Friday, March 27, 2015

Revise That Thing

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

A few of you have asked about edits and revisions. Before I get into what I do, I want to point you to Jill's and Stephanie's book, Go Teen Writers: How to turn your first draft into a published book. It's a phenomenal resource. In fact, I use it as my primary reference when I'm mentoring teen writers. I RARELY tell teens to go out and buy a writing book because there are so many free resources on the internet, but this one is worth it. Especially if you're ready to edit.


I won't be getting as detailed here as you can expect the Go Teen Writers book to be, but since I am currently working on revisions, I'm happy to walk you through my process. It's looked a little like this so far:

Using all the resources available to me, I made my book as good as I could make it. Oftentimes we think we're ready for outside feedback when the truth is, we haven't put forth our best effort. Now, feedback can be good at many stages, but for the purposes of editing and revision, you need to pass off your best work if you expect a helpful critique.

Again, this is where the Go Teen Writers book can help you. It will walk you through the basics including questions on point of view, plot, structure, novel tense, world building, theme, and character development. It's hugely beneficial to apply these things to your work BEFORE you ask readers for feedback.

I found educated readers. Note the word educated. I didn't just go out and troll the internet for possible readers. I asked four of my writing friends to read my manuscript and give me their thoughts. I did not want to be processing the thoughts of the masses; just the thoughts of a select few who understand the craft of writing and can help me get better.

If you don't have a writing friend you trust to give you solid feedback, I invite you to introduce yourself in the COMMENTS section of this post and throw out what you're looking for. The Go Teen Writers FB group is great for that sort of thing as well. Say something like, "I'm looking for a critique partner who can give me honest feedback on my first chapter." It's always best to start small and see how you gel as partners before you dump a 100k words on one another.

I processed the feedback I received. It took my beta readers about two weeks to get through my manuscript and get their thoughts to me. Once they did, I had a LOT of information to process. This is how I did it:
  • I made my own list. I read all four emails with a notebook and pen at the ready and I made a list of the things they'd like to see addressed. If more than one reader noted the same thing, I only listed it once. This is how I condense all my feedback into one document.
  • I eliminated some of the suggestions. Every now and then I'd get conflicting feedback. One reader liked something and another reader didn't. This is normal. I had to exercise my best judgment in these situations and that sometimes resulted in scratching off a suggested revision.
I started revising. EVERYONE does this differently. I revise in two layers: major revisions and minor revisions.
  • Major revisions: Based on the feedback of my readers, I had two or three scenes that needed to be reworked. I did those first. Changes like this--BIG CHANGES--always cause a ripple effect in your story. Fixing one scene will demand you adjust other things in your manuscript as well, but that's okay. There's another round of revisions coming.
  • Minor revisions: Next, I opened my manuscript on the computer and started at the very beginning. With my list at my elbow and my readers' feedback fresh in my mind, I moved slowly through my manuscript making the minor revisions as I went. I also paid close attention to the nitty gritty details. Every revision requires you to check your manuscript for continuity. This is a great time to do that.
Sometimes a minor revision turns major and I have to stop what I'm doing and focus more fully on that specific issue. Also, very normal.

Editing a novel is messy and hard to explain to someone who's never been in the thick of it. I'm always amazed when someone knows exactly how many drafts of a manuscript they've completed. Whenever I'm asked that question, I have to guess. I have no idea. After the first draft, subsequent versions of my stories are not counted. I simply do not work in complete drafts like that. I work in word chunks and scenes and things like counting are best left to the math folks.
Now, in my case, this manuscript was destined for my agent. After I finished my revisions, I sent it to her for feedback. And then, guess what? I processed her feedback in much the same way I processed the thoughts of my beta readers. I made a list, eliminating all her verbiage (her compliments, her suggestions, her pretty language) and making it simple for me to read. I am currently revising AGAIN using my two layer method.

So, that's me. That's how I do it. My process isn't the only RIGHT one, but it works for me. The only way you'll know what works for you is to give it a go and keep trying until the process clicks. It will be messy. Be okay with that.

Tell me, friends, where are you on your writing journey? Are you editing or drafting or giving others feedback? How's that going for you?

If you'd like to read more of my thoughts on editing, here you go.

30 comments:

  1. "I'm always amazed when someone knows exactly how many drafts of a manuscript they've completed. Whenever I'm asked that question, I have to guess. I have no idea."

