Friday, 27 April 2012

Revision Schmevision: Unflick Your Bic

I'm revising a novel for the first time in my life.

I've written three and a half novels, but after five years, tons of short stories and a couple of comic book scripts, I have finally careened through a novel I think I can handle revising.


Yeah. I'm going to be cradling this thing like a baby for the next four months or so and with the help of a revision course (more on that in a minute) I'm going to tear this sucker down, open it from groin to throat and perform some serious surgery.

One of the first couple of lessons Holly Lisle tosses me has an interesting step. You reread your manuscript (pen in hand this time) and highlight, circle, underline, somehow tag sections you want to change based on their impact on character, world, story, and so on. You also tag the sections you want to keep.

Holly Lisle has written many books and can be found here (takes your to her post on revising a novel). She opened up a novel revision course about two or three years ago and I was one of the first students. Like most online courses, she gave the option of handling the course weekly, or if you're like me, sitting on the course until all the lessons came through and plowing through them. So of course I forgot I had signed up for it for about two or three years. Until this January, anyway.

I didn't really forget, I just kind of thought I hadn't written anything worth revising. I was scared to face the crap I had spewed out during the Nano marathons and my tendency to write quickly and remorselessly, which is to say, making little use of the delete key. I would finish a work and know deep in my heart that it wasn't what I wanted when I started out, but had no idea how to get there.

We all have different ways of dealing with this kind of gap. Some of us try over and over until we just break that wall down with our heads. Some of us join critique groups so people who are not us can articulate the problems we know are there but just can't see. Some of us spend a lot of money on something so terrifying that it is best left a guilty secret in our browser history.

I finally decided I might as well utilize this money sink, but I made one important change this past Nanowrimo season. I went into Nano knowing I would have to be able to see this book again. I would have to be able to live with this hunk of ink and paper for a year. Maybe more. If it gets published, the rest of my life even.

The novel I got wasn't the one I originally wanted, but it was far better than the ones I've attempted before. When I got bored with my writing I put something interesting in, even if it didn't make sense. I wrote notes to myself if I didn't like how a scene went, so that I could see later how I wished it had gone. I put myself in the headspace of expecting to see these words again, over and over. Forcing my dorky character to be cool yet adorable, forcing my whiny little boy character to say awesomely inappropriate things, forcing my characters and my plots to bow to my whims made me confident that I could handle looking at this thing again someday.

I still wound up with a pile of crap. Such is Nanowrimo. But this time I wound up with crap I could smush down again and throw back on the wheel to re-shape.

Lisle's first couple of lessons really help with that. In the first few lessons, she had me go through the manuscript and tag sections on character, world, story, and others, that I would have to change. She also had me tag sections to keep.

Now when I'm feeling like I just need to light this thing on fire, I can look at the (short) glorious list in my notebook of all the sections I want to keep in my novel. I know that keeper section is there for a reason more than making me put the lighter down, but when I get really frustrated I flip to that section and reread a couple of lines and recharge my creative fortitude. It's not all suckitude, it's not all pear-shaped mischaracterized unthemed dreck. Whether or not you use a course or sheer willpower for revising your work, I highly recommend a greatest hits list of quotes that you wrote. In that crucial moment, it just might help you unflick that bic. This is no time for a massive writer freakout. These manuscripts aren't going to red pen themselves.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Procrastination Station (Revision Edition): Reread to Retread

The big philosophy of Nanowrimo - after caffeine, chocolate, and community can turn any die-hard type-A into a writer! - is that to rewrite, first you must have written.

Somewhere in between writing and rewriting, you must reread what you have written.

Oh, boy.

This is the painful part. It wasn't naming characters or killing off your favorite, or your nine favorites, or even clawing your way through the occasional five thousand word day to drag your manuscript across the finish line. You thought those were hard, but wait until you have to reread what you slapped down at 2 am that one time you thought finishing off the wine bottle on your ownsies was a brilliant idea.

Rereading what you actually have is like ripping band-aids off your eyeballs. It hurts, best done quickly, and is kind of a letdown. Think about it - your eyeballs have a lot of moisture so I imagine that adhesive isn't all that bad, not like tearing a band-aid off your arm or somewhere with actual hair. Anyway, my point is the first reread happens without a pen in hand. My goal with that first reread is to unrosy my view and understand that, yes, I really did rename my male protagonist halfway through my novel without realizing it. I later renamed another male character with the exact same name halfway through a scene.

I think I really like that name.

I put a comma in the middle of a word, I brought up three separate storylines that went approximately nowhere, I suddenly answered questions that had yet to be asked, and thanks to my tendency to write four thousand words in a sitting and then ignore my work for three days, my manuscript has wide swaths of text that makes sense but setting all those wide swaths together gives me something swampy and uneven.

My villain whines, my sympathetic sidekick is the creepiest sociopath outside of Hannibal Lecter, and the love interest should have been pushed out a window by page two. From a very tall building.

The first reread is the most painful I've noticed because not only do I wince at every new scene but I skim when I know I've committed a writing sin which means I'll have to read it again. That's okay. Those stray commas aren't going to circle themselves.

Most importantly, those five page chunks of prose that go nowhere aren't going to X out themselves.

The first reread is the worst, until I get to the second, and the third, and the fourth...

Thinking of revision as some kind of huge undertaking is a good way to put my novel in a drawer and never look at it again. Instead I have to think of it as a series of small steps. Where Nanowrimo says write, then write, then write some more, I now have to read. Read. Read some more. Try not to strangle the love interest. Keep reading. Don't look away.