Saturday, May 19, 2012

Adventures in Revision

It's kind of stunning the things that you see when you've let something sit on the back burner long enough.  No matter how messy and confusing and painful something is to look at now, there will come a time when you're able to look at it and suddenly understand why it wasn't working and maybe even how to fix it.  This is true of relationships, and it's also true of book writing. 

I'm knee-deep in revisions right now, and this book -- having been a trunk novel -- has some serious structural problems.  I'm finally confident enough in my writing to tackle these issues.  Here's a few tips I've learned in the trenches that might help you out, too:
  1. It's OK not to outline, if you'd rather pants, but odds are that if you're pantsing, you might not have a plot.  That's not an issue for a first draft, but you really have to come up with one by the time revisions come around, and that might be really really hard.  For the sake of your sanity, you should probably figure your plot out before you start writing.  
  2. Things happening does not equal plot.  In order to have a plot, you need a character who wants something, taking actions to get that something, with obstacles stopping them from getting it.  You need all three.  
  3. Don't be too scared to let the story go "there," wherever "there" is for you.  You have to be genuine to the story.  If that means some characters do really terrible things, so be it.  Stop worrying about offending people or being judged and just tell your story.  You can scale it back later if you go too far.  
  4. Having a character be indecisive because you (the writer) can't decide how to have him act is not endearing.  It's annoying.  Similarly, having the character be in the dark because you (the writer) have no idea what's happening is also annoying.  Figure the story out or let the character advance it for you, but don't try to lead them around on a path you haven't even explored. 
  5. Don't let yourself get so excited about finishing that you rush through and make sloppy mistakes.  I know it's hard -- it feels like an "all or nothing" kind of thing where you either want to be finished RIGHT NOW or not do anything ever, but writing is really more of a "slow and steady" activity.  Take the time to get each step right.  
None of this is very revolutionary advice, but I do wish I could've gone back in a time machine and told myself all of this when I first wrote this book.  Then again, considering I started working on the original draft of this thing nine years ago (holy shit!), I had lots of other learning to do along the way. 


  1. I'm so glad i never really delved too deeply into my pantsing phase. Beat sheets for me all the way. It makes for less revising, in the long run

    1. The more time I spend following the industry, the more it seems to me that professionals just can't afford to be hardcore pantsers. You need a rapid turn-around, for one, so cutting down on revisions is essential. And you also need to know early on what your book will be about; once you're in a contract position, you have to give publishers an idea of what's next down the pipe. Hard to do if you don't really know yet.

      I'm going to have to hang up my pants and try really, really hard to outline from now on!