    Me too! First draft is obvious. I always do a second draft and normally a third before others read it. But after that, it gets real fuzzy for me too.

    I really like your idea for how to compile the feedback you receive. I'll have to do that next time, because you're right. It gets very overwhelming to try and process everybody's opinions.

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  2. I guess I'm one of those weird people who know how many drafts I've done. Sort of. Whenever I start a major revision, I save it as a new file. It's a safety net for me. I can edit fearlessly because I always know I can go back to the original and start over if I don't like my revision. I never actually go back since the revised is better than the original, but it's comforting when I'm cutting parts I absolutely love. So, I end up knowing how many major revisions I've done because each file is named "Series; Title of Book; Revision ___" I'm up to major revision 4 in my current WIP. But I only do this for major revisions, such as adding/deleting scenes, major character reconstruction, etc. Any minor revisions I do in the same draft, so those aren't counted. So I kind of know how many drafts I've done. Like I said, kind of weird, but it works for me.

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    1. WOW! You are very organized! I think that will work well for you in the future, friend.

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  3. Thank you for this post. :-) I'm not to editing yet, but this'll be helpful when I am. I have a question, though... I'm trying to cut down words to a certain word limit in a flash fiction thing I wrote. Do you have any suggestions for cutting down on your word-count?

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    1. Trim the fat! The first thing to do would be to remove all the non-essential describing words. I have a tendency to be flowery and in flash fiction that can kill you. Take this sentence for example:

      The vast world about them was broad and flat and peppered with shamrocks that glittered in their own slice of sunshine.

      I'd rewrite it to look like:

      The world about them was broad and flat and peppered with glittering shamrocks.

      Beyond cutting excessive descriptions, you may have to remove smaller, less important story ideas. Ideas and sentences that do not contribute to the main thrust of your story.

      Have you read my post over here? It may help: http://shannondittemore.com/edits-are-murder-my-thoughts/

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    2. Thank you. :-) No, I haven't read it, but I'll go check it out right now. xD Thanks.

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  4. Outlining. Worldbuilding. Nowhere NEAR the editing stage. :-P But I too think that this will be helpful when I get to that stage.

    By the way, Hi, Faith!! :-D

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  5. It's currently my first time revising and editing a whole novel. I'm in the third draft at the moment (but I agree - the lines between different drafts are very fuzzy!) and so far it's been a long process but my novel is much, much better than it was. My wordcount's changed a lot, too - went from 95k to about 80k. Hopefully that'll increase a little again. I'm sure there are more places I'll find that need fleshing out :)

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    1. I'm proud of you! Cutting 15k! GOOD JOB! Hacking a manuscript to pieces is one of my favorite parts. Enjoy it. Truly. And know, that whenever you make a necessary, particularly painful cut, you're making your writing better.

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  6. I'm currently plotting a complete rewrite of my novel, and it definitely is a very messy process. My first draft of this book was a mess, and I thought that after a quick second draft micro edit just for practice I would trunk it. Luckily, going through my novel helped me get more excited about my novel and all the possibilities for the plot and character. Now I've changed a ton of the characters, worldbuilding and plot. I plan to finish the draft during Camp NaNo, and hopefully find some critique partners that I can exchange my writing with. I have some writing friends that I've met from blogging, and I think being critique partners will be so helpful for all of us. These are great tips for when I do get feedback from those critique partners. Thanks!

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    1. HOORAY! I love your plan, girl! Keep writing!

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  7. Six months ago I revisited a story that I had started last year, and I rewrote the first few chapters again and again, trying to make them perfect. The story was called The Assassin's Mercy, and it's something I've always been really excited on. But, I recently learned the valuable lesson that no first draft can be perfect, let alone when you've never written a full one before. So, I restarted, and I'm back to chapter one. I edit as I go but if something isn't the way I want it to be, I save it for later instead of fussing about it that time. Hopefully sometime this year I'll be done with the first draft. Thanks for the cool post, Mrs. Dittemore. :)

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    1. It always takes so much longer than we think! I changed the tense of my first novel way back when and I thought it would be no big deal. TOOK ME MONTHS AND MONTHS. It was worth it, but I was ridiculously optimistic when I guessed just how long it would take me.

