Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Revision--Shannon Style (Part One: Drafting)

As promised last week, this month I'll be using my Tuesday, Shannon-Style posts to talk about what is probably the most painful and difficult part of the writing process: Revision.


I mean, doesn't that word strike fear in your heart? It does for me. (I've mentioned the revision-is-stressful diet, right? Yeah, I'm down TWO dress sizes thanks to that bad boy.)

So why is it so hard? 

Because the way I see it: Writing is just word vomit on the page. Revision is when you have to clean that vomit into something good. It's icky. It can feel impossible. And most of the time you wish you could pay someone else to do it. But unfortunately, it has to be done. 

And there's a million-and-a-half ways to go about it. It's one of those things that everyone has to find their own method for. So all I can really do is share mine. It may work for you. It may not. All I know is: this is what works for me. And you've asked me about it. So I'm sharing. 

Basically--as always with these Shannon-Style posts--take the advice. Then salt to taste. Okay? Okay.

But before we get started, since we're talking about REVISION--and most of us are probably dying inside just a little because of it. And since this is Shannon-Style, and my AWESOME CPs send me revision care packages to help me survive...

*sends virtual cupcakes and chocolate and twizzlers*

Doesn't that make you feel better?


See, revision's not so bad now right? 

Okay, fine. It is. But let's get to it anyway.

For me, revision is a process I tackle in four different stages: the Drafting Stage, the Personal Stage, the CP/Beta Stage, and the Agent Stage. They of course have crossovers and what-not. But for organizational purposes, I'm going to break these posts up the same way, and cover one every Tuesday. Which means today we're talking about: the Drafting Stage.

But wait--you say. You've read time and time again from all these famous authors (who are way more successful than lil' ole me, btw) that you're not supposed to revise when you're writing your rough draft. That's why it's your ROUGH draft. You're just supposed to go go go go go until you type, "The End," and THEN you can start revising. 

To which I say: Yes, I've heard that too. And I just. can't. work. that. way. 

I've tried--believe me, I've TRIED. I just can't do it. I'm too much of a perfectionist. I'm too OCD. 

Cause here's the thing: yes, when I'm drafting I get in that: ooo-shiny-new-words-everything-I-write-is-GOLD!!!!!!!! zone. I do. And MAN that's an awesome place to be. BUT, I still--even in the drafting stage--have those: this-isn't-working-the-scene-can't-go-this-way-it-just-can't!!!!!!! moments. And I just can't move on until I feel like I'm on the right track. I have to go back.

Now, I'll confess, when I first started writing, I did it wrong. I didn't just go back. I started over. I threw out entire chapters over and over. I was on draft ten before I even got to "the end." And when I got there--as tends to happen--I realized what I'd REALLY been doing wrong. And I had to go back and throw a ton of it out and start over again. 

Don't do that. That was very frustrating and not cool and I definitely don't recommend it.  THAT'S why they tell you not to go back. Not just because its a big old time suck, but also because it's INCREDIBLY discouraging. It's so easy to feel like: I will never get this right and give up before you even finish. I'm very lucky that didn't happen to me. So I don't let myself do that anymore. I've learned from my mistakes.

But I've also learned that I have to sometimes listen to my inner editor as I draft. Why? Because a lot of times, she's right (the smug little minx).

That little voice telling me this moment shouldn't happen yet, or shouldn't happen at all, or needs to happen differently? She's right. And I'm not going to just pretend I don't know that and keep going blindly forward. I can't. I won't. And I don't think I should have to.

But I also don't want to fall back into my old, bad habits either. So I've come up with a few rules for myself to try to keep the right balance. 

When I'm drafting, I will revise IF:

-The scene/character/plot has started to go in a different direction than where I need/want the book to go. Otherwise I could steer way off course, and make a big old mess for myself. 

-I get to the end of the scene and realize NOTHING HAPPENED IN THERE! This is a dead giveaway that I've lost sight of my plot and need to take a minute and figure out what's actually going on. Then go back and include that in the scene.

-I realize the moment I've just written needs to fall in a different place in the book's timeline. Most of the time this just means moving the scene to a different document and adding it in later. But it needs to be done in order to move forward properly.

-I discover a giant, gaping plot hole that needs to be addressed--stat. Partially because this just messes with my head too much to ignore. But also because HUGE GAPING PLOT HOLES take a LOT of work to fix. Best get started on that early. And make sure it CAN be fixed.

I've also given myself some Don'ts, to keep myself in check. So I am NOT allowed to go back for:

-Bad/repetitive writing. I know it's there. It happens to all of us. But it's not important at this stage. I'll clean it up later.

-Pacing issues. Pacing is IMPOSSIBLE to determine until the draft is complete. So even though I KNOW I'm running long/short, I'm not allowed to go back and cut/add. Yet. 

-Tiny plot/character inconsistencies. They happen as you get to know your characters. But there's no way you're going to find them all unless you reread the entire draft. So save that for the revision stage.

-Clarifying/adding description. This is one of my big tics (probably stems from my screenwriting experience). I tend to forget to like, describe the setting or the characters or clarify the rules of my world (what--I know this stuff, don't my readers like, instinctively know it?) Again, it's one of those things that affects every scene. I can fix when I work through the draft as a whole.

