammar, switching names, etc. Then I let it SIT for a week or two. It's important to get distance from a draft so you can look at it from a more objective view. If you start your content revisions too soon, you will find your mind filling in gaps in your writing with what you were thinking and that won't help the reader.

With a novel, you need to let it sit longer.

Posted by shimiqua (Member # 7760) on :
I have the same problem. I think part of it might be, at least for me, psychological. My last novel is brilliant, totally publishable, best seller worthy, only I just need to tweak a few things before I sent it out into the world.

But if I don't ever tweak those final dots, then I never have to send it out there and find out it's not as good as I hope and pray and secretly believe it is.

For me, I think perhaps the best way to finally get the thing pretty, is to try to fool myself. Maybe I can find and replace my main characters name with something I hate, like Barney, or Dummy, PLACE HOLDER, and then I can work on those little story fixing things knowing full well no one is going to read this with such a blaring error, and then maybe when I'm as close to finished as I can get I'll have my husband find and replace the main dude's name.

I think that is actually a really good plan. Feel free to use it if your malady is similar to my own.

Posted by Jeff Ambrose (Member # 9437) on :
@ shimiqua

Do you really think those little tweaks are going to help you sell the novel? I doubt it. If it's a brilliant as you say, then an editor will see that brilliance, buy it, and then help you tweak it even more.

So: Send it out and get on to the NEXT project.

Posted by LDWriter2 (Member # 9148) on :

The No Revision people have a point. Some writers spend ten times as long revising as they did writing it. They never get it right. And it's been proven that too many revisions can spoil the writing. You lose you for one thing.

A few people seem to need a revision or two though. For me, my most successful stories had, at the most, three revisions. Well, one may have had four...I'm not totally sure after all this time. The one story that sold had no more than three. I expect it could be the same for novels.

No story with five to ten revisions has even come close to selling. So even though it looks like I am one of those who need to revise, it also looks like its a very low number of times.

Posted by KayTi (Member # 5137) on :
You didn't ask for this but I'm going to offer it (as previous poster said, it's free advice on the internet, take it for what it's worth, lol), but Sheena - I saw this and:
My last novel is brilliant, totally publishable, best seller worthy, only I just need to tweak a few things before I sent it out into the world.

Want you to send it out into the world. Pretty pretty please? Because honestly, I think you will surprise yourself.

I took a novel I'm happy with, but wrote 3+ years ago to a novel marketing workshop in the fall. I can tell you all kinds of things that are wrong or weak about the novel. I know which parts I was just making things up, where I totally lobbed a softball to my main character, how I didn't really put her through the wringer (though as a 14 year old new to the space station high school, she did accidentally show her underwear to the entire classroom once. If that's not putting a 14 year old through the wringer I'm not sure what is, as it's easily the worst thing that can happen to the "new girl" at school!)

But you know what? The feedback at the marketing workshop was universal - good work, very marketable, send it out pronto!

I wish I could tell you the happy ending where I've been contacted by my first choice publisher and am now entertaining high 6 figure advances...but, alas, that's now how the story plays out just yet, but I did put it out there, and now that I've spent another 6 months writing and reading about trends in the industry, I'm ready to epublish it myself. It's the kind of book I just *want young people to read!* Particularly 10-15 year old girls. The dorky geeky awkward ones who aren't really sure of themselves yet.

So, join me! Be brave! Make whatever minor changes your brain just won't let you go without making, and then....pooooooof, send it out!

Good luck!

Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
You know, there is one book you might consider, even if you don't believe in revising much at all.

Stephen King, if I remember correctly, recommended cutting the first draft by 10 percent, to tighten the prose up, and Ken Rand's The Ten% Solution can tell you how to do that.

Posted by MAP (Member # 8631) on :
I really don't get the don't revise idea. If it works for you that is great, I'm not arguing with it. Every writer's process is so different, but I just know it would never work for me.

I just don't understand why you would send a story out into the world when you know it has problems and can easily fix them or give up on a story when a few tweaks is all it needs. But I'm sure some people write really good first drafts so if it works for you that is great.

Am I the only one here who actually likes revising? I struggle with the first draft, but once I have the bare bones of the story down, I just love turning the story into the vision in my head. To me it is just fun, the best part of writing.

To the OP, I just make a list of all the plot points that need to be fixed. Start from the beginning and fix them. Not sure if that is helpful, but it works for me.

Holly Lisle has great advice on revising.

see here.

ETA: I think getting feedback is an important part of revising. You need to make sure your story makes sense to someone other than you. It doesn't have to be a fellow writer, but it does need to be a thoughtful reader. Most writers are thoughtful readers, so if you don't know anyone in real life, try to find someone here.

[This message has been edited by MAP (edited March 22, 2011).]

Posted by micmcd (Member # 7977) on :
The Don't Revise mantra logically conflicts with my mantra that allowed me to get within epsilon of finishing a book I think is genuinely good enough to publish (for the first time): Give yourself permission to write badly. If that last chapter sucked, you don't have to fix it before you go on. Just go on - maybe you won't need that chapter anyway, or something will come to you later.

