Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Now What?

So, first draft of WIP is finished. Yay! Celebration! Get some champagne!

...but as I stare at my computer, all I can ask myself is...

Now what?

Now? Now it's time for...

The Massive Revision Plan

Here's the thing: I killed my last manuscript with over-editing. I listened to too many other people, tried to make a book for everyone else, and ended up with a voiceless mess. Then, I was approaching everyone and throwing my manuscript at them, screaming READ THIS! BE MERCILESS! CRITIQUE MEEEEEE! I scared puppies and small children with my shouting, but it worked: I got readers. Lots of them. And then I took ALL their comments and revised...and cut...and made that manuscript bleed so much red ink that it bled out. So, I'm being a bit more strategic this time.

My Theory: It's better to revise in stages than all at once.

My Logic: How many times have you submitted a "perfect" piece of work and started waiting? In the meantime, you revisit that work, realize it's crap, revise, and wish you could resend the better stuff, but it's too late? That's happened to me SO MANY TIMES. I've noticed that after I send my manuscript out and get rejections, I realize why it's being rejected and can revise...but it's too late for those who've already rejected me.

So, here's the plan.

  1. Initial Reading: Robyn. Robyn's my real-life critique person (in that I meet her in real life, not that my other critique partners are robots. Although, I've always wondered....) Since I meet her in real life, I've been giving her first drafts pages of the WIP for our meetings. Actually, she started reading Chapter 1 before I'd finished half of the novel, which was a scary thing and kept me on track writing, let me tell you! But the great thing was, Robyn could point out plot holes, pacing problems, and character weaknesses early on. Some of her suggestions shaped the course of the novel. Hey, Robyn, did you know that Harley was originally only supposed to show up in one chapter, then disappear? Since you liked him so much, I developed him into a full supporting character!
  2. First Draft Reading: Heather and Christy. I've worked with both these ladies in the past, and what I love about them is that they get big picture ideas. My problem with my last work is that I fixed all the little stuff--word choice, grammar, etc.--before I tackled the big stuff. So here I was, ten-plus hours invested in a revision, and now there's all this big stuff that needs to be fixed, making the little stuff worthless (as it was cut). So, I've enlisted these ladies to take a look at the whole thing. I asked them specifically because I knew how good they were at the big picture thing--and how they're not afraid to tell me what they really think!
  3. My Own Revision Notes: While the first draft is being read, I'm going to go through the manuscript once more and take notes on what I think needs changing. I've already got some ideas, especially as pertains to the motivations of one of my main characters, and I'm going to go ahead and re-write some chapters dealing with him. Then, I'm going to add comments in my own text (the way many critiquers do, by addding that little side-comment thing in the margins). I'm sure I'll fix some as I go, but during this read-through, my real intent is going to be to focus on taking notes of things to change later. Because....
  4. Compare Notes: On of my fatal flaws in past critiques of my work was that I forgot about what I thought. I listened to others--and didn't compare what they had to say with my own ideas. So, once I've got my own notes done, I'll take a look at what Robyn, Christy, and Heather have said, and compare. If I'm worried about one thing and no one else has noticed it, then clearly I'm being obsessive. If I think one thing is fine, but everyone else doesn't, then clearly I need to revisit that thing.
  5. Rewrite: Here's where I'm going to fix all the big picture things. Plot holes tied up, loose ends met, character motivations clear. My rough idea of a plan for this is to use notecards where I sum up key things (character motivation, clues for the mystery, plot progression) that happen in each chapter, then lay out the notecards and evaluate the pace, plot holes, and continuity weaknesses. And then rewrite the manuscript tightening the aresa on the notecards.
  6. Bringing in the Pros, Part One: Genre Lovers: Through this blog, I've found some amazing fellow writers out there who are not only clearly good writers (as evidenced by their blogs), but also love the same kinds of books I do, and my genre. I'm going to beg them ask nicely if they'll pleaseplesaeplease be willing to read a more polished draft.
  7. Bringing in the Pros, Part Two: Writers: I'm also fortunate enough to be in touch with a trio of professional writers who have been published. They know who they are (but I'm not sure if they want a mention on here). :) And once I've got a good-as-I-can-make-it draft, I'm going to be begging them asking them nicely if they'll pleasepleaseplease be willing to read that draft, too.
  8. Why Wait? I'm spacing out beta reads this way because I think it'll help me get more bang for my (proverbial) buck. If one of the early readers suggests something and I fix it, and then a later reader reads it and it doesn't work, then I've still got a chance to fix it. As opposed to everyone reading at the same time--which led to conflicting ideas and no real chance for follow ups after revisions. Also, I'm staging it so that I can play up my friends' strengths. The ones I know do good at big picture are the ones I'm asking first. The ones I know will do better with final ideas and polishing, I'm calling on them last.
  9. Family Draft: After this, the husband and the mother get a copy. Yeah, I'm saving them for last. Here's why: they're not writers. But they are both readers. They won't point out much of anything--but if they do have a question or problem with anything, then I know it's not something that will work in the real world. They're my test market.
  10. Final Read-Through: Now I'm going to do one last read through of the novel. I'll highlight and change over-used words and sentence structures. I'll print out a copy (the first copy printed! In the past, printing was the first thing I did.) and bring out my red pen. I'll correct and revise and... be done?
Projected Timeline:
  1. Complete Rewrite after First Draft reviewers get back to me by the end of July.
  2. Have Rewritten Draft in hands of "pros" by August.
  3. Complete Final Read-Through and submit draft to agents by September.
I look at that projected timeline and cringe. Three months before I send this baby out? It's the best thing I've ever written, I'm more in love with it than many people, and I'm not going to share with the world for three whole months?!

I'm not. And here's why. Too often, I submit too early. I think the manuscript is done, but it never is. Smarter people than me have written more eloquently on the subject.

And besides, look at the timeline more closely. I began writing in January, finished in June. That's six months. If it takes me six months to write it, and then three months to revise and rewrite it, that's not unreasonable. It actually makes sense, in my weird, numbers-never-make-sense-to-me kind of brain: however long it took you to write the book, it will take at least half as long again to rewrite it.

Besides, I am also not forgetting the give-and-take set-up of this: I'm not just throwing my manuscript at people and demanding they read it--I'm also offering to read theirs in return.

So that's the plan. And now I've got to go start up some revision notes!
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