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  8. I have added the book to my ever-growing wish list. I am working on a fantasy series, which I didn't know would be a series when I dusted off a story I wrote years ago for a writing group I joined. I discovered as I wrote it that it was part of a series and in fact may be the ending of it. I have another story also written long ago that will be an earlier part of the same story cycle that I will start working on again next month. My plan this year is to write first drafts of all the books I currently see as part of the series (3-4) so I can see the series as a whole and what goes where and what happened when and how it happened. I have a lot of plot bunnies already that I need to figure out where they belong. Then I will go back and start editing from the beginning. I am also working on another non-fiction book on Middle-earth, specifically the journeys of Bilbo and Frodo. A writer's life for me!!

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    1. Yes! A writer's life for you! Wow! So many things. I have trouble juggling all the ideas. I have to focus on as few as possible, but I know there are authors who work more efficiently when they're working on more than one piece at a time. I wish you luck!

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    2. Thanks, Shannon! Please pray for me! Appreciate it. :)

      God bless, Anne Marie :)

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  9. Thanks for sharing, Shannon! I've barely started on my editing and it so looks like a gigantic job. :) But I think I'll enjoy it. And, yes, I'll definitely use the GTW book. :)

    http://teensliveforjesus.blogspot.ru

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    1. It can definitely be gigantic, but it's worth it.

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  10. Hi!
    The hardest part for me is of finding EDUCATED readers. I usually pass my stories by two of my younger sisters. The problem-- they're junior high-ers. No offense, but they probably don't know what an editor or publishing house would like.
    Anyway, anyone here interested in story swapping? I write a bit of everything, but it is mostly Christ-centric, mission-minded fiction aimed at teenage girls. As long is your story is clean (you know what I mean! :)) I'd love to swap and critique with you.

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    1. Yay! I'm so glad you posted here. In case bloggers don't check back, it's worth it to post on the Go Teen Writers FB page too: https://www.facebook.com/groups/goteenwriters/

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  11. I'm in the editing stage right now. I'm mostly just correcting spelling and grammar (because I fixed most of the other stuff already). I'm trying to figure out who my beta readers will be. I'm thinking I want two or three 8-12 year old girls because that's the age group my story was written for, I'm having my parents read it (of course!), I have a few teen friends who have volunteered to read it and I was also thinking of letting at least one boy read it that way I can figure out if it is enjoyable for boys too. I also read it is important to have someone who doesn't know you very well read it. How many beta readers would you suggest at a time?

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    1. Depending on the heftiness of the feedback you're expecting to get, I would suggest less than 5 readers at a time. Three might be ideal. It does sort of depend on the type of feedback and I wouldn't expect 8-12 year olds to give you too much. Having too much feedback to process at one time can be a problem. It can become overwhelming. You can always pass it of again, you know?

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  12. Ugh. Reading revisions reminds me how much I haven't done. I need to nail down some stuff so I can begin! Maybe I should try to be a discovery writer.
    Anyways, Janice Hardy's Fiction university is running a month long editing workshop of sorts. I love her blog!
    http://blog.janicehardy.com/?m=1

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    1. Very cool! I'm not familiar with that blog.

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  13. I am so glad I'm not the only one who doesn't know what draft I'm on! Often editing is a slow process and it happens in chunks, so I can't really definitively say what draft it is. I thought I wasn't organized enough and I thought that all writers knew their draft numbers, so it was a breath of fresh air to read what you wrote. Thank you!

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    1. Oh yeah. No worries. I never know. I'm a chunk editor too, so sometimes half my manuscript has only been looked at three times and other parts twelve. No way to know what draft it is.

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  14. One novel I'm working on is being revised at the moment. I have a lovely mentor who is giving me wonderful feedback and we are able to work through that via Skype calls. It's been really good for my writing because before I really had no idea what to do, how to start revising.

    One question: On the subject of beta readers, would you recommend test readers who are in the age group of your target audience? The novel I'm now revising has a target audience of 10-14 year olds; would you recommend giving the revised manuscript to people in that age group for their feedback?

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    1. I would not. I think that for the purposes of editing, you need experienced writers to give you feedback. I know several authors who have beta readers for the purposes of editing and then also a target group. The target group is used to bounce ideas off of and also to give more generalized feedback. With a target group, you'll get the type of response you can expect from your wider readership, so it is very beneficial to shoot for readers in your target audience. But a target group isn't great for editorial-type feedback.

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