Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Revision--Shannon Style (Part Two: Personal Revisions)

Last week I talked about my revision method during rough drafting, which--in a nutshell--is that I do SOME tweaking on big, important things, and try to leave the rest for later. (If you missed it, you can read the post HERE).

So now we're up to the second phase of my revision process: the Personal Phase. Which is basically just a more official way of saying: the phase where I dive in and try to clean up my own mess. And believe me, it's QUITE a mess to clean up.

(Ugh--I need a truckload of chocolate and Twizzlers just thinking about this...)

So this is basically the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-dive-in-head-first stage. And I always start by turning to the handy: Things I need to Fix File (which I talked about last week). It's usually at least 10 pages long at that point (single spaced no less--I told you, I am a MESSY drafter). And I read through it several times so I really familiarize myself with it.

Some of the things on there are clear what I have to do. But most of them are simply "problems." Meaning I know something's wrong, but I haven't quite figured out how to fix it. Which means it's time for a brainstorming session with my CPs--another huge reason why I have them read the draft as I write it. That way they're up to speed with me and can help me figure this stuff out, (Yes, even though this is the Personal Stage, I make my poor CPs work) (Yes, I rely VERY heavily on my CPs.) (Yes, it's amazing they put up with me) (Yes, I probably need to send them more presents)

Okay, so, the brainstorming session. Basically I log into a chat with one of them and start with something along the lines of: THERE'S THIS BIG PROBLEM WITH MY DRAFT AND I CAN'T THINK OF ANY WAY TO FIX IT AND I'LL NEVER FIND THE ANSWER AND DOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!

And they (after most likely running to grab a GIANT bottle of alcohol) say: Okay, so tell me what the problem is.

So I ramble for...5-10 minutes. Explaining what the problem is, and what solutions I've already rejected and why (and yes, there's plenty of whining in the mix too). And then, we play the "What if?" game.

They throw out ideas. I reject them. I throw out ideas. They poke holes in them. Round and round we go. Usually for at least an hour. But the AMAZING thing about that process is: I ALWAYS end the chat with the solution. Every. Single. Time. 

There's something to be said for tossing out bad ideas. Nothing makes it clearer what WILL work, than thinking about what WON'T work. I highly recommend it.

So after thanking them a million, zillion times and telling them I'd be lost without them and promising them my kidney and a small piece of my liver, I am ready to dive in to the revision. Which means...rereading. A lot, lot, LOT of rereading.

I know some people at this point like to revise on paper. I hate it. I hate making notes for myself and then having to go back and apply them. I would so much rather save time and make the change right then. So I work in the actual file. And yes, I know, that does mean I might delete something I regret. Which is why I create a new file called: Draft One--Deleted Pieces. I cut, copy, and paste pretty much everything in there. Single words, no. But sentences--yes. And certainly big chunks. Every so often I do go back and take something from there, so it's worth the time. Plus, it's fun to see how much the draft has improved when I reread that garbage.

Anyway, when I work through the draft, I work chapter by chapter. I read the chapter once, tweaking anything from the "Things I need to fix file." Then I read again, to see how I like the changes, and if they bring up any new issues, etc. I read again, watching for repetitive phrases and words. I read it out loud, to catch awkward rhythm--especially with the dialogue. I read again, trying to ask myself if what I'm saying is clear and if I've described the setting enough. Then I read again, to see if the writing feels like it's good enough, or if I need to push myself to do better.

All of which means I do a lot of: listening to my gut. 

Deep down, I KNOW when something's wrong with my book. Do I still miss stuff? Of course--because I'm just too darn close to the project. (That's why my revision process doesn't end here) But over my years of writing I have found time and again that whenever I let something go, something I'm just not happy with but think--eh, I'm probably over-thinking it. I WILL get notes on that very same thing. My inner editor isn't as dumb as I sometimes think she is. So I'm learning to listen to her. 

Usually takes me 3-4 hours per chapter to feel like I've gotten it to a point where there's nothing more I can do. At which point, I send it to my CPs for a much more thorough critique than they did the first time, and move on to the next chapter. (Okay, fine, I have a VERY bad habit of rereading the chapter one more time the next day and making a bunch more changes and sending my poor CPs an email titled: DON'T USE THOSE PAGES--USE THESE!!!!!!) (I always promise myself I won't do it) (And at least half the time, I do) (It really is amazing they haven't flown to California to beat me over the head with my laptop)

And from that point, it's out of my hands, until I get feedback from CPs. Which is one of the reasons why I like working chapter by chapter with them. I know it's a bit harder to get a feel for the pacing, but I like that I always have something to work on, so I don't get to that point where I've sent off the ENTIRE DRAFT and can now do nothing but bite my nails and obsessively check my email and try not to go insane while I wait for them to get it back to me. Instead, I have the next chapter to work on. And by the time I get to the end I have an inbox full of critiqued chapters to go back to. I let my Beta Readers address the pacing in the CP/Beta Phase. Which I will talk about next week.

So there you go--a relatively scary glimpse into the crazy way I attack my drafts. Sadly, all I've probably accomplished with this post is making you feel VERY sorry for my CPs (and VERY happy you're not one of them). And many of you probably work very differently from this. But this is what works for me. Still a long way to go from here. But I'll talk about that next week.


