Shelley Widhalm

Archive for January, 2013|Monthly archive page

Revision Procrastination

In 52: A Writer's Life, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Processes on January 27, 2013 at 11:00 am

Normally, I’m not a procrastinator, except when it comes to the revision process.

I had planned to take one month off from my novel, which I finished in early December, and at that time, I wanted to keep on working. That month turned into five weeks and then six and I still have not begun to edit.

A writer friend told me that a first draft needs to sit for awhile to give the writer some distance and time to forget every line written. She recommended not looking at the draft for at least one month but preferably three, except I can’t wait that long with plans to attend a writer’s conference in late March.

So, I have a personal deadline, and yet I haven’t opened the document called Novel, nor printed it out. Instead, I’ve been packing my life with other things, like going to the movies, eating out, seeing friends and reading.

Luckily, reading is the best tool for that in-between time of writing and editing. That’s where writers can analyze how other writers approach storytelling, use the elements of writing and engage a distinctive voice.

Procrastinating editing has a few advantages:

• It’s a way to not actively think about the rough draft, letting some thoughts and processing happen at the subconscious level. Likewise, if writers know all the elements of writing and approaches to telling a story, they may make new connections by not doing everything by rote on a daily basis.
• Writers get a break from their own way of writing and may, from their reading, ponder how other writers use language, choose words and describe the story world.
• Errors are easier to catch with some distance. The idea is to read each word, instead of filling in what should be there, both at the sentence level and the level of character and scene development.
• Writers can be more of a reader, noting where they get bored or their minds wander. They can read the opening scene and, hopefully, be more honest about whether it’s the right place to begin the story, if there is too much backstory early on and if there’s reason to read on to the next chapter.

Finally, procrastinating allows writers to experience life without thinking that they should be writing. Both are necessary and should be kept in balance.

So … I will start editing on Monday, I promise!

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Revision Part II

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on January 20, 2013 at 11:00 am

The novel is written and, if you’re like me, you want to set it aside with the belief it’s ready to go.

But, for most writers, revising is a crucial part of the writing process.

My writer friends advised me to set aside my novel for a month or even three months to give distance and a keener eye.

I’ve done that and now it’s time for the fun stuff.

Revising or editing a manuscript, whether it’s a novel, short story or collection of writing, is not a one-time thing and requires several drafts toward the final draft. Each time you revise, you get closer to the story’s core and essential components.

It’s best to start with the overall structure before getting down to the sentence level.

To do this, there are many approaches to take, so many that you could spend months just reworking your drafts. I think it’s best to pick and choose what works best for you.

I compiled a list of revision and self-editing tips for looking both at the big picture of the manuscript, as well as the small picture, or the details.

For the big picture revision:

• Revise the manuscript for overall structure.
• Ask if the opening scene grabs the reader.
• Cut any unnecessary scenes and strengthen weak ones. Look for scenes where there is not much action or characters do a lot of talking without conflict. Look for too many similar scenes in a row. Make sure each scene has a clear objective for the character and that there is conflict, or opposition, to the objective.
• Check that the setting is not just an external location but is integral to the story.
• Do an edit for language and imagery, as well as for tone, mood, cadence and voice.
• Make sure all the plot threads come together. Does the story have a beginning, middle and end? Are conflict and tension sustained throughout the telling? Does the story build with tension at the end of each chapter? Is each scene personal for the main character?
• Make sure the characters are realistic with good and bad features and that they are distinguishable from one another. Are they fully fleshed out with personalities, backgrounds and unique physical characteristics? Does the reader care about these characters?
• Ask if the dialogue is realistic and if the characters speak in ways that are distinguishable from one another.
• Make sure there is subtext, something happening beneath the surface of the text. The subtext could come from a character’s hidden agenda, the setting as foreshadowing or an image carried throughout the story.

To get down to the details in your editing:

• Omit needless words to get to the essential core.
• Identify areas where transitions are needed.
• Look for misspellings, lapses in grammar and usage, consistency in verb tense and anything that is missing. Also look for sentences that don’t make sense.
• Whenever possible, use the active voice and avoid the passive voice, such as “there was …”
• Replace adjectives and adverbs with nouns and verbs.
• Vary your sentence structure.
• Avoid repetition of words, facts and details.
• Do a fact check on weather, season, month, chronology of events and setting.
• Identify passages that are telling, instead of showing, and decide if they should show, instead of tell.

Revision Part I, or Editing Entertainment

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on January 13, 2013 at 11:00 am

I find writing preferable to editing, but editing is part of the process of writing.

For one month, I set aside the rough draft of my novel, not daring to look at it, but I certainly have thought about it.

This week, I will begin my first of a half-dozen or more edits or revisions.

I’ve read plenty of articles about editing, such as doing a read-through for structure; identifying areas that need more detail or to be cut; and fact checking to make sure character identities and descriptions of setting are consistent and accurate for the story world.

This is all good advice that I’m going to try to heed, at least this time.

For my previous works, I read my novel start to finish several times, editing and re-editing, taking a half-year to finally say, “I’m done.”

But I don’t think I was, because my editing was a matter of reading and tightening up what I read. I read the entire manuscript through, looking for inconsistencies, any boring parts and the parts I skimmed because I was in a hurry and wanted to finish the scene. I read for grammatical errors. And I read for overall plot to make sure things made sense.

I found it painful to cut, even though I dumped most of my cuts of more than a couple of sentences into a cut file.

This time when I edit, I’m going to take a more planned, methodical approach. I’m going to:

• Revise the whole manuscript first, starting with the overall structure.
• Look for any elements that I didn’t carry through, such as a dropped idea, a scene that ended too soon or a character that disappears without explanation.
• Do a quick read to cut anything that isn’t engaging or necessary to the story, noting anywhere I start to skim.
• Make sure the pacing is compelling and right for the telling of the story.
• Do a character identity check by reading all the passages that mention the main and primary secondary characters. I’ll look for consistency, accuracy and any repetitions in their identities, backgrounds and behaviors.
• Do a revision for character, plot, setting and dialogue. I’ll remove any unnecessary backstory and make sure character histories are not provided too early in the story.
• Edit at the detail level for grammatical errors, awkward usages and repetitions.

Happy New BLOG Year

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on January 6, 2013 at 11:00 am

Blogging is tricky.

A blog needs focus and to have a point, something that draws in readers week to week. But blogging also is a conversation, where bloggers read other blogs, make comments and hope those others will be encouraged to read their blogs.

I haven’t done so well on the conversation front and end up filing away blogs I mean to read. I tell myself I’m busy with work and writing a novel, which I finished in early December and started editing this month. But those are just excuses.

This year, I plan to read those blogs and others to engage in that conversation.

As for my own blog, I will continue to write about the writing process and topics of writing I didn’t explore in last year’s blog, “52: A Year of Writing Basics, Beliefs and Beauty.” I originally wanted to come up with something new and different that I (and few others) have not blogged about, but after some reflection, I decided I should keep blogging about my passion, that of writing.

I approached last year’s blog in a textbook format, trying to cover the writing elements in a somewhat orderly fashion – moving from plot, character, setting and dialogue to different types of writing, such as poetry and short stories. I researched each topic, taking notes and compiling information from my writer’s books and magazines.

This year, I will be more freeform in my choice of topics and will write about my own experiences editing my novel and preparing for my next writing project. I also plan to continue writing poetry and a few short stories, as well as enter contests. This, too, I will blog about.

I plan to leave my blog open ended, so that if I try skydiving or ice fishing (I am afraid of heights and hate being cold, btw), I will blog about it.

This year’s blog is called 52: A Writer’s Life.