Friday, July 8, 2011

Is There a Draft in Here?

It seems like it's been forever since I've been here on the blog - and worse yet, on yours. Although I certainly loved school and all the busyness of being secluded for ten days doing nothing but learning about writing, and while I love have mini-vacations with my family where we dance off to the pool in the early morning hours and come home a teensy bit sunburned and full of watermelon, I do miss this.

I am still in revision mode on my second novel, and though I convinced my saintly advisor this semester to not only review my revisions but also to look at some new short stories (this is just extra work for her, so I am sooooo thankful she's behind me in my need to write some fresh material too), the novel still takes precedence.

And so revisions continue.

I know many people who call this revision hell. I can understand that terminology, especially if one is more are writer than reviser, but I happen to love revisions. I adore them. There is nothing I like more than writing on a page that isn't blank.

But it does seem to never end. It's more like revision purgatory. I'm stuck here until some day far in the future when I decide I've done as much as I can do, and some editor agrees.

I was relieved when my last advisor told me he'd done 18 revisions on his latest novel. That makes my 8 look pretty piddly. The thing that I love about this MFA program is that no one is in a rush to get published. They all want to get published, don't get me wrong, but I haven't met a person yet who is champing at the bit to send off a piece before it's absolutely ready. And every one of them is willing to keep working until it is.

I read a great book on writing this past week called Modern Library Writer's Workshop. It's chock full of very interesting tips, ideas, encouragement, examples, and quotes that I frantically highlighted.

In it, the author talks about drafts and the process of revision that I found obvious but enlightening.

According to the author, there are three draft phases (each phase of which may contain several drafts).

Draft 1: Get the story down. This is what Stephen King calls a "closed door draft," because no one should see it. The point is to get the words on the page and figure out what the story is. The point is to finish it. To have characters and a semblance of plot. When it's done, the author says, feel good. Have a glass of champagne. Celebrate. And then give it a rest. At least a week, but no more than two months.

Then read the entire thing, all the way through.

Don't judge the book; it isn't ready to be judged. It's ready to be revised. But don't revise yet. Just read, and makes notes of places where you get lost in the story (those are the good passages!) and places where you start skimming (maybe this part needs cutting or trimming or rewriting). 

Draft 2: This is not a polishing phase. This is not where you sit down and make line-by-line changes as you go along. This is where you take charge of the story. Find the characters that need fleshing out. Find the plot holes.

First off, revise for structure. Solve the problem of sequence.

Secondly, develop the underdeveloped. Nearly everything you write will need to be more vivid, more coherent, and more powerful.

Thirdly, revise for plot. Get the details and mechanics of the plot under control.

Fourthly, revise for clarity. Even if you know what you meant, does the reader?

Lastly, cut. Cut everything by 10%. If the story is 10 pages, make it 9. If the novel is 300 pages, make it 270. I don't remember who it was, but some famous author said, "When I write, I try not to write the stuff readers skip over." I love that line!

The author says, "Cut. But don't cut out your heart... Your job in revision is to capture that first excitement and know it again, no longer as a promise but as a promise redeemed."

Draft 3: Finishing and polishing it. This is where you can further tighten language and look at sentence structure and check spelling, punctuation, and grammar. This drafting should be relatively quick.

I'm somewhere in the midst of drafting phase 2. Hopefully near the end of it, but I won't know until I finish the writing and read through it all in one sitting.

So my question for you: do you do all of it, or do you tend to skip phase 2? And where are you right now?


  1. Wow, this books sounds fantastic! My drafts and revisions are always so different. It would be nice to actually have a "method" and stick to it.

  2. I ADORE revising. That's where the real writing comes for me. I can tinker with words and sentences and characters and just improve everything SO much from the first draft.

    I'm kind of stuck in between draft one and draft two. I had to do a major overhaul on the novel when I was just about done writing it - and that meant I had to go back and insert a bunch of stuff. I'm nearly done with it (just a few more chapters left, I think) then it's time to get down and dirty and start revising. I can't WAIT.

  3. I'd say that pretty much sums up my revison process. my first draft really, really is a FIRST draft. But, it's how I get all my ideas out there.

  4. This does sound like a great book. I'm reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont, on the chapter called s%&## First Drafts. That's where I am currently but encouraged to just get it written down. And must admit, I do like the freedom of the First Draft stage. Each stage has challenges and rewards!

  5. Revision purgatory! What a perfect description!

    I HATE revising. I tend to lump Draft 1 and Draft 2 together, then when I revise, I do another Draft 2. If what's on the page the first time is too much of a closed door draft (love that phrase, too!), I tend to get sidetracked and lose the trees for the forest.

    8 revisions?? God bless you! And good luck!

  6. Just downloaded the writing book to my Kindle. Thanks!