Thursday, January 10, 2008
The Revision Cave
Bwahahaaha! Yep, that's me, spelunking through the cave, laptop strapped to my back as I dodge the stalactites and stalagmites of my first draft. It's dark in here, but I do see light at the end of the tunnel.
I think everyone approaches revision of a first draft in a different way. I know there are books on how to do it, and online workshops abound, plus plenty of articles on websites and in writers magazines. I've never taken a class, but I do own a book on revision that I haven't read yet, and I've revised off a few revision letters received from agents and editors on past projects. I'm currently in the middle of the "the first read through" phase and it's an eye-opening, but also exciting, experience.
I enjoy making revisions because it's like putting those finishing touches on a painting, adding that extra detail and dimension that will bring it to life. Or defining the features of a sculpture or carving or ceramic. It's that phase of a creative project that brings you closer to your work and makes you become one with it. It's the point when the book feels real.
As I'm writing a book, I don't blast through it in the white heat of creative frenzy. I'm a methodical pantser with a fairly good idea about my beginning, middle and end when I start. But as I write, there are some spots I know I'll have to fix later, and I make a mental note or a place holder of some kind that will tip me off when I reach that spot during revisions. Good grief, but I had a lot of those in this book. And some of them were kind of hidden. Note to self: In future books, remember to use different colored type in placeholders.
Though I revise as I go, I've been writing long enough to know that when I reach the end, it's not really the end for me. More work needs to be done. One of my favorite types of placeholders is narrative summary, which I use for two reasons: 1. To get me from point A to point B quickly so that I don't lose my creative rhythm, and I know I can expand on it later; 2. If the book ends up really long (rare for me), I can leave it as is with just minor tweaking.
Something else that happens as I write, since I have very little planned out beforehand, is that I experiment with new characters and plot points knowing I may or may not keep them. So when I go back through to revise, the character introduced in chapter eight started out duplicitous but ended up being a saint. Or in chapter five I revealed a secret that I decided to reveal in chapter thirteen instead. What I wanted a character to know in chapter two I'd forgotten about by chapter ten and have to fix. This kind of stuff is everywhere! But it's great fun because as I read through and flesh out and tweak and expand, my story is becoming a cohesive treasure for me. I can only hope the agents I query share the same view. 8^)
I've heard many of you lament over the revision process, and some of you dive into it with the same relish I do. If you don't share my enthusiasm for this phase of writing a novel, why not? And if you do, please share your reasons and offer tips if you have some. Hey, I'm in the middle of my revisions. Tips are most appreciated.