What's Taking So Long?

I am not anywhere close to finished with my final revision - in fact, if you look that way -----> you will see that I'm still less than 1/4 of the way through. I recently had a friend ask what I could possibly be doing on what is technically my FOURTH draft (really rough, rough, first, now second).

She'd read the book during the beta read, and liked it pretty well (yay!). So clearly I can't have missed that many big things, to require what will certainly be more than a month of revision. I must be slacking!

Well, yes. I am slacking. But in between bouts of slacking, I am actually doing some pretty drastic revisions. But since you're interested, I'll give you some insight into the process.

First, I received feedback from my beta readers. A lot of it was good (good for my ego, bad for the writing), some brought up completely surprising issues (good for the writing, frustrating for me), and some of it showed me problems where I knew there were problems (= a kick in the pants for me).

Sorting through the feedback is what takes the most time for me. I have to go through several phases:

1. Denial/anger - That's stupid! My writing is perfect! They just didn't get it!

2. Denial/hope - No, they mostly said good things, I was just focusing on the negative

(look back at the comments)

3. Depression - They're right, my writing sucks :'(

4. Analytical - Come on! Buck up! Can I fix that? Let's list the ways.

5a. Relief - Thank goodness, if I change this ONE word here, it's fixed. Moving on...

5b. Denial/anger - I can't possibly do that! It's too much work/not what I want/this isn't fun anymore!

6. Acceptance - OK fine.

7. Inspiration - Oooooh! If I do this it will be so much better!

Repeat for EVERY FREAKING comment, and for EVERY FREAKING cascade change that must take place because of the change I decide on.

I'm not kidding.

Now the good news is that through practice, I can usually live through the first 3 steps in about 60 seconds of turmoil. There are some instances where it takes longer, usually because the passage or character in question is one of my darlings (which means I have an abnormal love or attachment to it for some indefinable reason). I am pretty proud of this*, and hope to be able to shrink the jump even further, until I hardly even notice the emotional blip.

Actually, what takes the longest is the jump from #6 to #7. For larger changes, that is pretty necessary, because if I'm just resigned to it rather than excited about the improvement, I won't write the section very well. In fact, there are changes that I knew needed to happen with the last draft, but I couldn't get to step 7. So I put it out without the change rather than make a change I didn't believe in. I am happy to say that at this point, I have worked out all of those problem areas with help from this last round of feedback. The reason I couldn't solve the problem was I wasn't seeing the whole picture.

"Inspiration" is a little bit of of a misnomer here - what it really means is I need to find the perfect way to integrate the change into the story. It is rarely the first solution that comes up - for some reason my brain needs to soak up the change and come to terms with it before it can spit out a good idea. It can't be too predictable, and it needs to fit the characters and situation well. The greatest solutions fix multiple problems. Sometimes I end up going with what a reader suggests, but most often I come up with my own way.

Then comes the actual writing. I have to rewrite the scene, and all the scenes the change affects. I actually collect up as many things as I can before I start writing, so I have a comprehensive sense of the new story (I try to do them all, but something new always comes up while I'm working).

And once all of the changes are made, I have to go back through and polish the new writing. That includes a ton of stuff, all of which is absolutely essential to a good final product. To give you an idea, here is about 1/4 of my "polish" checklist:

- Add weather, smell, sound, touch

- Run checklist in "Fire in Fiction" pp229 for violent scenes

- Check setting descriptions & comparisons - tied to POV character & character's current emotions?

- Check first and last lines of scenes, chapters, book

- Watch for emotion/exposition repetitions

- Check use of my problem words: breath, caught, grab, saw, heard, felt, looked, almost, about, quite, nearly, really, actually, just, stepped, started, that, had, was, stare, finally, eventually

- Check speech tags & actions

- Check injuries have lasting effects

- Read for character motivations & conflict

- Read aloud

- In-line corrections from feedback that haven't been dealt with

So anyway, that's what I'm up to. Trying to clear the distracting stuff and make the pretty stuff shine brighter. Maybe I'll do a demonstration sometime, and show you from comment to the change I settle on. But I think this post is plenty long as it is!

*Speaking of, if you are interested in developing this skill (it is a skill), here's what I did - seek out harsh, honest criticism. If they don't say something that gets your panties in a bunch, they aren't doing their job. When you find it, SHUT UP and listen. Write it down, or have them write it down. Fume as long as you need to. Don't work on that part of the book/story until you can read the comments without the emotions taking control. Then consider the comments seriously, and think about it until you can see why they gave that feedback - it isn't always what they identified as the problem. Brainstorm a solution. Save a copy of your story before you start to change it in case you want to go back, and then butcher it mercilessly. Usually, you will discover part way through that it was a good idea. Repeat, over and over.

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