Makes sense, right? (Well, it does to me at least). And I try try TRY to follow them. But, I'll confess, sometimes it's hard. So I've added three other tricks to help me obey. 

1) I keep a separate document titled: Things I need to go back and fix. Anything that falls into those red "don't" categories that's driving my inner editor crazy gets noted here. It tends to shut her up. Like, oh, okay, it's been noted. We're aware of the problem. We have it on a "to do" list--often cited by page and chapter number. NO NEED TO PANIC.  Makes a big, big difference. Bonus: it makes it nice and easy to know where to start with my REAL revisions. I have this clear, organized list to get started on.

2) I set self-imposed deadlines and word count goals and force myself to meet them. Which means I HAVE to move forward, even when my inner editor is SCREAMING at me to go back. My inner self disciplinarian is stronger than her. She shuts her up like none other.

3) I send chapters to my CPs almost as soon as I finish them. I know. This is SCARY. It was really, really hard for me to get to a point where I was okay with this because a) um...my pages are a MESS at that point. And I don't like anyone to see my mess. It's like letting them peek under my bed and see all the clutter and vomit I try to hide from the world. (Okay, there's no vomit under my bed. At least I hope there's not. *eyes the cats suspiciously* But you see my point. ) And b) getting notes from CPs could, very easily, tempt me to go back and do all kinds of tweaking I'm not quite ready to do. 

So why do I do it? Because what's even SCARIER is that voice in my head saying: this sucks. I'm wasting my time. No one will like this. I'm a hack. I'll never write anything good--ever. DOOOOOOM! Yes, my head is NOT a pretty place when I write. I have all kinds of different voices I battle. It can be a little debilitating. 

Fortunately I have the incredibly awesome Sara(h)s, who have no problem being my cheerleaders. So I send them my very rough chapters as soon as I'm done writing them, with the only instructions being: let me know if this sucks and watch for any huge, gaping plot holes. And they read quick and respond with the: OMG I LOVE THIS AND WANT MORE! encouragement I need to keep going. 

Do they sometimes give me notes for things I'm not really supposed to be adjusting yet? Of course. And I even tell them that if they notice something I'd prefer they mark it. But I'm pretty good about copying and pasting those notes into the "Things I need to go back and fix" file, and saving them for later. Plus, sometimes they find some big, gaping plot holes I missed. And then I can fix those before I weave the mistake through the whole draft. Win and WIN.

So basically, my approach is kind of a middle ground approach to drafting. I'm not a pure "word-vomit only" kind of person. I do revise as I go. But I try to limit the revision to the essentials only. Just enough to stop my inner editor from going insane, but not letting her run the show either. 

Because there is a LOT to be said for getting to the end of the draft. It's AMAZING how clear so many things become once you get there. You really do want to save the bulk of your revising for after that point. But that doesn't mean you can't do SOME along the way. It's all about balance, imho. Works for me anyway. 

And that's the real lesson. Like I said at the beginning. It's about finding what works for YOU. Try different things until you find the right system. And never do something just because it's the way you're "supposed to do it." There's no x + y - z = International bestseller (at least, I don't think so. If you guys know about it, please--do tell.) You just have to find your own way through this frustrating, murky process. Write. Revise. And Repeat.

Okay, I *think* that covers my drafting process pretty well. Any questions? Comments? Concerns? Tips? Pointers? Revision snack of choice that helps more than chocolate or Twizzlers? Feel free to share in the comments. 


  1. This was EXTREMELY helpful! I can't stop myself from editing some things as I go, and your list of what you DO/DON'T revise in the draft stage is awesome. I think this will help keep my editing beast in check :) Thank you Shannon!

  2. I don't think I have an inner editor. When the inspiration takes me I can write non-stop for what seems like forever. Trouble is, while this does turn out some amazing passages, it also produces some that are ... less than stellar. I'm pretty much terrible at spotting it on my own, so I have to pass it on.

    It's still really interesting to hear about your process though, and you neurosis.

  3. Great tips. I'll be curious to see how things go when I start my new project since I've been revising for so many years. I like the revise list. I may try that.

  4. This was awesomely helpful. I like the do and don'ts. Maybe if I followed it, it wouldn't take me 16 drafts to get something right.

  5. I like your do's and don'ts. Very logical, but hard to take, sometimes. I so have an internal editor. I even have a message on my desk that reads: Tell the internal editor in your head to 'shut up'!

    It's the most tempting thing to go back....now. I'm actually going through that now. I need to outline more and do more research but I'm itching to write. I write, and then find it dry. Vicious circle...

  6. Great tips. I revise as I go, too. Mostly I look at what I've written and judge if that is what I intended, going in the direction I wanted or something like that. But on top of that, I always start the day's writing by rereading a scene, sometimes several scenes or chapters, what I wrote the day or so before. I do this for two reasons--one, I find it easier to get into the writing mindset of the day by starting with adjusting words rather than creating whole new ones, and it also refreshes my mind on the character voice and everything that just happened before the scene I'm about to write. This doesn't take too long, but I've always found that I can jump into the day's writing easier with this approach.

