The Silver Lining | First Drafts to First Round of Revision
I know I’ve been a bad blogger the last two days. I usually compose my posts at work, but I’ve barely had time to eat lunch the last few days and then when I get home, I’ve been trying to make some progress on this revision. Anyway, I think things might be slowing down now, so hopefully I’ll be back to blogging more regularly.

So, I wanted to post about revision. I figure this will be another blog series and I’ll post about my new steps as I embark on them. Everyone has their own revision style, and so I know my method won’t work for everyone, but I’m hoping it might be of some help to anyone who is struggling with this stage of writing. Also, I find the individual methods so interesting, so I’d love to here about your first revision step. What do you do once your first draft is done, marinated, and ready for another round?

I’ve posted about my first drafts before, but to reiterate, they are not pretty. I type very fast and I use that to my advantage. Get it out as fast as possible so I don’t lose momentum, voice, ideas, or storylines. I don’t edit a single word while I write. This means my drafts are filled with typos and all that yucky stuff. i don’t care. I can fix this in revisions, and usually, I rewrite every sentence again anyway so there’s no point in slowing down and making it pretty if it’s just going to change. Often while I write the first draft, I’ll realize things need to change as I go on. As soon as I realize something, I start from that spot as if it’s always been there and then make a not to fix everything prior to that point. Example, in my super secret WIP, I was working on a scene that took place inside a concert hall. It become clear to me halfway through the scene that this wasn’t the right setting. It needed to be a fall hayride. Quite a difference, no? But I just kept writing from that sentence as if it was a hayride with the first half of the scene stuck in the wrong setting.

I do keep a detailed list of things that need to change, my document is titled "Things to change in draft 2." This list keeps expanding as I get distance from the story and start to nitpick at other problems I didn’t see early on. Or I figure out changes to the outstanding issues I couldn’t solve in the first draft. If the changes are extensive as they need to be for my current revision, I start a new outline so I can see it as a whole story arc. I don’t use notecards, but that would be the equivalent.

The other thing about my first drafts is they are looooooooooong. I prefer this. I work best when they are long because I am an overwriter. I tend to cram everything possible into my first drafts because I find it much easier to cut something than add something. I usually have too many transition scenes that are unnecessary. The prose is definitely too wordy or I have too many descriptions for a single item. But this is okay, because I can choose what to keep and what to cut. In my day job, I often have to present clients with several different versions of graphics and let them choose which they want to expand further. I kind of use the same philosophy while writing, only this time I’m presenting the options to my future self. An example of how much I pare things down. The first draft of Rhythm & Clues came in at 94k. The current draft that’s chilling with my agent is 67k. But in reducing it, I made it tighter while still keeping the complex storylines.

After the first draft phase and the mull over/to-do list/outline phase, I need to start somewhere. I do a big reading, but it’s not just a reading. It’s when the *delete* key and I become really acquainted. I really love my delete key. As I read, if I find something that is repetitive, too wordy, or unnecessary with the changes, I get rid of it. I think there are two kinds of people in life. Dumpers and Savers. Savers are sentimental, they have a hard time parting with their darlings whether it be words or their favorite shade of lipstick. I’m a dumper. I get a serious high from cutting things out of my novel or throwing away clothes from my drawer. I don’t ever miss anything I delete. Though, because I have a meticulous back-up method, nothing I delete is every truly gone. (But that’s a blog post for another day). This is my favorite phase.

For example, yesterday I read through 12k of the novel and I got rid of almost 7k of it. Now, a bunch of those words are scenes that no longer work and will need to be replaced with other scenes, but a lot of them are just extraneous sentences in scenes that are actually working. Now those scenes are tighter, the pace is faster, and it’s not repetitive.

During this phase, I don’t rewrite any sentences, even the ones that are cliche or passive. I ignore them. They get fixed in revision round 3. I also make more notes in this phase. I write down who is in what scene, what’s happening, and the subplots taking place. This way I can track which subplots fall off or which characters I introduce too late or forget about for too long. I also find a lot of plot holes or logistical issues during this phase, like in the beginning I saw that one of my characters is bitter because she didn’t make student council and yet…later in the novel I know she plays a big part in a student council class wars event. So, I fix that kind of thing as I come to it if it’s a quick fix or I add it to my notes.

Round One of revision is the read through/notes phase. Round Two is when I do all the add-in rewrites, the scenes that I need to start from scratch on, plus I go through and make everything consistent based on the notes. Round Three is when I line edit and pretty much rewrite every sentence again so it’s shorter, more unique, and showcases my voice. Once I finish Round Three, it’s ready for my critique partners. And then I repeat rounds 2 and 3 if necessary. I’ll post in details more about Round Two and Round Three when I come to them. I expect Round One to take only a few more days.

So…what’s your revision strategy?

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8 Responses

  1. My first draft is usually on the short side. And messy. Written by the seat of the pants, following wherever, though I sometimes write toward a particular ending.
    During revision, I tend to add, move scenes around, cut, add more, cut more. I go over every word in every scene multiple times. I’d say every finished project of mine was 10% writing, 90% revision.

    • I definitely agree with your statistic! By the time I’m done with all my rounds of revisions (including suggestions from the CPs), I’ve probably read the book 50-100 times. And I pretty much have it memorized by that point.

      I never really have an ending in mind when I write my first drafts. And that’s the part I end up rewriting the most during revisions. Probably not the best strategy, but I get there eventually.

  2. Thanks for sharing this!
    I’m pretty much an “underwriter,” but I’d love to be more of an overwriter. Sometimes it can get hard for me not to fluff it, but I want a nice tightened draft (whether it be first, or a later one to be revised).
    I’m also the type to edit while I write (can’t seem to break that habit). A lot of the time it works, and other times it just gets a little discouraging.

  3. I’m more of an underwriter.

    And I can’t write straight through – I go back and edit what I’ve written previously every time I sit down to write. Which is why I love whole days where I can get swept away and add a lot of NEW words instead of spending time on the old stuff. I wish I could make myself ignore the words previously written but I just can’t. And I guess whatever works, so…

    • Oh yes, the whole days of writing are my favorite! That’s what I usually do on the weekends. During the weekdays, I’m cramming in paragraphs whenever I get a few seconds.

  4. this is interesting, shana. one of my beta readers asked how i tackle revisions, and i was kind of surprised, because i figured the ways couldn’t be THAT different. but of course they are!

    i am an editor by trade, so even in my first drafts, i’m editing as i go along – more for typos, rather than content. as for the actual revision process, unless there is a particular scene that won’t go away and i need to work on it right away, i go through the first draft from beginning to end. it’s tedious, but i like the order and it works well for me. i love that we all have so many different ways of producing the same (well, somewhat) end product.

    • That’s why I always like to hear everyone else’s stragegy, because I know it’s probably way different from mine. And I also know that most other strategies won’t work for me. I’m always amazed by people who can edit while they write their first drafts. It always slows my momentum and I lose track of plot lines when I do that. If I write it linearly, I can keep track of it in my head and gage when I haven’t written about a plot/character in a while.

      I try to do my revisions linearly too for the same reason. And yet…both of my books with my agent have non-linear timelines. Sort of. Hmmm, wonder why that is? My latest two are completely linear though.

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