Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Stages of Revisions (How to get from "Utter Poo" to "I Love You!")

Good morning, dear readers. It's Tuesday as I write this, and I am finally mostly caught up on emails, one cup of coffee down and a full pot still warm, and ready to start a long stretch today of being productive and writing: something I haven't been so good at the past three days.

I started the page a day challenge with the idea that I could write a page a day with little problem. What's a single page, right?  But while I'm page-wise ahead of the goal (24 days in, nearly 50 pages written), I haven't written every day. Sometimes, especially the weekends, the days slip away with family activities that do not revolve around access to a computer, and by ten at night when I sit down, I'm fried and tired, my brain can hardly put two thoughts together, and I know even if I struggle to get that page written, it's going to stink and I'm going to end up deleting it later anyway. So I'm still working on that grace thing.

Patti asked me a great question the other day that I thought I'd share here:

Question: When you finish this one will you let it sit and go write another or keep editing it?  

Typically I'd respond with the agent-approved method: let it sit for a while.

But I've discovered there are different kinds of revisions; a hierarchy if you will. This is how the process goes down for me:

Stage One: (Other wise known as: "It's all utter poo") The first draft is done, and it ain't pretty. There are holes all over the place. Overwriting. Lack of description. Inconsistencies from where I changed the plot or a character or the time-line but put a note in the margin and kept going. Entire scenes that are out of place, or missing! I don't need to step away and give time here. I need to get back in while it's all still fresh and fix it. There's as much writing in this phase as rewriting. Then I spit-shine a little and hit the spell-check.

Stage Two: (Otherwise known as: "Rose-colored glasses anyone?") the major overhaul is done, and now it's starting to look pretty good. In fact, I think I'm attached to it. There are some darn good pieces of writing in here. Most of it looks great in fact. In fact, I think I'm brilliant! This is going to be a best seller!!  Let's send it off to the crit group and await their glowing responses. (This is when it's a good time to take a few weeks away from the book while others read and comment. It's also a good time to start a new book and stock up on chocolate for when the crits start pouring in)

Stage Three:  (Otherwise known as: "My writing partners are not evil; My writing partners are not evil...")The critiques come in and, after maybe three or four weeks away from the book, it's sheen has started to wash off a little. I want to deny deny deny, but as I read the crits, I realize with a sob: they are right. It's still not perfect. Closer, but not quite. I go through their comments line by line, plot by plot, advice by carefully worded advice, and fix it. I probably grumble a little. I probably defend my original choices to myself at first too, and then finally admit that they're right. Or not. The point is: I carefully consider each thing they've said.

Stage Three and a half: (Otherwise known as "Please Love Me") If there has been any major changes, I might send snips of them back to the crit group to see if they think it's better. At this point, I'm not looking for new crits. I just ask them to read to see if I fixed whatever it was that they thought was missing or deficient. This section might be a paragraph, or a small section of dialogue.

Stage Four: (Otherwise known as "Fine tuning isn't just for pianos")I've now completed the bigger things. I go back through for the smaller things. Typos. Punctuation. Grammar. Spelling. Essentially, I copy-edit. Sometimes I make changes here too. Things that I thought were clear because I heard them in my head but now, after time away, I see were not that clear. But mostly, I clean up. And I make sure I think it's ready to go.

So the question is: will I wait when I finish before I dive into revisions, and the answer this time is no. I'm still at the utter poo stage. There are ideas written all over my margins; there are scenes I know I'm missing but can't figure how to fit in; there are scenes that are out of place. I need to fix these before I lose them to my cluttered and foggy brain. When I know stuff is wrong, I need to get at 'em before the rose colored glasses cloud my vision.

Hopefully by the end of the summer I'll be ready to send it out to my group. Even better, by end of summer maybe I'll be getting it back from my group and begin the last stages.

The truth is, too, that no matter how much time goes by, it's never enough. I'd finished and revised my first novel to death more than a year before I received the galley proofs to go over copy-edits, and even then, I wished I'd written things differently. I hope that's because in the meantime, I became a better writer.

How do you approach revisions?


  1. Thank you for these stages of revisions! They're very true. :)

  2. In roughly the same way! Great post, bb. XOXO

    I love it! Especially "my crit partners do not hate me..." LOL!!

  3. I think that's the thing to remember. I can make my story the absolute best it can be, but there's always something I want to change when I come back to it.

  4. Cute post. I hardly ever let my manuscript sit before starting revisions. I think I'm just impatient.

    However, I work through my first draft quickly, with an outline, so I hardly ever go back to read what I've already written. That means, by the time I'm done writing, I can start in on revisions without feeling like I just read through those pages one hundred times and can't be anywhere near impartial. Still, I love crit partner feedback because they catch things that I wouldn't catch no matter how long I waited to start revisions.

  5. Love this, because it's true. I'm at the utter poo stage with second book, so I'm trying to dive right back in.

    This is the line I loved the most. It's how I feel a lot of the time.

    Because I heard them in my head but now, after time away, I see were not that clear.

    (a little out of context, but you know what I mean.)

  6. Great post! I am almost through the fourth draft of my memoir, but according to your stages I think I'm still in Stage Two.

  7. LOL I am at stage three right now and it isn't pretty!! Love your description.

  8. I barely let mine sit before that first edit. After I have gone over the whole ms with a fine toothed comb and some scissors, then I let it sit. I let others read it. I may or may not change pieces of it based on their findings. Than I let it sit again. And go back over it.

    I think we all have the same problem in this editing area. We wonder how much is too much. My mom paints. And she tells me any good artist can always find something wrong with her painting. No matter how perfect others may think it is. :)


  9. can you be in utter poo stage longer? :)

  10. I'm a long ways from revision. I think my system mirrors yours a bit. First fix the glaring errors I know are everywhere. Then let it sit for awhile and come back to do comprehensive edits. I'd send it to someone after that...after I'd done the bulk of the remodeling.

    I always find it fascinating the process others use to write/revise. Thanks or sharing

  11. Once again, Heidi, I'm SO grateful for what you've shared here. And once again, I'm printing it out to keep. I'm nearing the end of my first draft (of my first novel attempt) and I've done exactly as you've written--I've got notes and missing scenes all over the place.

    I have another question for you, though: How did you find your crit group? And how many members does it include? (Uh okay, that was two questions, I guess.)