I intend to revise and shrink my book as much as possible (it's too long by more than a factor of 2) before first submissions to agents and publishing houses. I don't intend to stop writing new material while I'm doing this, but I can't imagine not revising. I had an outline of plot to follow before I fleshed everything out, but there are plenty of major decisions I made in the middle of a sentence - often simply because it just felt right while I was writing it, and I was happy with the result.

If I ever tried to go with "Don't revise," it would have to be accompanied by "Don't finish," and I'm happy to have left that one behind years ago.

I do agree with one part of the DR ethos - if you just keep revising and revising, you'll never become a good writer. Revise once, twice, thrice if that's your thing. Go after it with an axe, then a scalpel to tighten your prose. But have a limit. Measure your progress. At some point, you have to "ship it" (I'm a software guy), or you have to accept that it's just a dead product. I have killed three books, with one remaining in limbo, some as large as 100,000 words, because I realized they would never be good enough. They were all learning experiences, though, and if I hadn't moved on, I'd never be as close as I am today to something I have a sliver of hope I'll be able to announce on this forum as a success story in the future.

I'd say DRI: Don't Revise Indefinitely. Declare your revision runs beforehand, schedule them, and then make it happen. As I'm writing this, I can't help but hear echos of the "Agile" development process in my words. Damn... it appears corporate has indoctrinated me after all.

Posted by Meredith (Member # 8368) on :

I'd say DRI: Don't Revise Indefinitely. Declare your revision runs beforehand, schedule them, and then make it happen. As I'm writing this, I can't help but hear echos of the "Agile" development process in my words. Damn... it appears corporate has indoctrinated me after all.

There's a paradigm: Rapid Applicaion Development for novels.

ETA: Actually, after it sank in a minute, I like that idea very much. And it's pretty close to what I do. Just goes to show, you never know where a piece of learning is going to turn out to be useful.

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited March 22, 2011).]

Posted by shimiqua (Member # 7760) on :
The novel I just finished is my fourth novel, and every novel is better than the preceding one.

I think I'm in the don't revise camp, only I'm not yet a good enough writer to be in that camp on a publication level without at least a second draft. I kinda think if I just keep writing novels, eventually a novel will come out good enough that I won't need to revise. Wouldn't that be awesome!

Either way though, I think it is about time I send these puppies out to market.

Thanks KayTi for the go for it comments. I think I might just stick a few toes in the water and see what happens.

Posted by Jeff Ambrose (Member # 9437) on :
MAP said:

I just don't understand why you would send a story out into the world when you know it has problems and can easily fix them or give up on a story when a few tweaks is all it needs. But I'm sure some people write really good first drafts so if it works for you that is great.

Where did I say to send a broken story out into the world? My only point was that, in my experience, revision depends on understanding story at a deep level, and the only way you get to that level is by writing story after story after story.

Also, I said that I don't revise once I finish a story. But I do revise as I write the story. I cycle through a story as I write, retracing my steps, fixing things as I go along.

I don't know of any writer in the "no revision" camp that sends out broken stories -- or that advocates sending out broken stories. We just believe that our creative/story-telling brain knows what it's doing and we trust it implicitly.

Posted by MAP (Member # 8631) on :
@ Jeff

You should have read my post more carefully.

I just don't understand why you would send a story out into the world when you know it has problems and can easily fix them or give up on a story when a few tweaks is all it needs. But I'm sure some people write really good first drafts so if it works for you that is great.

I never meant to imply that you specifically sent out broken stories. I'm sure you're just write really good first drafts which it sounds like you do since you revise along the way.

I should have said "I" instead of "you" since I would be sending out broken stories if I followed your advice. I know it is not true for everyone.

I'm sorry if I insulted you, that was not my intent.

I just think that every writer has to figure out what works best for them. We are all different, and there is no one size fits all.

Posted by Jeff Ambrose (Member # 9437) on :
@ MAP -

No offense taken, and of course, I didn't mean to offend.

But this is an issue CLOSE to my heart. For ten years I went nowhere with writing because I followed the "standard" advice: write the first draft, revise, workshop, revise, workshop, etc. etc. I didn't write more than a few months at a time, I was so fed up with it all.

And then one day last May I read Dean Wesley Smith's blog. The whole thing. Every post. And he said over and over not to revise, to trust your creative brain. And I thought to myself: You know, you've tried it one way and it hasn't worked, so try it this way and see what happens.

And *everything* changed.

So I guess if I have blinders on when it comes to this issue, and whenever I see someone worried about revision, I see my old self struggling and limping along, and I probably get more than a little passionate about it.


Posted by LDWriter2 (Member # 9148) on :
Wow, Jeff that took some time to read every post. He has some long ones. And the comments are usually twice as least.

