Hello again! Today, as part of the 2018 Ch1- and Ch21-Con Blog Tour, Mr. Liam Wood of Ch21Con is stopping by to offer a fresh perspective on a subject that’s fresh on my mind as I put the finishing touches to my second chapter book, Cliche. Take it away!
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Revising for the Lone Writer
by Liam Wood
Hi, my name is Liam, and I’m a recovering first-drafter.
Most advice for beginning writers follows the same mantra: Write as much as you can. Read as much as you can. Repeat. The beginner’s common problem is writing a single novel, then trying to revise it for years before they realize they could have simply set it aside and written a better novel. Because of this, published authors and advice-givers across the internet struggle to tear beginning writers away from their firstborn and get them to work on improving their craft, instead of polishing up a dud. Sometimes, they succeed.
They succeeded with me. After a brief stint of revising an early novel, I started writing as many new novels as I could. Practice makes perfect, right? Maybe if I wrote as many first drafts as I could, I would get a first draft that was so awesome it would be basically submission-ready.
Ten first drafts later I realized… nope.
See, all of that advice about writing another totally new story after you finish the last one—that’s for that very first novel. If you can finish a novel and move on without even a nostalgic thought, you might be ready to revise instead. Let me rephrase. If you find it easier to pound out a new novel in a month than to fix an old one, you need to revise.
Sometimes, though, you feel like you can’t. Revising is a team effort, isn’t it? All those people in the acknowledgements of all those books you love—they all helped. You need a team before you can revise. You don’t have that team yet, so… new novel?
No. The act of writing is a solo sport, and the act of revising—especially early revisions—can be too. Someday, you might have a team of editors, agents, and beta readers to back you up. By all means, start building that network. (The Chapter One Conference is a great place to start!) But you might not have those resources yet. You might have to go it alone.
Relax. It’s not as hard as it sounds. Revising is tricky, yes, but it’s where you can use all that knowledge you gained writing all those first drafts. In the heat of creation, caught between an action scene or a love scene, you might not recognize that this is a key character moment, or a necessary piece of pacing, or a great chance to describe your world. There are a million things you miss during the first draft that could be… well, better. Revision is where you fix that.
How, you ask? One thing at a time.
You see, there’s no trick to revision. There’s no single, surefire technique for making your story perfect. Revision, like writing, is about sitting down and doing the work. Sometimes you can gain insights from the advice of others, and sometimes other perspectives can help shed light on the story. But in the end, revision is simple. Look at your story and fix what you don’t like.
To start, read the story. You’ll do this a lot over the course of revisions, so don’t worry about catching everything. Just write down what you’re thinking. Read it like a reader, enjoying the story. Read it like a writer, dissecting everything. Write down your thoughts, your sarcastic comments, your feelings. Write down where you’d like to know more. Write down what gets over-explained. As you read, you might get nostalgic as you remember writing the story—enjoy that feeling, but set it aside. Your readers won’t feel the same way.
Figure out the core of the story. Figure out the essences of the characters and the world. Parse through how they interact with each other, how they match each other, and how they might ultimately put forth a common theme. Make sure it’s a story you feel comfortable writing (some stories are just too grim, and some are just too weird). Make sure it’s a story you like. Those central ideas of the story elements don’t have to match what you’ve already written down—they just have to match how you want the story to look. If you’ve never thought about how you want it to look, now is the time.
Write down everything you forgot to brainstorm beforehand. If you’re a pantser, this might be a lot—don’t give in to the siren song of a new first draft, or a pantsed second draft. Figure out how to delve into the story world and the characters. If you’re a plotter, you might have done all this before you started the story, but I think you’ll find there are still gaps where mechanics or timelines don’t make sense. Make it work. Most of this information will never end up in the story, but it’s good color to have in the background. If you find this new information contradicts what you had already written, well… that’s why we revise.
Initially, try not to fix cosmetic mistakes like clunky sentences or a character’s name changing halfway through the draft. Those tiny changes might get swallowed up by cutting the scene with the clunky sentence in it, or changing the character completely. Make large, sweeping changes before you narrow your focus. You’ll thank yourself.
Revision is less about knowing what makes a good book and what makes a bad book, and more about what makes your story something you would want to read. That’s why you wrote it, isn’t it? The process, too, is less about knowing the perfect element to fix, and more about reading and fixing, reading and fixing, reading and fixing. What to fix? How to fix it? I think you’ll know when you see it. Something sticks out. A character doesn’t sound like herself. You didn’t explain something very well. You’ll see it. You’ll know.
You just have to get yourself in front of the page with some scissors and glue. And so do I.
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