Friday, December 07, 2012

Brief Writing Update, oh, and Revision

I'm still working on "Wretched Queen," as you can probably tell from the sidebar.  I'm a bit miffed that I'm not back to working on my novel yet, but honestly, I think it's a really good thing.  Better to put something into the WOTF contest that I feel confident about, first of all, but I've also been learning a bit more about the revision process with this piece, which I think will be immensely helpful when I move back into my novel.

During my MFA program, and pretty much up until this story, my revision process has been sort of a hodgepodge frankenstein conglomerate of writing groups, workshops, line edits, consulting with professors, and so forth.  Don't get me wrong; all of those things were (usually) immensely helpful, and that's how my MFA thesis evolved into what it is now.  But there was no structure to the process.  I'd workshop when a workshop class came around.  I'd be involved in a writing group until it dissolved (which they all inevitably did).  I'd go to a professor when I felt I really needed some direction.  I'd edit for conciseness and clarity right before a deadline.  That's about it.

For this story, my process has been pretty different, and actually aligned with a revision philosophy I've been formulating for the past couple years, but just haven't put into practice until now.

I start with the first draft (version 1.0) of course, where I just get the story out onto paper (or my computer, as it were).  Nothing fancy, just getting the story down.  I've decided, at least for now, that I don't appreciate outside feedback during this process*.  I want to get my idea of the story completely out of my system before I allow anyone else to give me their input.

Next, I do my first revision (version 2.0), but again, I do this one with the door closed.  I'm a discovery writer**, and in a first draft I almost always end up taking things in a different direction than I'd anticipated.  Characters that were there in the beginning suddenly disappear halfway through the story, or characters appear out of nowhere.  Settings change in my head, but I don't change them on paper.  Plot twists develop out of nowhere and need some retroactive foreshadowing.  So, generally, before I show a story to outside eyes, there's a lot I need to fix after the first draft.  I know I need to fix it, so I figure I might as well do that before I show it to anyone else; that way I don't have people wasting their time telling me things I already know I need to change.

After the first revision is when I finally give the story to my first readers (a group that usually consists of my wife and one to three close friends or writer acquaintances).  I give them time to read the story and give me basic feedback--nothing about the grammar or writing on the sentence level, but rather the more global issues regarding plot and character development, etc.--and after receiving this feedback, I jump into my second major revision (version 3.0).

At this point, depending on how strong I feel the basics of the story are, I may or may not do a more micro-level revision (version 3.n, depending on how many times I've gone through the second major revision) in which I focus on the writing itself--using active verbs, eliminating unnecessary words, etc.  I won't put a ridiculous amount of energy into this, but I'll do what I can before I send it out to my next group of readers.

Once that's done, I send it out to another group of friends/writerly acquaintances--my beta readers.  Same cycle as before:  they read, give me basic feedback, and I read through that feedback and make the changes I find necessary*** in the third major revision (version 4.0).

At this point, any number of things may happen.  I may feel it is ready to submit to the contest, or send to the journal, or query to the agent, etc.  If that's the case, I'll do one more cutthroat revision (version 5.0) in which I look once again at the story on a paragraph and sentence level and really focus on streamlining the writing.  I'll often have a goal of cutting 10% of the total wordcount of the draft (hence the title of this particular revision) to make sure my writing is as efficient as I can possibly make it.  At that point, it's submission time!

If I don't feel the story is ready after that third major revision, I'll essentially repeat the process of finding more readers (or a writer's group, at this point), getting feedback, mulling over that feedback, and then integrating it into the story until I'm satisfied ("satisfied" being an extremely relative term in this case).

That's the revision process I've been following with "Wretched Queen," and so far (I've just received feedback from my first readers and am about to move into the second major revision) I've really liked it.  I feel much more direction with this process than I ever did while I was in school, which makes sense, because this particular process actually...has...direction...

This is also the revision process I plan on following with my novel.  Once "Wretched Queen" is done and submitted, I'll jump back into my first major revision of Before the Dark.

So there you have it!  That's the process I've developed at this point, and I'll stick with it until I find something better (which I may very well find; writing is an organic process, I think).

*  In his book On Writing (which, I think I've mentioned before, is one of the best books about writing on the market), Stephen King essentially says to "write with the door closed, revise with the door open."  I think that's a great concept for me, at least in this stage of my craft.

**  A discovery writer, in a nutshell, is someone who writes without the direction of an outline--also called writing by the seat of your pants.  Outlines have, historically, limited me more than motivated me.

***  I don't think I've ever taken ALL of someone's revision advice.  There are almost always things I completely agree need to change/happen, and there are almost always things that I know I can ignore for whatever reason.  That's just the nature of feedback, I think--that was even the case with my writing professors in my MFA program.

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