Monthly Archives: September 2009

Revising, Part 1

I spent the last couple of months revising the sequel to Deadtown. Now that I’ve handed in that manuscript, I’ve got a little distance on my revision process and will do a series of posts here about turning a rough draft into a finished manuscript. (By “finished” I mean “something I’m not totally embarrassed to show my editor.” There will be more rounds of revising before the current manuscript becomes a book.)

I tend to write a manuscript in three drafts:

  • The first draft gets the story down.
  • The second draft both shapes and fleshes out that story.
  • The third draft is for polishing.

Even though the manuscript goes through three drafts, each scene goes through many more drafts than that. I like to comb through a scene many times, getting it into pretty good shape (or the best shape I can for right now) before I move on to the next one. So I revise any given scene anywhere from three to a couple dozen times.

Let me get more specific about what happens in each draft:

First draft. I work from a very loose outline that hits the main supports of the plot: the inciting incident that gets the story moving, a couple of plot points, midpoint, and the climax. In the first draft, I use the outline to write toward each of these goals, one scene at a time. Because I love the surprise of discovering my story along the way, I’m not wedded to the outline. If the story veers off in an interesting direction, I revise the outline.

Between drafts one and two. I read through my manuscript and write revision notes. I might tinker a bit here and there, but my focus is on listing things that need fixing or developing in the next draft. One thing I look for in this read-through is any subplots that I can bring out more fully in the next draft.

Second draft. During this draft, I constantly refer to my revision notes. I cut scenes that don’t advance the story or that point somewhere other than where the story actually went. I develop subplots. I tinker with secondary characters. I write transitions between scenes. And I look for scenes that need fleshing out. In the first draft, I tend to start a new scene with dialogue, which means I often have to give that conversation more of a context in the second draft.

Between drafts two and three. If I have time, I’ll do another readthrough and make another set of revision notes.

Third draft. In this draft, I polish. I hunt for inconsistencies, check the timeline, and tighten the writing in each scene.

I do all my drafts on the computer, switching between my desktop and my laptop. (I worked for several years as a freelance copyeditor, so I’m used to doing everything onscreen.) When it’s time for a new draft, I create a new folder and save the most recent version of the manuscript there. Then I open it and get to work.

Next time, I’ll show how I revised a scene, taking it from an early sketch to a finished scene.

New Group Blog

I’ll be participating in a new group blog for urban fantasy and steampunk authors. It’s called Good Girls Bad Juju, and you can take a look at it here.

I’m excited to be in the company of some terrific authors:

  • Sean Cummings, whose urban fantasy novel Shade Fright will be out in March 2010.
  • Calista Taylor, author of the steampunk novel Viridis.
  • Rita Vetere, author of Born of Darkness and Ancient Inheritance.

It’s a great group and I’m looking forward to interesting discussions about writing and reading novels with strong (okay, ass-kicking) female protagonists, urban settings, and fantasy elements.  Join us!

Interview Today!

Catch me live on Sylvia Dickey Smith’s BlogTalkRadio show Murder, She Writes, today at 6:00 p.m. EDT.

Sylvia Dickey Smith is the author of the Sidra Smart mystery series and a longtime friend. We used to belong to the same online writing group, so we know each other’s work pretty well. I’m looking forward to getting caught up and talking about writing with her.

To listen to Murder, She Writes, click here. The show runs from 6:00 to 6:30 Eastern, but you can listen to the archived show anytime.

A Week in the Life

Last week was a busy one for me, and fairly typical in terms of my writing life.  I worked on two novels and a nonfiction project and looked for future projects. Here’s how it broke down:

Monday: Finished revisions to the sequel to Deadtown and sent that in to my editor at Ace. Revising that manuscript overlapped with reviewing Deadtown‘s page proofs, so I turned to that review next. I also got (and answered) an email from a nonfiction editor asking when I’d be submitting updates to an ongoing project.

Tuesday: I spent most of the day finishing my review of page proofs for Deadtown. I compiled a list of corrections and sent those in. A friend wrote to confirm our upcoming interview on her podcast about women mystery writers.

Wednesday: Today I turned to my current nonfiction project, working on updates to a user guide for an online database service. I also wrote back to confirm the podcast interview and tossed around some ideas about what we might discuss.

Thursday: More work on the database project. I wrote to my agent asking whether she had any thoughts about future nonfiction projects. I also got a heads up from a nonfiction editor that copyedits would be arriving soon for a project I handed in a few weeks back.

Friday: Kept going on the database project. I also emailed several nonfiction editors I’ve worked with in the past to follow up on existing proposals  and/or discuss possible future projects. Jotted down some notes with ideas for the next Deadtown book and other possible fiction projects.

As you can see, I do a lot of juggling. It can be hard to switch between fiction and nonfiction–and I’d let myself get a bit spoiled because I had a chance to work on fiction exclusively for a few weeks while I was revising the Deadtown sequel. But to make a full-time living at writing, I’ve had to learn how to be a good juggler. It’s not unusual for me to have two or three projects going simultaneously. When that happens, I usually devote the morning to one project, spend the afternoon on another, and then work on fiction in the evening–with necessary time adjustments as deadlines approach.

Switching among projects can be crazy-making, but it also keeps things interesting. It’s hard to get bored with a project when you have several others clamoring for your attention.

Two Words: The End

Sorry it’s been so quiet around here. I spent the last week deep in the Cave of Revisions. Today I typed THE END (I don’t do that until I’ve finished the very last draft) and submitted Deadtown‘s sequel to my editor. Whew.

Now I’m emerging from my cave, blinking, half-surprised to see the leaves starting to change color and the neighborhood kids on their way to school. I’ve spent so much time immersed in my fantasy world that it’s a little hard to get my bearings in the real world again.

For me, typing THE END is the definition of bittersweet. It’s a great feeling to have finished another novel. But for each draft, I find that my momentum slows waaaay down as I get near the end. It’s not exactly a fear of finishing, but I do feel an extreme reluctance to say, “That’s it. There’s the story.” Of course, there’s always the urge to go back and tinker, but it’s more than that. I’ve created a home for myself in the world of Deadtown. I love deepening my sense of how that world works. I love spending time with my characters. It’s really, really hard to step away from all that.

Of course, when I get my editorial letter in a few months, I’ll be back in the thick of it — and probably wishing I could just hurry up and be done with this novel already. But right at this moment, I feel like I’ve shut the door on one of my favorite places.

Good thing I’m writing a series. Because coming to the end of the current novel has sparked all kinds of ideas of what’s going to happen in the next one.  So tonight, I’ll sit down and start writing out some of those ideas. In a week or so, I’ll have a loose plot outline. And then I’ll be able to type the only two words that can work as the antidote for “the end”: CHAPTER ONE.

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