That was stressful. I think I need more chocolate. Anyone want to join me? *noms* And what about you guys: how do YOU attack your drafts during the first round of revision?


  1. I go through multiple revisions of my chapters/book. I am on version 7e (I love the number 7 so when I got there I decided to stay there) so what does that tell you? My poor critique partners had looked at the manuscript enough times that I decided that fatigue factor was kicking in. Then I met another woman at a SCBWI conference and we started critiquing each other online. She had fresh eyes and has helped me a lot. I'm like you--I constantly e-mail questions. She does too though, so we're a good fit. Can't wait to hear more.

  2. Love it! A lot of similarities to my methodologies -- except I don't have a Need to Fix file. That's a golden idea! I am also learning to trust the inner editor. I can tell when a piece is 'off', but I can't always define the why.

  3. My method is very similar to yours. Although I don't have a need to fix file. After I finish writing a chapter, I usually read through once--if the chapter needs more tension for example, I'll type in tension in pink after the chapter heading and anything else that I think the chapter needs. This way, when I open my doc I can see straight away what I think the chapter needs. However, because I"m still new to this whole thing, I have a hard time figuring out what the chapter needs

  4. I am in love with your relationship with your CPs. Truly, you are blessed. I can see how that works wonders. I have a few close writer friends who always offer to brainstorm with me. I need to open up and take them up on it. You've just proved it.

  5. You + Me = revision doppelgangers, which means that if we ever meet, the world will most certainly end.

    Thanks for sharing your process! Always happy to see I'm not alone!

  6. Yes, I could go for chocolates with you. Who cares if it's only 8:45 AM?

    I've been sending mine out either in larger chunks or as a whole. I'm always worried about pacing, so that's one of the main things I want to know about in my first draft.

    I love the relationship you have with your CPs. I've never taken mine up on their offer to brainstorm with me mainly because I feel like a pest. (We're new to each other.) Perhaps I should apply Shannon Style critiquing and start up a gchat brainstorming session.

  7. Haha! Sounds like we pretty much do the SAME THINGS. Only I work in phases, which probably takes way longer than it needs to, but it's the only way I can work. So, I send one chapter to my CP and she kills it. I bring it back to life and send to the next, who kills it yet again. By the time it gets through all five of them, it should be good. But I'll still run it for any passive, thats, hads, etc. before I do my read aloud revision. *facepalm* Now I need chocolate too.

  8. Other thant the CP piece, this sounds very familiar.

  9. *is distracted by chocolate*

    You're WAY braver than me... no way anyone else is seeing my book until I'm a few drafts deep! But, then again, you know what needs to be fixed from the get go.

    *debates changing strategy*

  10. I also have a "Cuts" file where I dump stuff I've written that just isn't working. It is painful to cut out chunks of your soul, but absolutely integral to the process. I need some CP's like you have...who will put up with my whining.
    Funny Stuff I Write

  11. Distracted by Twizzlers!
    I'll try bouncing ideas off my husband, although he helps more when he just sits down and reads it. The ending of my last book was good, but he read it and said it gave away too much too soon. Revised, it was much better!

  12. Wow, you're a WAY more organized reviser than I am! Must be all the chocolate and Twizzlers. ;)

  13. I LIVE by my CPs, too. Probably because I'm not a very good brainstormer solo. It's amazing how you can be thumping your head against the wall trying to think of a solution and then just by virtue of explaining the problem "out loud" to someone else, you come up with something--or multiple somethings--that just might work. Great post!

    -Chandler, chandler1986(at)gmail

  14. I don't have time to read today! I hate to admit it, but it's either this or work on that thing I owe you. Sorry!

  15. At least you're not alone in your insanity while you wait to get your work back. I too dread this overdrawn waiting period. I think time actually flows backwards during these seasons in my life.

  16. I have just started a deleted pieces file for all my dead darlings and it makes it a lot easier to cut them if I know that they're not gone forever (even if they probably SHOULD be!).

  17. You should really consider putting all these together one day in a book or ebook format. They are so helpful, #1. :-)

  18. Mmm chocolate and twizzlers! :) Thanks for sharing more about the revision process with us.
    Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

  19. I tend to have to add in more descriptions after my first draft is done. Flesh out more emotions. Once that is done, I go over it again for grammar. And that's all before a beta reader reads it.

  20. Wow, we have very similar edit styles! I too make a to-do list. And I hate printing stuff out. And every time I start a new major edit, I just save the document as a seperate draft, so all history is kept.

  21. I have to put flesh on the bones of my ms after the first draft. I like your idea of a Need to Fix it File. I've written things down on paper, but it tends to get lost in the shuffle of notebooks. Next time--it's a computer file!

  22. Haha, sounds like you have some VERY dedicated (and helpful) critter buddies there!

    I too have a Deleted Scenes file, where I stash stuff "just in case" I don't like my changes or want to take something back. I usually don't, but it makes me feel SO much better to have it there. :)

  23. Thanks for this, Shannon!

    When I revise, I first read the entire ms and make notes. And I HAVE to print it out. I can't read that much on the screen (and yes, I intentionally said "that much". I'm rather verbose...)

    Then I get to hack it to pieces! Sometimes, literally. I've taken scissors and red pens to my wip.

    My biggest struggle is knowing when to STOP revising and START reworking and when to finally type THE END.


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