Sunday, January 4, 2009

How I Revised

OK, I promise, I'm almost done with this topic. How many times can I beat a dead horse anyway, right? :)

Anyway, I thought it might interest some about how I went about with these revisions, especially those (like me) who find revisions so very difficult.

First, I had some great feedback from beta readers. The very first people to read it were those who I knew would give me positive feedback and assure me that what I had here was a book, not a pile of wordy-crap. My mother, the husband, and a critique member who gives great positive feedback were my first readers. My mother loves everything I write without question. My crit member pointed out specifics in language and phrases. The husband gives me assurance that I am worth something; his feedback tends to be honest but supportive, and he challanges me not on plot or characterization, but in direction (i.e. he always wants me to write an anti-hero with a bad ending, not a happily ever after).

Second, I took the feedback to the next critical level. I've got two crit groups, and put my work to them, at least in the first few chapters, to get a sense of what worked/didn't in the plot. This helped me identify specifics about weak characterization, slow pacing, plot holes, and overused words.

From this point forward, I attacked revisions two-fold. One for language, one for plot.

  1. Went to Wordle and identified overused words. I blogged about it here, but ended up not going chapter by chapter with Wordle, as was my original intent. Doing the first three chapters separately, and then the entire ms. was enough.
  2. Then, using the words I discovered as overused in Wordle and the words that my various crit groups and beta readers helped me to identify as overused, I went through my document highlighting, bolding, underlining, and color-coding each example of an overused word. I did this using Word and the Replace function: I took each word, had Word find it and replace it with that word in bold, italics, underline, and a specific color to that word. Basically, I did this for the overused words I mentioned ealier, but I also did it for the combination "ly" to help me find adverbs, and am considering doing it for "ing" to help me attack weak gerunds.
  3. I then printed the color-coded manuscript, each page splashed with a bright over-used or weak word.
  4. I read through the entire manuscript. And although I did read every single word (and caught a few grammatical errors along the way), I focused more on the color-coded words. My eyes jumped naturally to them, but more importantly, they helped me to identify where my weaknesses lay. I had whole paragraphs where every verb in the paragraph was "was". It wasn't something I'd noticed before, and not something I noticed in the plain version of my manuscript, but it jumped out at me when it was color-coded. I apparently have a weak-word blindness in my own writing--I'm not aware that I do it, and I don't see it after it's done. I had to seek out and highlight those words specifically in order to catch them all.
  5. After going through the entire manuscript by hand using the color coded method, I then went back to the computer and changed the manuscript based on my written notes. It was tedious, but easier for me make the corrections on paper than on screen.
  1. I started with feedback from others. I am blind to my own work, so I sent it out to anyone who even looked liked they'd be remotely interested in even thinking about maybe taking a look at it. I didn't stand on a street corner and solicit strangers to read my work, but I did consider it.
  2. I treated my manuscript like a sick child: I always got a second opinion. If one critique member said one thing (unless it was obviously right or obviously not where I wanted to go with the manuscript), I went to someone else, preferably someone who had no connection with the first person, and asked specific questions. For example, the husband didn't like the way Chapter 1 ended, he thought it was too mild. So then I took it to a crit member, asked her to read Chapter 1 and included some specific questions, such as "Is the end too mild?" This gave me a more rounded opinion on things. If two people agreed on a point, I rewrote the scene. This does not mean I kept it that way--I just rewrote the scene, then compared them both in my head, then made a decision. Sometimes, the rewritten stuff was better. Sometimes it wasn't. Either way, I took the suggestions as seriously as I could, tried new angles, and forced myself to have a perspective about change.
  3. I put the entire manuscript in Scrivener. I think I might have had an easier time of things had I started with the program, but as it was, I did something that I advice my writing students to do with long essays: a backward outline. Everything was written without an outline. But once the manuscript was done, I made an outline (using the Corkboard function in Scrivener), and then got a close look at it from there. Doing so enabled me to six chapters into three--I realized there was so little of a scene change, that there was really no point in not combining them. I also completely cut an entire chapter after doing the outline and realizing that the only thing that happened was the kids went to point A, dithered around a bit, and left. That's a chapter full of nothing, so I cut the whole thing.
And that's what I did! It was a massive undertaking, I won't lie. I've never worked so hard at a revision. That said, it did seem to work in the end.

So, what nifty ways of editing and revising do you use?
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