    Thanks for sharing your "Shannon Style" notes. Love them!

  7. Whew! I'm so glad that I'm not the only one who does this! For my current WIP, one of my CPs and myself are doing exactly what you do. We are writing a chapter and sending it back and forth. This has been so helpful to me already because it helps me see if I'm on the right track.

  8. I have a hard time moving forward without editing. I struck a deal with my inner editor. I put her on mute until I finish a chunk of writing. The next day, I review what I wrote the day before and mark anything/change anything I need to. I don't touch word choice, etc. but I do keep in mind the bigger stuff.

    Like you, I generally skip over description, setting, and my main character's thoughts in my first draft. So glad it's not just me!

  9. I'm so glad others feel the need to go back and fix things. On my current WIP I have forced myself to keep moving forward and not stop and it has been so hard! I like your idea of a seperate document for your to do list. I'm giving that one a try.

  10. Okay...this has been printed and added to my Shannon Style pile. I keep it next to me--along with my Bookshelf Muse folder--when I work on my new WIP. :-)

  11. Awesome post, Shannon! But mostly because YAY, I thought I was doing things wrong, all wrong, but it looks like our process is similar (except that I sometimes get stuck on the vomit and find myself revising until my eyeballs pop out, even when I know I should just move on and keep drafting).

    Thanks for sharing! Also O_O want.chocolate.now.

  12. I used to be horrible about compulsively deleting huge chunks of story as I wrote my first draft because my inner editor told me I had to. Now, I do a lot of what you do. I highlight the stuff I can come back to later and change key things immediately if they need changing. But I definitely don't go crazy about it anymore.

  13. Great post! I used to have a deep fear and loathing of revisions. But I've since embraced my inner revisionist and now, I enjoy it almost more than writing that first draft! :)

  14. And now I want chocolate.

    Great post. I tend to fix minor errors like spelling if I notice them but other than that, I just write the first draft. But I haven't done much revision so I'm actually looking forward to it. After writing 3+ different first drafts I'm ready to move on to the next stages of this process.

    I like this series and look forward to the other posts.

  15. Hi Shannon!
    I love your posts, they are always so helpful, hilarious and full of interesting tips and funny lines. You are really great!And I have some of your posts saved in my laptop (I'm not gonna steal anything, I swear! I just wanna be able to re-read some of them when offline) because I find them inspiring and I can learn a lot from them! thanks for sharing!

    As far as revision is concearned, I'm a translator so I do FEAR the revision process, because I get pretty lost among terminology, names, jokes, plays on words, characters' nicknames and such. I have a file with THINGS THAT MUST BE REVISED LATER and THINGS I MUST REVISE NOW. And it's not even my things I'm revising and editing. Sigh.
    I usually eat tons of 'pane e nutella' (I'm Italian, see?), drink way too much coffee and sleep too little.
    See, you have company!

  16. Ok, I totally get this. I just cannot NOT go back. But my big things are plot holes or the timelines of scenes like you indicated.

    I try to put off everything else but sometimes while I am fixing one thing I notice another...then another. And it helps to look at my loose outline because thats where I really want my story to go but if I don't look at it every once in a while I end up with a completely different story.lol

  17. The inside of your head sounds just like mine, competing editor/disciplinarian and OCD habits included! I thought I was all alone down here at the end of the cul-de-sac... And thanks for your help with my query over on Matt's blog the other day. :)

  18. Thanks for this post! I love hearing how other writers do things. I like the idea of sending chapters to CPs as soon as they're done (even if it's SCARY) I might have to try that. And I can't wait for the other posts!

  19. Really, really helpful. Thanks a bunch for the help.

  20. Excellent post, Shannon. Thank you.

  21. Nothing helps better than chocolate and twizzlers!

    Awesome post. I've been outlining slightly lately, enough that I usually avoid plot holes. It keeps me on track so that I hardly ever have to throw out a scene but allows me enough creativity and space to breathe that my pantser self doesn't suffocate. I never thought I would outline at all, but combining the two is amazing!

  22. I have a super tough time with revisions too. Thanks for sharing your process. :)
    Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

  23. This was helpful Shannon...Revision does scare me...

  24. Thank you so much for this post! I struggling with shutting up my inner editor so I'm going to try your tips. I'm in the middle of my first draft so I hope to get it done quickly so I can move on to revising.

  25. That's very similar to what I do. The things that don't affect the storyline I leave, but if a scene needs to change, I'll do it then. Great post.

  26. It makes me feel better to hear that you need your CPs to read chapter by chapter. I'm like that, but after reading all these writers say it's a no no. I'm going at this draft alone.

  27. this was really great. i too have an inner editor that is PICKY!

    i have a lot of questions. of course. but i'll e-mail you so i can fully explain myself. :)

    i really appreciate your blog. i enjoy it too, yes, but i appreciate it so much as well. you are very informative and fun too! so thanks for blogging. you're awesome.


Yay-I love comments! Thank you so much! (But please remember to keep your comments spoiler-free. Also, I try to keep this a happy, positive place. Any arguing or intense debate--on any subject will be removed. Let's keep this a safe, fun space.