Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Revision’

Conquering the sucky first draft

In Revising, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Processes on March 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

I love writing, and I love having written.

But when it comes to revising my writing, I kind of, sort of don’t have as much fun with the whole being a writer thing.

Revision takes work, discipline and hours of time—for me, more hours than the first draft when you get to sit and spill. You get to think, I’m a writer. I’m writing. But when you’re revising, it’s not as fun to run to your manuscript and think, I’m looking at you, you big unwieldy thing.

The first go around with the very rough, very messy draft, however, can be interesting. Sometimes.

It’s when I get to wonder what it was I actually created at the meta-level. I remember the overall story, but sometimes the details slip my mind. I turn into a reader albeit with my figurative big red pen (since I edit my first draft on the computer to save time on a ton of cutting and pasting and adding and rearranging).

As I read, I sometimes think, oh, I wrote that? And then the whole cumbersome process of looking at my manuscript seems kind of fun, because I like surprises. I like seeing I’ve accomplished something. And I like making my writing better.

Revision takes work and multiple drafts to get to clean, tight copy.

To revise, a writer can look at the overall writing elements individually, such as voice, dialog, setting, character and plot. Then, there’s the level of transition and flow, so that scenes are complete without holes, followed by grammar, sentence structure and missed periods, misplaced and misused words and misspellings Spell check didn’t catch.

Here are some questions to ask during the revision process:

Is the point of view consistent? Or, if there are several point of views, do the characters get their own space? (Changing point of view in the same paragraph is jarring for the reader.)

Is the voice the same for the main character, or does it show change, such as insecure to confident or angry to acceptance? How are words used to show voice?

Is there an inciting incident that sets the story in motion?

Are there holes in the plot? Are there dropped elements? Is there too much space or time spent on the beginning, middle or end? Does the middle sag? Does the end disappoint? And do the plot strings tie together by the end?

Do the characters have physical features, introduced the first time they appear in the story?

Does the dialog move the plot?

I find that by the time I’m sick of my 12th or 15th draft, my novel’s ready to go. I’ve read it so many times I’m not editing anymore but changing unnecessarily. That’s when it’s time to say, it’s my best.

It’s time for a new project and to market the current one.

Basically, it’s time to move on.


Avoiding new writing projects

In Editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on September 14, 2014 at 11:00 am

Every time I finish a big writing or revision project, I feel lost, unanchored and unsure.

I recently fixed up my heart (re: Writing with a Broken Heart), but this time my heart rip is about re-finding that purpose in my writing life.

I get so caught up in the world of my story, whether it’s fresh writing or editing and re-editing an older piece, I don’t know how to let it go to clear the slate for new writing.

In other words, I get scared. I have a list of ideas for short stories and a couple for novels, but I haven’t started on any of them yet, because it’s easier to move forward from the middle place.

Starting at the beginning requires finding the story structure, figuring out character identity and doing a great deal of groundwork, plus writing that first sentence and the next one and the next one after that. I prefer continuing working on the same project, because it’s comfortable and what I’m used to, but comfort can be taken to the extreme in over revising.

With my latest revision of “The Money Finder,” a young adult novel about a 15-year-old who uses her money finding abilities to try to solve her family crisis, I fixed up a few paragraphs and sections of dialog that sounded just as good as before I put in the work.

For instance, I read a piece aloud to a group of friends that was unrevised from my latest editing session and changed a few of the sentences back to the original because I liked how they sounded out loud.

My revision (the fourth in six months) wasn’t a waste, though. I found areas in the manuscript where I had inconsistencies in character, setting and plot facts, errors in the timeline and logistics, and lack of transition or movement in the scene due to choppy or incomplete descriptions.

I added in sensory details, such as making sure that when one of my characters with a drinking problem drank too much that her speech patterns matched. I added more emotional response from my main character to the tragedies happening in her life when I had scene description but not her reactions. And I made the behavior of a seven-year-old more appropriate to her age both in her actions and conversations.

My latest revision showed me that a manuscript is ready to be put aside when the editing involves mostly reading, making only minor fixes and fixing sections only to change them back. I learned that revising can become a problem if it serves as an avoidance technique for starting new writing.

So, yes, now I have to face that Blank Page.

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.

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!

Pain-Free Revision

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on October 7, 2012 at 11:00 am

This is my least favorite part of the writing process and the part that requires the most discipline.

It’s revision.

I wouldn’t mind if revision involved reading over what you wrote once, but it takes many reads – and by the time you read your work the sixth time around, you can figure out the ending.

I’ve revised many of my works and still find achieving that objective eye a challenge.

Revising with some objectivity, as well as subjectivity, is a multi-step process that requires several steps and a few tricks.

Writers vary in how they revise their work, but I like to give a first read through for obvious errors in spelling and grammar, words that are missing or misused, and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy.

I like to ask if the overall story make sense. Is there enough at stake in the plot? Are there any boring parts or parts that are over-explained?

Are there areas that are exciting, but feel too rushed?

Does the story end, or simply drop off, because the concluding pages were rushed or forced?

Are the characters well-developed, and do they seem real not two-dimensional?

In additional reads, I find it helpful to find the areas that need more detail or explanation. I remove unnecessary backstory and any passages that slow the pace. Doing this allows the characters and the conflict to be more evident.

Also when editing, I recommend:

  • Looking for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
  • Cutting unnecessary words, sentences and even scenes that do not move the story forward or clutter what you’re trying to say.
  • Using the active voice whenever you can.
  • Varying the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Getting rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose or as a character trait.
  • Writing visually and making sure some or all of the senses are used, including sight, sound, touch, hearing and taste.
  • Tightening the dialogue, cutting unnecessary conversation fillers like, “How are you doing?” and areas where conversation seems to repeat.

And most importantly, make sure your showing and only telling when necessary.