Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Revising That Ugly First Draft

by Pat Stoltey

I'm a little crazy, I guess, because I enjoy the revision phase of novel writing even more than I like the creative phase. Here's how I go about it.

Step One: Sort all the critique pages from my critique group. I have feedback for all but the last three chapters. I put them in page order within chapters, discarding the pages that have no comments on them. Step One is done. The pages now sit to the left of my desktop computer keyboard.

Step Two: Work my way through the novel, page by page, making changes and corrections based on the critique comments that I think will improve the novel while retaining my voice and style.

Step Three: Read the novel from beginning to end from the computer monitor. During this process, I make notes when I see problems with the story arc, back story, characters, or descriptions.

Step Four: Using the notes from Step Three: Fix the problems.

Step Five: Print out the novel and read it again. Make notes and corrections on the pages. Add needed scenes (handwritten) and mark where the insertions go.

Step Six: Enter all of the changes into the manuscript file on the computer.

Step Seven: Read the manuscript aloud from the monitor, making additional changes and corrections as I go.

Step Eight: Do all of the self-editing steps I have as part of my personal routine (and all the new ones I'm learning from Kirt Hickman's Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness). There are ten of my own, including searches for the words I tend to repeat (really, pretty, and back among others), excessive use of adverbs (-ly), and passive verbs (was, were).

Step Nine: Print the novel again and read it aloud from the hard copy. I'm always amazed at how many small errors and typos I find during this process. What I see on my monitor looks very different on paper.

Step Ten: Stop fiddling with the manuscript and get on with queries and submissions (and agent or editor pitches at conferences).

Of course, there's more than one way to skin a cat...or revise a manuscript. If you missed Kirt Hickman's day-long workshop on the process (which I'm told was an outstanding program), check out his book. I would also like to recommend Chris Roerden's Don't Sabotage Your Submission: Save Your Manuscript from Turning Up D.O.A.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for sharing with us what you do when you revise. I really like your idea of reading aloud, actually. It does help point out all kinds of little errors. In fact, that's what I always tell my students to do.

Giles Hash said...

I love step nine. Personally, I don't print the manuscript for that step, I go into a non-editable (is that a word?) PDF. I find that by removing the option of fixing things in the format, I see more errors.

Hart Johnson said...

I think your first draft sounds a lot cleaner than mine! HA! I would never let anybody see my first draft. My FIRST draft, I read, making notes for plot holes and consistency (my memory sucks, so there are always things that happen twice or that I forget to follow through on). I fix those, then read for grammar/typo stuff, THEN send it to crit partners... the next draft is more similar to what you do... and that 'out loud' is definitely key.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Margot -- I sound like a broken record telling that to the writers in the critique groups I help start. Read your work aloud. It works.

Giles -- That's an interesting option I hadn't thought of. I may try that this time.

Hart -- No, my first drafts are full of passive voice, repeated words, timeline errors, etc. But I warn my group that they're getting first draft quality. They have the option of ignoring a lot.

Anonymous said...

Your list definitely covers everything!

I'm Big on reading the manuscript out loud. Always have been. It works better than anything else, for me.

Giles' comment is interesting. I hadn't thought of doing it that way.

Great post, Pat. I'm printing this out.
Ann Best, Memoir Author

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Hey, I feel better now - my revisions run much the same course. Toss in several critique partners for spice.

Giles Hash said...

I started using PDFs simply because I didn't own a printer. Then it stuck as a habit :)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Ann -- thanks for dropping by. And congrats on the publication of your memoir. I've ordered my copy so it should be in my mailbox soon.

Alex -- I have one "first reader" who will get a copy of the manuscript somewhere along the line but it varies at what point. I use a person who loves to read but does not write (readers don't nit pick like writers do).

Giles -- Not owning a printer would save a lot of trees in my case. I print out way too much stuff. At least I do try to re-use and recycle...

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Thanks for sharing your steps, Pat! I confess I don't read my work aloud, but I can hear it loud and clear in my head - all those years of acting come in handy sometimes!

Kay Theodoratus said...

I like Step 10 the best. Unfortunately, it's the hardest to do.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Elspeth, it's not the same. It's all about hearing the sentences read aloud and how easy they are to read without stumbling over the words or having to take a breath at the wrong place, etc.

Kay -- so true. I say "stop fiddling" because I know it's good advice, but I have one manuscript that has become the neverending rewrite. I think I love the story and characters too much to let go.

Edna said...

Thanks for sharing your process. It's always so helpful to hear how different people approach revising. I was at the Kirt Hickman workshop and thought it was great (so is his book, as you say). He also mentioned reading it out loud several times.
Good luck, girl!