Day Forty-Four, and Some NaNo Wisdom Regarding Revision

Posted Feb 22 2011, 3:01 am

If you visit the NaNoWriMo website right now, they’ve got all sorts of pep talks from established authors, and lots of wise advice about revision. I’ve snagged a few of my favorite bits to share with you today as you start thinking about your next writing move post-Winter-Writing-Festival:

“Believe it or not, I LOVE revisions. It’s always easier to tinker with something that is already finished than it is to get “stuff” on that blank white screen. And that is how I think about it: all the hard work has been done, so now I get the fun of tweaking everything into line. Doing galley-proofs is tedious; revisions are the chance to get that brilliant insight in that it encapsulates your character’s personality in a single sentence.” –Mercedes Lackey

“The hardest part to revise is the first half of your novel. Don’t lose heart. You will work so hard on those first scenes, getting them right. Then as you move forward, writing and solving questions you’ve asked yourself, you’ll jump backwards to fix something you just figured out and you’ll have to make sure that the change meshes with what you’re working on. But all of this work is narrowing your egress. Your book will necessarily gain focus, and the conclusion you’re working toward will become inevitable, which will make the last part of revising feel like downhill skiing. Without the moguls or trees. Good luck!” –Rachael Herron, author of How to Knit a Love Song: A Cypress Hollow Yarn   (started as a NaNo novel)

“Be open and free for the first draft, be ruthless with the structure for the second, and fanatical about the words for the third–examine every sentence. Remain true to your characters and story, but also be flexible and listen to and value feedback, see things from the reader’s point of view. Oh, and read the whole lot out loud, every draft. Get lots of pens, stickers, and index cards to make structuring fun.”  Julia Crouch, author of CUCKOO. (started as a NaNo novel)

“This is the body of my advice, and I’m only going to tell you one thing (because there are lots of good writing books on revision out there, especially at the Writers Digest store). Create a compelling, distinctive voice for your main character or narrator. The voice must make the reader feel something — anything. Without the voice, you’re a candidate for the slush pile….With it, you’re a potential winner of The Man Booker Prize.”  Pete Twohig, author of The Cartographer (also started as a NaNo novel)

Take a moment to check in with a comment below and let us know how you’re doing with your writing today!



12 responses to “Day Forty-Four, and Some NaNo Wisdom Regarding Revision”

  1. Eve S. says:

    “The voice must make the reader feel something — anything.”

    Anything but boredom, methinks 🙂

    I started writing a short story today, and kept thinking about how this part or that would be revised later. Then I reminded myself that now’s not the time for revision, but for that glorious mess called the first draft.

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Rachael Herron also has a great system for dealing with those pesky “I’ll need to revise this later” thoughts while drafting (or even while working on structure in the second go-through)….

      Keep a stack of post-its with you and jot down all the ideas for changes. Stick the post it on a piece of paper you can keep by your computer so you won’t lose track of it.

      That way your mind can rest easy that the thought’s not lost, but you won’t derail your immediate forward process diving into making the change right now.

  2. PattiAnnM says:

    In my writing life, post-its tend to stick to everything – and all too often to the wrong thing. So, I’ve developed my own method of keeping track of any loose ends. (Yes, I use sticky tabs and post-its too.)

    At the bottom of my cumulative manuscript, I make notes of any thoughts, changes and inconsistencies as they come to me. When I reach the end, they’re all waiting conveniently for me. I think of it as a To-Do List.

    The other night in the chat room, several of us were discussing how we handled all the *stuff* we trimmed during our edits. I’m of the school that you keep everything and always put my clippings into a file JIC I decide to use something later. It’s also helpful to go back through it after I think I’m finished.

    I’d love to hear how other writers handle these tidbits.

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Absolutely…I keep a cuts file. And I also have endless backups of virtually every version of my manuscript that’s ever existed, with the date as part of the filename. Somehow my computer hasn’t rebelled yet….knock wood. Sometimes I decide, months down the road, that I liked a particular line better the old way, and this way I know I’ve still got access to it.

      Also, when I’m facing a really big and scary change to a manuscript, I save the original version with the title as the filename, and tell myself it’s all nice and safe and there for me to go back to anytime I want.

      Then I save a *copy* with a filename like “WILD AND CRAZY EXPERIMENT,” like I’m just playing around and would never in a million years actually use the changes, so it’s not scary to go in and hack things up. It’s a stupid psychological trick, but very liberating somehow.

      And, of course, inevitably, after a few days (or maybe a couple weeks) I’ll realize I really AM making things better, and eventually change the file name to the manuscript title. (Not that I’ll ever delete that old version!! I’ve got my safety cushions stacked a mile high.)

  3. Emily Allen says:

    I wrote 669 words today and that was with me not feeling 100%. Hope to do it again tomorrow.


  4. Michal Scott says:

    Made my point and then some. 630 new words. My WIP first draft is done and clocks in at 21,597. I’m looking forward to having a leaner version by the last day of the WWF. : )

  5. Kristina Mathews says:

    This is great stuff. Exactly what I need as I am revising the beginning to death and can’t even remember the middle parts anymore since I have changed so much. I have several copies saved on both my harddrive and on a portable disk. The trouble is remebering which version has what on it. I even have a files marked “cuts” for the parts I have hacked yet not quite ready to discard entirely.

    It’s good to know I am not alone in all this craziness.

  6. Elisa Beatty says:

    I highly recommend saving by date (as part of the title)–that way at least you know what the “latest” version is.

    Another thing I do is to use folders and subfolders…when I’m making a MAJOR change, I move all previous versions to one folder, then make a new folder that’s named for the change I’m making, like “New Black Moment.”

  7. I keep a “discards” document for each WIP, too, though I very rarely, if ever, end up going back to them. 🙂 I think I might do the discarded prologue of my March release as a free read, though.

    I keep revision notes in a spreadsheet—that’s one worksheet of each book’s master. Others are the character list (with details like age, role in the book, appearance, etc.), chapter page numbers (so I can easily keep track of how long each chapter is), and a timeline.

    Every day, when I finish writing, I e-mail my document to my Gmail account. The subject line includes the title, stage (i.e. draft, revised, etc.) and date. So I don’t have a million versions saved on my hard drive, but I do have dozens of them available. 🙂

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