Revision Decisions

I’m a non-traditional writer, who doesn’t follow a specific writing process or has ever declared, “I’d die if I couldn’t write.” My muse is most likely an old, witty, drunken fool, disgruntled about age or lack of funds. Or maybe I’m confusing it with my guardian angel. Anyways, I don’t have a set writing practice; I do what works for me at the time. This probably isn’t the best thing to do, but alas, it’s how I roll.

When I became involved in writing forums, I would get nervous about not having certain “bonds” that supposedly make us writers. I thought if I don’t have these “writerly” traits, then maybe I’m not really a writer. After a while, I realized that we’re all different. Saying I don’t have a muse doesn’t make me less of a writer than those who have one.

Each book I’ve written has gone through different processes. My first book was a mess with no outlines. After writing the first draft of my second book, I created a document with a cast of characters and another with chapter summaries. While I wrote my current manuscript, I created a fact sheet with the main plot, characters, and chapter summaries, highlighting particulars. From one novel to the next, I’ve learned to make things a bit easier when it comes to details. It would be embarrassing if I described a character having blonde hair at the beginning of the book, and somehow s/he turned into a brunette. Heck, the writing process in itself is a learning experience.

A big learning experience for me are the dreaded revisions; they’re THE worst part of writing and the most rewarding. When I started to revise, I found the task grueling, having to figure out what needs improvement. A rewrite here, a slash there, and peppering details on this character or that setting. Sentence dissection. Then I’d rewrite a sentence, only to notice I used that descriptive word fifteen times already. Not only do I have to work on the writing, but move parts of the story from earlier to later or vice versa. It’s exhausting. Nevertheless, witnessing a paragraph, chapter, and eventually the book transform into something beautiful is the ultimate reward. Of course, I will admit that none of my books are error free, but I put in the time and money to shape them into a professional read.

Many non-writers don’t know the extensive steps it takes to get a book from point A to point B. I’ve had several discussions with friends and family about the writing process, and many didn’t know it entailed so many drafts. My sister would even say, “Just publish it.” Because not many understand what’s involved in writing a book, I thought I’d go through a few drafts of my books to demonstrate the changes. It’s actually the first time I visited these drafts since publications.

For fun, I wrote my first novel, Net Switch, in 2008 during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). At the time, I was working full-time, a month to complete it, so the results were disastrous. I struggled with the drafts, because I had no clue what I was doing, working with an editor who kept switching it from first to third POV. Below is a screen capture of the original first few paragraphs in their horrifying state. Just click on the picture to enlarge it and then hit the backspace to return to the main post.ns_origialThis next picture is the first revision of Net Switch. As you can see, it changed a lot from the original. The main change being the narrator. She changes from talking to the reader, to talking to someone in the story. This draft also has more description to set the tone. ns_firstIn the final draft, I added quotes to demonstrate that the narrator is talking to someone, and then I separated those with the narrator’s thoughts. While on writing forums, I remember reading how wrong it was to start a book with a quote. My first publication and I broke one of the rules. ns-finalBy the time I started writing my second novel, Fogged Up Fairy Tale, I had the time and a better grasp of the craft. It began with a chapter called “Punch Drunk Bitch.” fuft_originalAfter working with a critique partner, I moved this chapter further back in the story and the first revision wound up with a new chapter called “Petri Dish.” It gives the reader a better sense of what is going on instead of Punch Drunk Bitch, which starts in a rehab center, cutting out the reason as to how the main character got there. With this book, I happened to shift the chapters back and wrote new chapters. fuft_firstI still felt something was missing, because I didn’t want it to start at chapter one. My story alternates between past and present, so I added a Prologue to catch the reader’s attention and set the stage for the difficulties in the main character’s life. In my opinion, starting at chapter one wouldn’t have had the same impact. Writing forums and literary agents say Prologues are wrong, because chapter one should be the grabber. Again, I made a deadly writing sin. fuft_finalEven though I broke a few rules in the writing community, I’m proud of my publications. Besides, I was never good at following the in-crowd. LOL!

What part of the writing process do you like the least or best? Have you committed a deadly writing sin?

Revisions and Publications,
Baer Necessities

Wishing all the U.S. folks a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July!

10 thoughts on “Revision Decisions

  1. The thing about process is that there isn’t one way to get the writing done, but learning all one can about each step enables us to come up with our own personalized process. One time I had my creative writing class draw a group diagram of the writing process. Each student took turns with a dry erase marker and came up to the board and added something in. The final diagram was a horrible and lovely mess. Not linear at all. As you can probably guess, I least enjoy the early draft stages since I self-edit too much as I write.

  2. The first draft is hardest for me. I’ve written four novels and am now working on my fifth. The first four were written without an outline. I equate it with shining a flashlight onto a dark path, figuring out what lies ahead. This time I wrote an outline, and I find it makes a big difference in moving ahead.

  3. The biggest thing for us is the character sheet. Naming characters, figuring if any of them dropped off the face of the earth, figuring if any of them are worth bringing back later, etc. Also, what’s this about not starting a novel with a quote? Says who?

    I always find it funny when they say there are certain “rules” in writing. Like never have a prologue. Or never acknowledge the reader by saying “you.” Or always get straight to the point. Then you’ll read a huge, multi-million dollar best selling book that has a prologue, and always has “you” in it, and has 4 chapters just setting up the action, etc…

    If the book is good and what you’re doing works, then rules are completely irrelevant.

    1. ABFTS, Literary agents believe that 90% of prologues are used improperly, so that’s why they’re frowned upon. They also state that many readers skip over the Prologue.

      I agree with you regarding doing what works for each of us. Rules are nice to refer to, but I don’t think they should be the “Be All”.

  4. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever have a consistent writing process — at least I haven’t nailed one down so far in 20 years of trying this. The only thing that seems consistent is that my process is always changing, adjusting, evolving, and, I hope, improving. Just the technology aspect has changed so much in 20 years. I used to write only in pencil on legal pads 🙂

  5. You know the writing rule. “They’re our know rules!” LOL (That made my editors head explode 😉 )

    Everyone has to do what works for them. Some of the best books are being self-pubbed. They don’t fit into the neat little box that agents are looking for. That’s just boring. If it doesn’t fit on a B&N shelf they don’t want it. Bleh

    As far as editing goes, we learn a lot with time. I’d love to go back to all my books & change what I’ve learned over the years. I counted on editors to y’know…edit. Didn’t always happen. I now pay big bucks for editors but things still happen. Indies are expected to be error free when EVERY “Big 6” book I have read has typos. No one writes “I found a few typos” in a Simon & Shuster book.

    I went to a signing of 2 NYT best sellers. One mentioned how in his series, a kid goes from age 7 to 9 to 6 within the books. No one caught it for the longest time. He said “writers are human. We make mistakes.” It’s things like that – that would make me nuts. Glad you outline & such to catch those things. More people should!

    1. June, I hear you about being human. I think because of the stigma self-publishing carries, readers look for things to find to discredit the author and book. And sometimes, readers are right to call out an author on poor editing and such. But I don’t think there’s a book out there that’s error free.

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