…but I’m an excellent REWRITER.
James Michener is quoted as stating that. As you may already know, Michener penned epic novels that were chock full of research, much of which he kept in his dense novels. Rumor had it that he spent many months on revising his work. Many writers dread the revision portion of their craft. Who wants to read and re-read the same passage umpteen times, repeating that process throughout the length of the novel?
Taking a cue from several writers I have heard from, I would like to present to you my method of revisioning a novel. It’s not new or unique, but does come from many attempts at finding what works best for my writing style. My technique may or may not work for you, but that’s the beauty of it…you can tweak it to fit your own way of doing things. Having said that, here’s a general overview of the technique I use to revise novels. All of this is done first on a hard copy of the manuscript so that notes and other items can be included in the revision. I take myself out to a nice lunch or dinner at a location that allows me to occupy a table for long periods of time. Usually I revise in two hour chunks, with a break of some kind in between. Or I set a goal of x-number of chapters per day. That reduces the daunting feel of the task. Then, I break it down even further, like so:
- Have plenty of colored highlighters on hand. Designate each color to represent a specific function of the revision. For instance, I use yellow to highlight passages I want to rework and tighten. Punctuation errors/corrections are in red. Blue is for word choice issues. Green is for adverb/weak verb usage. You can designate the colors for whatever you want. There are many colors you can use.
- Make notes in the margins and on the backs of pages, just like you might do in a critique group. Keep a separate notepad handy to jot longer notes and reference notes there. Be sure to indicate what page the note pertains to.
- Rather than reading each chapter or section through trying to catch ALL of the items you’re looking for, read the section ONCE for each revision item. In effect, I’ll read a single chapter seven or eight times before I get everything I want to catch. That’s why I break the novel down into parts, to eliminate some of the burnout that can occur with over-reading.
- Don’t cut yourself any slack. It’s your story. You know what tone or theme you’re going for. You will probably find several areas where you’ve goofed on continuity – making a red jacket into a green one accidentally, for example – but if you’re diligent, you’ll catch these gaffes.
- Don’t rush. There’s no hurry, and the faster you go, the more mistakes you’ll miss.
- Try to set the same goals you had for writing. If you wrote for four hours a day or week, try to revise in the same schedule.
- Make lots and lots of notes. If you don’t write it down, you’ll forget.
- Don’t go back to the master manuscript to do rewrites until you’ve fully completed the hard copy revisions. This way you won’t get distracted.
Revisions are where “Monica” comes in quite handy. The more organized you can be, the better the results you’ll get. If you simply cannot be that organized, rely on a trusted “reader” to do some of the work for you, or a critique group can go a long way to helping in this.