Shelley Widhalm

Revising an old novel (for new fun)

In Novel editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on August 10, 2014 at 11:00 am

I thought revising a novel I finished three years ago would be easy, because I had already made it “perfect” over multiple drafts.

My novel, “One April Day”, is about a 35-year-old woman named Maggie Cooper who is laid off from a metro newspaper in 2008. She gets caught up in a Bible study gone wrong and a false prophecy that leads her astray from making her own decisions until she faces risking everything, including her comforts of a salary, a home, a church and friends.

My first revision took three weeks when I cut nearly 30 1 ½-spaced pages, or about 9,000 words. A beta reader told me the beginning dragged and needed tightening, so I cut some of my descriptions and play-by-play scenes that weren’t necessary, the result of overwriting.

I also cut a few word echoes, or the same word used in the same paragraph or even on the same page if it is a more unusual word. I noticed that I liked to use the word “look” for gaze, glance and stare, and so I did a word search to substitute half of my usage of that word.

Most of my editing involved tightening, plus some logistical fixes, because I had my plotline set according to the arc, with the beginning, rising action, middle, falling action and end. The character identities were strong, too, because I based them on real people or compilations as the story comes from a real-life occurrence, though many of the details have been changed.

After editing the book, I set it aside for one evening and started another revision, this time spending eight days on it. I wanted to make sure my edits read smoothly and that I hadn’t missed anything, but a hundred pages in, I realized I should have spread out the revisions. I was lazy in my editing, and the story didn’t seem “fresh,” because I had just read it.

Even so, I kept going, because I can’t not finish something I started.

In this revision, I changed styles from Associated Press, which I use as a journalist, to Oxford, meaning I had to write out numbers and use the serial comma in front of the word “and.” I had to remind myself to be on the lookout for the word as I read, so for the first few chapters, I used the Find function to search it out (a big pain) in case I missed the comma insert.

Once I finished the edit on Sunday, Aug. 3, I had 68,100 words and 247 pages. I had started with 78,400 words and 282 pages, so I cut 10,300 words (worthy of a prize given my clinginess to what I write, though to solve this, I dumped my darlings into a Cut file).

I had a Monday, Aug. 4, deadline for this revision to send to a family friend who has connections in the southern Bible belt, though this is just a Big Wish.

Normally when it comes to revising my work, I am the Excuse Queen. I work on everything else first, and then get to the editing, revising and fixer-upper work of the writing process.

Though revision involves writing, it isn’t the same because, at least for me, the writing part is limited: it only involves a scene, a few sentences or the entire novel where I’m fixing a factual, grammatical or other type of error in little spots here and there.

In other words, I write because I love it, and I revise because I want someone else to like what I write without stumbling over multiple errors.

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