Please Note — I’m at Ravencon this weekend, so I’ll be a little slow in my Friday responses (assuming the hotel has WiFi). Have a great weekend all!
I had planned to write something else for this post, but I’ve come across several discussions (including a bit here at MW) concerning when to stop revising. Since many of us have stated our New Year’s resolution to finish those pesky WIP, and many are still plugging away hard it, revisions will become a necessary aspect of creation. So when have you gone too far to the point of doing more harm than good?
Of course, there’s no easy answer to this. There never is. It’s mostly (but not entirely) subjective. And yet, we authors have to get a feel for this mystical demarcation point or else be stuck ruining our manuscripts with infinite revisions.
Well, just as the writing process is unique to each writer, so is the revision process. There are those who are methodical and meticulous as well as those who play it fast and loose. However, if you’re just starting out (and thus don’t have a process firmly in place) or if you’re looking for a new tactic toward revisions, here’s my suggestion — make a battle plan. With this technique, I find you’ll address everything you want to in a manner that will leave you feeling you’ve left no stone unturned, yet you won’t feel the need to keep going over the same territory again and again. Here’s how it works:
Decide what key elements you seek to revise in each individual pass at the manuscript. Perhaps you want to focus on a particular character. Perhaps the plot doesn’t feel strong enough. Perhaps you want to make sure your dialogue is tight or your metaphors and similes are the best they can be. Perhaps you simply want to make sure all the core elements crucial to any story are working effectively. Whatever you feel is important, list it on a piece of paper. It’s okay if it’s a long list — it probably will be.
Now, combine some of the ideas that go well together. Metaphors and similes will go well with tightening all description. Dialogue may fit well with pacing issues. Just try to keep it down to about two ideas for each pass. At this point, your list may consist of about five to ten passes. If your thinking ten rounds of revision sounds insane, I agree. Don’t worry. You’ll probably do a lot less. If your thinking ten isn’t enough, you have my sympathies.
When you start revisions, keep focused on whatever your list denotes. It’s okay to fix other problems you notice along the way, if they’re small, but try to stay focused. For larger issues that don’t apply to your current focus, jot down a note, so you’ll be sure to tackle it at the appropriate time. This simple approach has numerous benefits, and you will find many good things occurring. For example:
- You’ll be able to confidently know you’ve handled the issues you intended to handle and have done so to the best of your ability.
- You’ll have cleaned up many little things (typos, misspellings, grammar, etc) that will make subsequent passes easier.
- In the course of re-reading your manuscript, even though your focus was on one or two main aspects, you’ll have started picking up on other problems. By the time you get to the third pass, you’ll already have solutions for many items on your list (and probably several not on the list).
- You’ll gain a deeper knowledge of your manuscript and how the pieces fit together, making each revision more productive.
- With practice, you’ll be able to juggle more tasks in each revision.
In the end, you’ll find a number of revisions that works for you which addresses everything in a solid, systematic fashion. For me, I find around three in-depth revisions, each handling about three main points, are more than enough. Lately, I’ve been trying to do more revising as I write the initial draft (I’ll talk about that in another post), so perhaps I’ll be down to two passes. Anything more than five sans editor/agent/reader feedback sounds like overkill to me, but each writer is unique, so I make no judgments. Just remember that by approaching revisions in a focused, clear-cut manner, you can rest assured you’ve done your best. You don’t need to keep going back. You do need to send it out, cross your fingers, and get started on the next piece.