But Dean has been saying that for years and believes he can prove which he does during at least one of his workshops. Online I've talked to people who have taken those workshops. He also has stated that there are no rules, each writer is different. That is why I think I need a couple revisions which seems to play out in my small experience with selling.

[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited March 23, 2011).]

Posted by LDWriter2 (Member # 9148) on :
A PS on my comments on an earlier post about my writing and revising.

My latest HM at WotF was revised four and a half to five times. But it could have been less. I say that because the third and fifth time I didn't change much.

Could that story have gone further with more revisions? I have no way of knowing. There are other factors involved with the process besides good writing evidently.

But I do know that that was my fifth HM and that none had more than five revisions and that none of my stories which had been revised six to ten times have every gotten even a HM-that included revisions done with help from people on other writing sites. I have sent in a lot more than five of those stories. That isn't absolute proof of course but it seems to fit in with other experiences .

So I tend to agree with Dean even though each writer has to find out what works for them. And I believe there is a limit to how many times you should revise.


Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
I don't think anybody mentioned Strunk and White---The Elements of Style. Title is misleading---some consider it the only sane book on English grammar ever written. You read it, internalize its rules on grammar and writing, and revise accordingly. (One of these days I should reread my copy.)
Posted by Jeff Ambrose (Member # 9437) on :
@ LD -- Yeah, there's a lot on Dean's blog, but it was May 2010, so there wasn't as much as there is today -- nothing about ebooks or being your own publisher.

While I agree that each writer is different, I believe that writers have to learn whether they're rewriters or not. I think it's fundamentally wrong to assume that every writer needs to rewrite, and I believe that most (if not ALL) beginning writers will do tons better by just writing, finishing, submitting, and forgetting about rewriting altogether -- at least for the first 50 stories.

Case in point: Brandon Sanderson. He rewrites his books five or six times ... and yet, if you listen to enough of the Writing Excuses podcast, he came to his rewriting process by NOT rewriting at first.

So I stand by my very first statement -- namely, that revision depends upon understand story on a deep level, and the only way you get to that deep level is by writing story after story after story. The more you write WITHOUT revision at the beginning, the faster you'll get to the point where you understand story on a deep level. And once you get to that point, you'll know what needs to be revised and what doesn't.

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
Right now I revise extensively...but that's different than what I did way back, or even recently. I started with rough-draft-final-copy...moved for a couple of years into one-draft-only...moved back into rough-draft-final-copy...when word processors came into my life I wrote one draft and revised that...the revisions got more nitpicky...then I took to retyping everything once and then revising the draft (kind of like moving rough-draft-final-copy into the computer era)...then my nitpicky stuff started taking advantage of the ability of a word processor to search for this or that.

Brush away the word processing and the nitpicky stuff, and I'm kind of writing things the way I've (almost) always done. Ultimately, your way of writing will evolve over the course of your writing experience---if you keep at it.

Posted by posulliv (Member # 8147) on :
Are there any books that can teach me how to revise?

Here's one I found useful:

_Revision, A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction_, by David Michael Kaplan.

This book seems to be out of print, and I recommend it with some reservations.

1) Its focus is on literary fiction, where structure and language often trump story. He isn't worried about revising the magic of story out of the manuscript. His approach seems to engineer the magic into the manuscript.

2) The author uses his own work as examples. The examples are the sort of thoughtful and evocative stories one would study in university or read in The Atlantic. I don't often read this type of story, however I could tell that his revisions made the stories better. He takes great pains to be logical and clear, and since he knows not only what he wrote, but what he was thinking when he wrote it, it may be the best way to teach revision.

I found this book to be both useful and dangerous. It covers revision at all levels, from overarching theme to single word, and it does so in a clear and organized way. It made me want to revise and revise and revise.

It does not, in my opinion, settle the question of whether to revise, or how much to revise. I've had to figure that out through trial and error. Mostly error.

I'm now in the "check for typos and ship it" camp because I believe it helps me develop faster as a writer and produce more and better work. This book helped me understand the reviser's arguments and techniques, and it helped me explore revision in a methodical way. By understanding what one goes through to revise I can consider those techniques while writing, and work to achieve similar results with less need to revise. That's my theory, anyway.

[This message has been edited by posulliv (edited March 23, 2011).]

Posted by Grayhog (Member # 9446) on :
Lots of good stuff in this thread,thanks.

I'm revising my novel now and read scores of books on writing. You might find Sol Stein on Writing beneficial. Here's a link: 0312254210/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_1

His chapter on revision gave me a novel approach [ha, no pun intended] to revising as "triage." It's a notable book and he's a talented editor so your library should have it.

I've found it excellent way to revise my manuscript. It involves dealing with the big concerns versus going through page by page which so many writers do. Here are the life/death concerns he mentions in triage:

1 - character problems
2 - Evaluate most memorable scenes
3 - motivation - 3 most important actions of novel

Then approach general revision - lots of good advice here.

Good luck


[This message has been edited by Grayhog (edited March 23, 2011).]

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