Monday, March 26, 2012

Revisions Don't Have to Suck by Susan Dennard

Everyone thinks revisions suck. They think that cleaning their story/prose is zero fun—all the fun is in the inspired writing, right?

WRONG. You can enjoy revising. Heck, I’d WAAAY rather revise a book than write it. I mean, we’re talking about 1) creating something from nothing versus 2) fixing up something you’ve already made. #2  will ALWAYS be easier than #1.

The key is to get organized and to be patient. 

Cleanliness…er… Organization Is Next To Godliness

I’ve written a lot of posts about getting organized and staying organized when revising. This is so, so, so important because it allows you to work more quickly, to always know how much ground you’ve covered (and how much you have left), and to really hone your skills as a storyteller (I swear: the more you revise, the stronger your grasp of storytelling will become—and that means your future first drafts will come out cleaner).

Always, always begin BIG and work down to small. What I mean by this is that you should start with Big Picture Issues—plot holes, flat characters, bland setting—and work down to the line edits.  Why? Because Big Picture Issues affect every page. If you decide to completely nix a subplot, you’re affecting a ton of prose—so why line edit those words if you’re only going to cut them later on?

Here’s a rough outline of the steps I follow:
  1. Print the entire book out to determine what I wrote and find ALL of the problems (from plot to pacing to dialogue).
  2. Get all the issues organized and break the book up into bite-size (i.e. scene-size) pieces.
  3. Figure out what I want my book to be—i.e. if it were in perfect condition and in readers’ hands, what would I wantthem to be reading?
  4. Make a Plan of Attack. I know what book I want, so how do I do that? (This step relies heavily on OCD-organization—color-coding, index cards, and lots of post-its!)
  5. Write in my changes. I know what each scene needs, so now I dig in and make those changes directly on the printed manuscript.
  6. Type in your changes! All those handwritten adjustments are now typed into your document, and if you have the desire (more like ability—I’m not so great at any edits on a screen), you can line edit as you go.
  7. Congrats! You’ve got a solid novel ready for full line editing or a critique partner’s eyes!
For more info, I urge you to check out my Guide to Revisions—it’s really in-depth, has worksheets for you to follow, and is the epitome of organization. ;)

Patience Is Definitely a Writing Virtue

I’ve just given you a lot to swallow (and if you check out my Guide, you’ll see there’s A WHOLE LOT to swallow). It’s daunting—terrifying even. I’m scared every single time I sit down to revise…

Which means now, more than ever, you need to be patient. Be patient with your work, and above all, be patient with yourself. It can take a LOT of revising to get the manuscript As Good As You Can Make It, but if you’re trying to get published, you have to have a top-notch novel. Agents and editors read so many books—so many bad books—that you’ve really got to stand out by having a stellar story, strong characters, and solid prose.

So I want you to write down these three things and tape them somewhere you’ll see ‘em often. This will be your revisions (or writing…or line editing or anything!) mantra.
  1. I CAN do it.
  2. I HAVE to do it.
  3. I will be GLAD I did in the end.

You CAN do it. If I can, then I know you can. It took me upwards of ten rounds of revisions before I even began querying for my first novel, Something Strange & Deadly. I HATED my book by the end, but…it definitely paid off. Within a month after I started querying, I signed with an agent and got a 3-book deal with HarperTeen.

And that’s why you HAVE to do it. If you want your story to stand out from the rest, you’ve got to make it better than the rest. You have the tools, so now all you have to do is crack down and< do it!
Once you do, you’ll be GLAD you did—just as I was (and still am and will always be). The hard work pays, the perseverance pays, the organization pays, and the patience absolutelypays. My first drafts for new novels are so, so much stronger! It only takes me one round of revisions to get it ready for my crit partners.

So dream big, never EVER give up, and get to work on those revisions! YOU CAN DO IT!!

Susan Dennard is a reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She used to be a marine biologist, but now she writes novels. And not novels about fish either, but novels about kick-butt heroines and swoon-worthy rogues (she really likes swoon-worthy rogues). She lives in Germany with her French husband and Irish setter, and you can learn more about her crazy thoughts and crippling cookie-addiction on twitter, facebook, or Goodreads. Her debut, Something Strange and Deadly, will be available from HarperCollins in July of 2012, and you will never believe how happy this makes her!

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