Thursday, June 23, 2011

Writing 101: A Few Revision Tips

My last post was about finishing your book. But what happens next?

I hesitated to do a revision post because there are so many methods and nothing works for everyone. But after giving it some thought I did come up with a few guidelines that apply to most revision situations, no matter your preferred method.

1. Print your manuscript out.

I know I just got done saying that nothing works for everyone, but if there were one rule that came close to universal it'd be this! If you've never tried to edit a hard copy of something you wrote on a computer, you might not believe what a difference it can make. But trust me, it does. There's just something about looking at a computer screen that makes your brain want to skim, and you won't notice things you would in print.

For best results, change the font to something other than what you write in. Make sure it's a font that's easy on the eyes and has a clear distinction among letters and different types of punctuation. (My personal favorite is Tahoma.)

It costs money, but I swear it's worth it. Assuage your guilt about killing trees by printing on recycled paper and/or recycling the manuscript when you're done.

2. Get a second opinion, and a third and fourth if needed.

I'm not one of those people who insists you need fifteen complete strangers to give you feedback on your manuscript. I think too many beta readers can be counterproductive, even, because eventually you'll hear so many conflicting opinions you'll confuse yourself.

But you should show someone what you've done. Whether it's a crit partner you find online, a friend who's honest and an avid reader, or your agent. You want someone who will give you feedback on the structure and content of the novel, not just look for typos. In a future post I'll give advice for how to receive and work with critiques, but for now, just make sure you have some!

3. Approach revisions theoretically.

(This idea comes from my twitter buddy @corinneduyvis. Thank you, Corinne! :D)

Revision can be one hell of a daunting task. Some people love it because it gives them a chance to finally make their book good, but I'm not one of those people. I'm lazy and like to write for fun, so I'm definitely more into first drafts.

Corinne suggests that when you read over your book, pretend it's someone else's and that you will not actually have to make any changes. Ask yourself what would, in theory, make this book better. This way you're not thinking about the work involved or how exactly you're going to fix problems, but just doing a diagnostic run. I usually make a written list of things that need improvement so I don't forget or slack off on any of them.

4. Decide when you're going to stop.

The sneaky thing about revisions? They never really end. No matter how many times you go back to your manuscript, no matter how much you polish it, no matter how many people tell you it's great -- you can find things to tinker with. Hannah Moskowitz says she doesn't read her published books specifically so she doesn't make herself crazy seeing stuff she can't change.

So you're going to have to make yourself stop at some point. I accomplish this by revising in chunks -- I typically do an initial revision by myself, then a second one taking into account my beta readers' suggestions, and finally a third to look for typos and cut unnecessary words. And then I tell myself hands off until my agent or an editor requests otherwise.

Come up with your own system for putting the brakes on revision, whether it's setting a deadline or giving yourself a set number of revisions to work with. There's no magic point at which a book becomes the best you can possibly make it, so you've gotta make one up.

5. Line edits are important.

Yes, unfortunately! Although there are a few of us weirdos who enjoy line edits (high five to everyone who finds continuity errors in published books!), most people dread them and find them grueling. But it's part of your job. Yes, if you are published, you will have an editor and a copyeditor. But your writing still needs to be near professional quality to catch anyone's attention.

If you can't tell a comma splice from a hole in the ground, go back to step two: get feedback. There are numerous websites and online critique groups where you can specifically request someone to help you with grammar and tiny details. (Like me. I WILL notice if you changed your character's eye color from blue to brown.)

And one more thing: can't hurt to use your word processor's spell checker! I turn it off while writing because I can't stand those squiggly red lines, but I do run a check on every draft. It catches lots of ridiculous things like "boookstore" and "He he said..."

Thank you for reading, and good luck revising!


Holly Dodson said...

I totally agree -- printing your MS out is crucial. I always find so much that I missed on the computer!

Great list, Lauren!

Christine Murray said...

I print out the MS too, it makes such a difference.

Michelle Julian said...

I like the idea about writing a list for revisions. Thanks!

Alicia Gregoire said...

I always print out a hard copy. You catch so much more than on the screen.

Krista M said...

I print my manuscript too. It's so much easier to edit that way and scribble in the margins that I want taken out or notes about what to add. Great tips!

Pam Harris said...

Great tips! Printing my manuscript is a MUST for me. :)

Julia Darcey said...

"I'm lazy and like to write for fun, so I'm definitely more into first drafts."


Tanya Reimer said...

I print my MS at least twice during my editing. Always at a point where I think it's perfect. It always amazes me how things look different on paper.

Great post!

james jackob said...

Nyc blog for revision. It's a very good idea to make and print out the manuscript which plays an important role in Exam revision.

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