Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Revision Tips from Authors for Authors

Revising a manuscript is a process...a process that everyone does differently. I thought it might be helpful to aspiring writers out there to get some tips from other authors so this post was born! I have asked several of my wonderful clients to help me with this post and answer questions such as: what is your revision style? How do you use feedback you receive when working on a revision? Are there differences when it comes to revising different types of  projects for different genres or age groups etc.? 

I've decided to do this as a blog series. There will be a post a week, each post will include two author's advice. I will announce when the next post is up on twitter. About 8 authors of mine are contributing so the series should last about 4 weeks. The advice below could be for any genre or age group really, I just specified what each writer writes. 
At the end  of the series, I'm thinking of having a Q&A post where the authors who posted their advice will answer a question or two you have specific to them. 

Annie Sullivan, YA fantasy: 

1.)    Give yourself as much time as you reasonably can between revisions. This way you can return to a piece with fresh eyes.
2.)    If you don’t agree with a criticism, try and at least explore why a critique partner would have felt this way. You may discover that the tone was off or that it was due to a character inconsistency.
3.)    If you find revising overwhelming, try revising in layers. For example, on one read through, focus solely on character development. On another, look only at dialogue. If you focus on something specific each time, you won’t be overwhelmed.
4.)    Print out a copy of your story to edit. I’m all for saving the environment, but there’s something different about editing a hardcopy.  Sometimes it’s easier to spot repetitions, scenes that go on too long, and structure issues this way.
5.)    Read your work aloud. This will also help you spot repetitions and awkward phrases.
6.)    Always do a final read through, especially if you’ve added or deleted a lot of scenes. It’s easy to delete a superfluous scene while forgetting that it’s referenced later on.
7.)    With every major revision, try and have someone new read it to make sure everything still makes sense. 

I study the revision notes from my critique partners before I even open the story document on my computer. I go through big issues they saw and outline locations where I can make improvements based on their feedback. For example, if I’m adding backstory, then I like to know where that will go and what other scenes it might effect before I delve into the document. This way, I’m not constantly having to double back and correct a scene effected by something I changed later on. This method is especially helpful since I like to start from the beginning and work my way through the entire story so I can monitor how it all flows together.  

Jamie Gehin, YA contemporary

How do I go about revisions?

Well, after I get feedback from Christa (always insightful, by the way!) I don’t touch the manuscript at first, but read over the notes a few times. Then, I write down the questions by hand and mull them over. I add questions of my own, and ask myself: Are the issues Christa had because I didn’t develop a particular chapter/scene well enough or is something lacking because another scene altogether needs to be created? I try to give myself a deadline on revisions, but a big thing for me is not to rush this process… some epiphanies come through when I’m just relaxed and allowing myself to dream with a cup of coffee in hand, others, when I’m on a long walk.

I’m currently trying to work on making sure everything in my timeline is consistent – it’s easy to have tunnel vision with certain scenes. Christa catches little inconstancies that I might overlook. Something that’s helping is developing an actual one-page, yearlong calendar so I can see all the events of the story without having to scan through the manuscript. It also gives me a great feel for how the plot is moving along without getting wrapped up in the emotions of the story.

So, there it is. On a side note… working with Christa has been amazing! I feel very lucky!