On Rewriting – a link to Alexandra Sokoloff’s wisdom

I’m not in rewriting mode right now, but Alexandra Sokoloff’s latest post at Murderati, “Top Ten Things I Know About Rewriting,” struck me anyway. It’s jammed full of really helpful information, laid out in a clear, easy-to-adopt way.

I wanted to keep a link to it for my own further reference, and I thought what easier place than here on my blog? Convenient for me and a nice resource for you all too.

Happy writing (or editing, as the case may be! :)),

How many drafts?

Earlier today on Twitter, my friend Jen Brubacher retweeted about Anne Rice and how she only writes one draft: Doing drafts.

I watched/listened to the short blip with great interest. Anne Rice’s process supports some thinking I’ve been doing since I started perusing Dean Wesley Smith’s Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing, especially his ideas on Speed and ReWriting. (Okay, I’ve been pretty obsessed with his pontifications about agents too, but the thoughts sparked there are beyond the scope of this post!)

I don’t think I will ever get to a place where I do only one draft, and I’m not sure I want to. There’s huge value in going through work with the purpose of getting it to say what you want it to say, how you want it said . . . And there’s equally huge value in having that “Don’t worry” card to hand your nasty inner editor (presuming you have one of those too): Just let me fly through my story–it’s wonderful fun. And if I’ve screwed something up? Don’t worry. I’ll fix it when I’m done. (A cheerful rhyme infuriates my I.E. to no end!)

Most writing I do (and most writing I edit for others) needs at least one thorough self-edit, one more edit after trusted reader response, plus a proofing. But even that — for me to say, maybe things only need four drafts, total — well, that’s an enormous change in my approach to craft and process.

I didn’t rewrite my first novel; I just wanted to know I could write one. And I did it — 86K, with a solid beginning, middle, and end . . . What a rush!

I rewrote my second novel, literally, about 20 times. And tried to sell it. Sort of. I sent it out to about 30 people at various stages of its 20 drafts. But I knew as I edited, I wasn’t really so much editing as I was teaching myself how to write.

My last novel was stronger at the end of its first draft than that second one was at its 18th. And these days I rarely put things through more than four edits. I felt incredibly intimidated by that. Maybe I’m fooling myself? I wondered. Maybe I’m embracing mediocrity. Maybe . . . ARGH.

Lately my maybes have changed. Maybe, just maybe, I show a story better on the first wonderful spill . . . and again, just maybe, I see better _exactly_ what needs to be added, chopped, refined, respun, deleted on my first read . . .

I don’t think how many drafts a writer does actually matters. We all have our own processes and methods for getting stories out on the page, and so long as we’re finishing things, sending them out, and starting new stories at pretty regular intervals, our differing systems are perfect.

It’s been really motivating to have my current way of doing things affirmed by pros, however, even if it’s also a bit scary (in a delicious, wonderful way). I have quite a body of work. It’s time to stop stop hacking at it and starting sending it out with greater focus and energy (and less fear!) than I have before.

Wish me luck!

And now it’s your turn. Weigh in, please. 🙂 How many times do you work through a story (short or novel length)? Do you have an overarching system and rules, or is your approach to editing more piece-by-piece?

Happy writing (and editing),

Life imitates art—the editing part anyway . . .

I’ve commented before about how I see connections between almost everything in my life and writing. Caving? Well, that’s absolutely a metaphor for writing, of course. Scary movies in childhood? Obviously a lesson in recognizing and dealing with avoidance techniques that might be hurting your writing. Lazy and procrastinating? No, no, no—that’s feeding the muse.

And the latest case of life echoing writing work or vice-versa? Electrical upgrades done in your home (while you’re trying to live and work there) is just like editing a novel. It’s an electrifying truth. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

I was not happy to hear that my older home needed to have its panel upgraded from 70-amp service to 200-amp service. (Yes, I’m just showing off newly acquired technical lingo.) My house was comfortable and warm. It had (has!) character. I liked it just fine as it was and it never gave any trouble. Current “code” regulations seem a little on the bizarre side: I’m living here, not operating a nuclear plant . . . but I digress. However unhappy I was to hear it, the needed reno wasn’t a surprise. We knew our house needed more power.

I was not happy to hear from my beloved and much trusted, much appreciated first readers that my latest WIP needed more work. Yes, not happy, but again, not surprised. I already knew I wanted to amp up the tension, rewire a few scenes to dim the focus on the killer, spotlight some red herrings . . .

I thought it would be lovely if the very competent electrician could figure out a way to fix the problems without bashing huge holes in my walls and cutting through lovely painted walls and moulding to get at what he needed to address. He, of course, all artistry aside, could not. Fixing the problem required getting at the guts of the house.

I thought, Hey, I’ve edited a lot of novels now. I’ll just cut in neatly, splice in a line of intrigue, throw a couple of exciting switches . . .

I trust you see where this analogy is going. My eight-inch-thick walls were dismembered and unstuffed. My ceiling is, well, missing in chunks . . . My scenes were (are!) just as mangled. So much for artistry.

