Tackling the Art of Revision

“to write is human, to edit is divine” – Stephen King, On Writing

Picture1It’s time to revise the second book in The Conjurors Series, and I must admit that I’m thrilled. Other than creating the plot outline of a story or series, my next favorite step in the writing process is editing. I love connecting the dots, deleting the excess baggage, and even fixing the grammar. It is a restful period after the mental weightlifting that is writing the first draft. Some days I edit a page or a scene, and others I make it through chapters at a time.

Being a creature who loves to research the best ways of doing everything, I began to look into the best way to approach the editing process. I was surprised to find that there wasn’t a lot of insight out there from my favorite authors, like J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and Cassandra Clare. I think maybe that’s because editing is an intensely personal process that is different for every writer.

I read a cool article in the Boston Globe about how the modernists changed the way that we edit today. Back in Shakespeare’s day, when there were no computers (or typewriters, for that matter), authors would put pen to page, write carefully, and call it a day. The modernists, like Hemingway and Eliot, would write and rewrite, sometimes 10-12 drafts. The end product often looked nothing like the original draft. As tempting as it is to want to go back to the days of writing well the first time, I suspect that the way writers think has fundamentally changed. We can’t go back to a simpler time, and I for one am going to embrace it.

What’s worked for me is first and foremost getting others to read my first draft. I had a lot of success with the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror when I wrote the first book in The Conjurors Series. For book two I have a trusted group of readers whose opinions I trust. Their advice is invaluable in helping me take my work to the next level at both a micro and macro level. They always think of things that would never have crossed my mind, no matter how carefully I edited my work.

I also focus on sections of the story that I know are crucial moments to make sure every word is just right.Then I look at the bigger picture, referring back to my outline to make sure all of the plot connections are in place and that my themes and mood are carried throughout the story.

I’m always on the lookout for new techniques, so let me know – what works best for you when you’re in editing mode?

12 thoughts on “Tackling the Art of Revision

  1. Pingback: Tackling the Art of Revision | writing | Scoop.it

  2. I’m a random nobody, but I thought I’d comment on this because the topic has been on my mind lately. I agree that revising is oddly satisfying. It’s easy to get a bit compulsive and spend hours tinkering. One thing I like to do after a few editing passes is print a copy and put the pen down. If I approach it with the mindset that I will enjoy it as a reader would, I find it’s easier to notice when something really pulls me out of the story. That way, I can identify places in the book that need attention.

      • Thanks. 🙂

        Something else I’ve been dying to try is recording myself reading out an excerpt to listen for spots that need improvement. I’ve heard that it’s useful for picking out awkward bits of language; wherever you stumble as you read, you need to tinker. It would be too time-intensive for an entire book, but I imagine it would work great for critically important parts like a first chapter.

    • I’ve found several sites that will actually read your book out loud for you. The one I use is called NaturalReader as is free…. you can choose to pay and get some extra features, but I find it more fun to listen to them read it while I follow along and fix any minor mistakes and highlight areas that have to be changed completely.

      I also agree about printing out smaller sections and editing by hand… sometimes getting away from technology helps get the creative juices flowing!

      • Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll check it out. I’m thinking of writing my next series by hand for the first draft, so that typing it up will be an intense second edit.

    • Yep! I tried the reading out loud technique today and it’s not nearly as time-consuming as I thought it would be. I read it myself, so when I listen to it, I do end up fixating a bit on my own failings as a reader. But one thing I didn’t expect is that I make small corrections almost unconsciously as I read. (e.g. I verbally delete repetition of names by replacing them with pronouns or change a few words for others that sound a bit better.) I’m going to try it again with some later chapters. Listening to the story is kind of fun.

      • I tried your technique with my opening chapter and it worked super well. I made some big time revisions after hearing the flow. You get a great sense for where the story drags. Thanks again!

  3. What I find the most challenging in my editing is keeping the timeline correct and s you may know when writing throughout a year, the events in page might seem months ago, but they might only have been yesterday for your characters. Thankfully I purchase Aeon Timeline and it literally saved my life and hours pf sweating over to figure out what happened when.

    • I’ve never heard of Aeon; I’ll have to check it out. But I ran across the same issue while writing the second book of my series. Keeping all the events straight over the course of a couple hundred thousand words is tricky!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.