The most useful advice anybody ever gave me as a novice author was go to writing conferences.
I had a 27-page picture book that wanted to be a novel, 60 pages of another book, and no idea how a person would go about getting anything published - or whether my writing was good enough to bother trying.
Writing conferences answered my ignorant questions, pointed me to the resources I needed, gave me valuable feedback on my writing, and eventually led to signing with my awesome agent, Steve, who loves my writing and believes in my books, even when I am ready to throw them in a mud puddle.
I still often find something I hear at a writing conference gives me some little insight I needed. Last week at LTUE it was Dave Farland's session on revising.
Aha, said my brain. Oh, yeah. Now I see.
I got a little excited. I like revelations. So I'm passing Dave's secrets on to you. Maybe you're stuck, and something will help you, too.
Dave's Excellent Editing Tips:
Your first draft of a novel is the one where you're figuring out what your story is, where it's going, finding its shape. After that, Dave goes through each novel at least 7 times before sending it out into the world.
First time through: what Dave calls the "triage" edit; the high-level, drastic edit, where you add, chop, and change major stuff, figure out what shape your story needs.
Second time through: "Shotgun" edit. Go through manuscript, identify problems, bug-a-boo areas, look at all ways to improve my story--world creation, characters--go through until every word feels right, then make a to-do list to come back and fix it all.
Tracy Hickman says at this point that he likes to print manuscript out and do a chapter-by-chapter break-down on paper, with color-coded markers for different characters, to see where somebody's not getting enough page time, etc. Which sounds really organized. Like the kind of thing I will never do. Although I admire Tracy for being able to.
3rd time through: Voice edit.
- throw away the beginning and start where characters come alive.
-make sure each character sounds consistent, uses the same kinds of unique buzz-words and dialogue tags.
-make sure each is recognizable, remind the reader of his characteristics throughout, so they don't forget what he looks like.
-do research at this point, if necessary, to make the character feel authentic, to get a true feel for your guy or gal.
4th time through: Descriptive edit.
Check all your descriptive passages and ask
- are you using all five senses?
-do you give a clear sense of place throughout?
- are your metaphors/similes fresh? Do you need more?
-check the poetic elements; is your language evocative?
5th: Syllabic edit: Dave loves Hemingway. Hemingway uses short words.
- Dave's take is that cutting back syllables speeds up the writing, lowers the level required to read it. Sometimes that's not what you want. I feel you could overdo it, give your writing a chopped, too-harsh rhythm, but it's something to consider.
- cut extra words (you can always cut "finally" and "then")
- cut extra paragraphs
- cut extra pages
6th: Line edit.
- Put the manuscript in a new typeface, like palatino 14, and print it out, then read aloud for typos.
Um. I'm not a math person, but I'm pretty sure that's only six edits. I don't know what the mystery seventh edit was, but Dave swears he does seven. Maybe I got mixed up somewhere in there.
*Dave's final warning: don't over-edit or you'll kill it.
My mini-apotheosis: I was trying to do all six edits at the same time. I am a compulsive copy-editor. Triage needs to happen all by itself or I will copy-edit my book into oblivion. Ready to dive back in. Hooray!
What's your revision style? Do you have any methods you love? What works for you?