But there’s good news. All the hard work, the gruelling work, the omigoodness-please-not-really-don’t-make-me-fix-that-too work pays off.

My house was built to last and the new fixtures, forced air electric heaters, and lovely high-powered service, breakers, fuses, etc. just make what was already there that much better—shine that much brighter.

I trust that I won’t have to resort to mudding and taping and painting my novel to get the same power upgrade in my story.

Don’t Pass On the Genre Pass

I recently finished the third draft of my current WIP, and maybe you can identify with the very academic and scholarly feeling of WHOOOHOOO that coursed through my body.

Thinking I was sooo close to The End (I envisioned 4th Draft as being as simple as addressing a few pages of additional notes chapter-by-chapter), you can imagine how annoying it was to find that every time I went to open the novel’s folder, I stalled—ended up reading blogs, posting at forums, playing with my dogs . . . I even found myself doing dishes and catching up on laundry (the true sign of how low I stooped). At first I thought it was just my ever-present, all-too-common love of work avoidance. Then I read Alexandra Sokoloff’s recent Murderati post, “On Genre, Sort of,” followed her link to a post on her personal blog, “Top Ten Things I Know About Editing,” and had a huge Aha! moment.

The lightning-strike comment regarded doing what Alexandra calls a “genre pass.” I’ve never written according to genre before (but I should have. Reading her post made me realize why my first novel, a book I still believe in, got full-reads and good comments from agents, but no offers for representation. It’s women’s fiction, and I should’ve taken comments from literary markets, “It’s too commercial,” and from more mainstream markets, “It’s too literary” and jumped off the fence, picked a group of target readers and edited with them in mind. In fact, I still might do just that—but I digress . . .). The story I’m working on now is a mystery/suspense with supernatural elements. Writing-wise, I feel like I’ve discovered my home. Editing-wise, I now realize that I wasn’t putting off my “last” add-ins, because I have a penchant for household chores. My subconscious writer knew something (as usual) that my usually perceptive inner editor didn’t: The kind of cool/creepy things my brain has been throwing my way lately aren’t for my next book (well, some of them are), they’re to intensify this one.

A small part of me is disappointed (I so wanted to hand over my story with a big “Ta-da—c’est fini!” to my first readers), but the largest part is relieved and excited. I know what I need to do to feel right about calling this book “finished” and sharing it—and that really demands a big WHOOOHOO. Maybe even two.

My Editing Process

I’m getting ready to launch into edit-land this February, and on a forum I moderate, I asked the following question: Do you have a specific process or system for your edits, or do you just kind of wing it, improving whatever you notice needs work each time through?

Laying out my answer was very interesting – what a lot of work editing is! It was also affirming – what a lot of work I do! I think the list will even be helpful; I can use it as a guide over the next few months. When I hit the dreaded, “I’ll NEVER finish this book” stage, I can come back at myself with, “Of course, you will. Only three edits left!” Heh heh.

Without any further ado, in the hopes that might be of some use to you too, here’s my answer.

I have a very specific editing process. I go through 8-10 full edits (not including that I edit for punctuation/spelling/grammar as I go, and that I usually do a page or two of storyline tweaking before I begin each day’s new writing).

  • 1st edit: Make sure the story line is intact and write notes on holes/time glitches,etc.
  • 2nd edit: Fix said holes in plots, time glitches, etc.
  • 3rd edit: Look closely at each character’s motivations/voice/way of coming across and make notes about anything I find out-of character, contradictory or unconvincing.
  • 4th edit: Character therapy! Try to get those characters to be/show who they really are (good, bad, terrifying – it’s nice to not have to make them healthy per se, heh heh).
  • 5th: Can I amp up the tension/suspense? (Always Yes with a capital Y.)
  • 6th: I usually have noticed more holes in plot by this time and more places where it seems slow or plodding — fix, fix, fix.
  • 7th: This is pickiest edit yet. Using points from Self-editing for Fiction Writers – How to edit yourself into print by Renni Browne and Dave King, I do a chapter-by-chapter look at show and tell, characterization and exposition, proportion, dialogue and interior monologue, easy beats, the concept “once is usually enough” (looking for places where I keep dropping redundant hints re: characters personalities, etc… The reader knows the mc’s afraid of the dark already! Wink), and at sophistication and voice.
  • 8th: I read the whole story aloud to hear its cadence, especially trying to hear how the dialogue comes across.
  • 9th: Proofread for typos.
  • 10th (etc): Try to incorporate suggestions from first readers, if I feel the suggestions have merit (and sigh, they’re usually dead on!).
  • Etc 1: Proofread again.
  • Etc 2: Decide so and so is an utter failure–re-write him/her again (sometimes Etc 2 gets stuck on replay and I end up doing a lot of character work at this point).
  • Etc 3: Go a little crazy (crazier?) and realize that for better or for worse, I need to put the story down and step away from the story. It’s finished and I must start something new.