Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Revision Process

There's a stigma attached to self-published books that they are poorly edited or not edited at all.  Because a manuscript didn't go through the "proper" vetting process, there is a fair amount of truth to this.  I've seen a lot of crap out there.  (Truth be told, I've seen a lot of traditionally published messes, too.) With EVE HALLOWS AND THE BOOK OF SHRIEKS, I never expected to achieve perfection (an impossible pursuit anyway), but I at least took that stigma to heart.

BOS went through 9 revisions total.  The first draft, for me, has always been about exploration.  I don't do outlines (on the other hand, I cringe at the term "panster").  I despise the very idea of an outline and believe they crush creativity more than inspire it.  That being said, the first draft of BOS was a complete mess.  The story branched off in all sorts of directions, with characters--ones I decided I didn't like all that much--disappearing at random.  Not a big deal. All I wanted to accomplish with the first draft was to simply lay down the groundwork for the story.

Before I even began the second draft, I loaded the first draft onto my ereader and grabbed a pen and a notebook.  Why an ereader, you might ask?  Because my inclination is to tinker with the story as I'm reading it, changing structure and grammar mistakes.  But it was far too early in the process to worry about  those pesky dangling participles, mostly because I knew I'd be cutting a lot out anyway. The second draft was about finding what I liked and what I didn't, and taking notes allowed me to focus exclusively on story flow.  With my notes firmly in hand, I went back and revised.

The third draft was the biggest beast of them all.  This one was almost an entire rewrite, taking at least twice as long as the first draft.  Here, I focused on character, story arc, the overall thematic elements, and everything in between.

In the fourth and fifth drafts, I honed in on grammar and style, slaying any modifier that looked at me funny.  Also, I cleaned up any glaring plot holes I might've missed in draft 3--I can never seem to find them all, and I doubt I ever will.  With anything I write, I keep a list next to my computer of all the writerly sins I've committed in the past.  Yes, that list is long.  Yes, that list is somewhat embarrassing. This includes such gems as overusing look and turn; using weak verbs instead of ones full of vigor; and, perhaps my biggest sin, the dreaded "floating heads," where characters talk, but there's no sense of place, time, or emotion sprinkled around the dialogue. I probably could've spent the rest of my life in this phase of the revision process. Like I said, I'm a tinkerer.  But what I needed at this point was some feedback (which is another way of saying, This story is burning me out, and I need a break from it).  I hear a lot of writers say you shouldn't have family review your work, because they will be biased, but I don't subscribe to that logic.  Main reason being, it's hard enough to find a reader as it is.  Sure, family might put a nicer spin on things: "Oh, I loved it.  But I love anything you write."  But it is up to the author to read between the lines, regardless of the critic.  It's all a matter of asking the right questions.

In draft six, I added and subtracted based on the comments I received.  Pretty simple one. 

From here, I sent my work off to my editor. For BOOK OF SHRIEKS, I hired the wonderful Kathy Ptacek (editor and publisher of the writers-market magazine, The Gila Queen's Guide to Markets) to proofread the story, and she made all the difference, let me tell you.  We did two passes on the manuscript.  The first one put the story under a microscope.  Here, I learned just how bad a writer I really was.  The second pass was more of check to make sure we didn't miss anything during the first round of edits.

The final revision was with a sample copy of the book in hand.  More of a check on formatting issues and the like, but even still, I found a few head-slap problems I hadn't noticed in drafts 1-8 ... are you kidding me?

From there, I considered it a finished product.  So what's the moral of the story?  Really didn't have one, but  I can quote entire passages of the book, and I even had a strange nightmare the other night in which whole chapters were misspelled, but, hey, it's all part of the process, right?  


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