Roseanna M. White pens her novels under the Betsy Ross flag hanging above her desk, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When she isn’t homeschooling her small kids and writing fiction, she’s editing it for WhiteFire Publishing or reviewing it for the Christian Review of Books, both of which she co-founded with her husband.
Many many moons ago, Stephanie asked me to guest post on Go Teen Writers to talk about something she knows nothing about: editing as you go, rather than doing it in drafts. You can view the original post here, but as it's been three years since I wrote that one, Stephanie thought we might be due for another dose of Those Who Can't Write in Drafts.
I'm not sure what the percentage is of people who write multiple drafts versus people who edit as they go, but I always felt like I was in the minority, doing it as I do it. That somehow I wasn't doing it right by not writing a rough first draft and then doing serious revising and editing. But over the years, I've come to understand that, as with most things in writing, there isn't right and wrong, just what works for each writer.
For me, writing rough first drafts doesn't work. My brain is wired in a very linear way, and my stories evolve in a very linear fashion. The next scene always builds on what just came before it. I am constantly referencing earlier lines and phrases, weaving in those little threads, and that's what gives me the impetus to keep going. In Circle of Spies, for instance, in the first scene, there's an emphasis on color versus black and gray--something that comes up a lot in the book, and which even, coincidentally, worked its way into the cover.
I almost always reread what I wrote the day before when I sit down to start a new day--especially when I begin at 5:30 in the morning and need fifteen or twenty minutes to let my brain warm up before those creative juices will flow. This help me remember all those little pieces I want to keep working in, keeps it all fresh. That's crucial for me.
My writing process goes something like this:
I know when I sit down to write a book what the main plot points will be, but it takes me a few chapters to really get to know my characters and hit upon their voice. Once I do that, I inevitably go back and tweak those first chapters to reflect what I've arrived at by chapter four or five. It only takes a few minutes, usually, but it helps me to know that I'm square. And it gives me those phrases and details to keep weaving in.
As I write, I go with the groove of it until I hit a snag, and then I stop. I need to let the knot untangle--I know a lot of people leave their computers then, get up for a walk, do the dishes, feed the dog, whatever. I sometimes resort to that, but not always, especially if I'm just searching for the right way to say something. In those times, I switch my brain to second gear--editing gear.
According to the fantabulous Karen Ball (editor who discovered Francine Rivers and Karen Kingsbury--and now my agent), editing and writing use two completely different parts of the brain. I wasn't so sure at first, but I decided that makes a lot of sense when I view my gear-shifting. When I'm stuck in the creative process, I turn to editing. By rereading the pages or paragraphs I just wrote, the creative part gets to take a break. It gets to rest. And often that's all it takes for the right words to filter in.
When I reach bigger snags in the story, plot snags, I again take a break. I rarely try to force the words, unless I'm under a tight deadline. Instead, I'll go back and do a complete reread. For me, this involves editing. Fiddling. Perfecting phrases, catching inconsistencies. And almost always, it involves remembering where I was going with certain plot threads, which gives me the direction I need to keep writing.
Occasionally I realize as I write that changes will have to be made, but I don't want to lose the steam I've got going. In those cases, I make a note of what I want to do and save it for the end. Sometimes it's changing a character's name or adding in motivation, sometimes it's deleting a POV that ended up superfluous.
After I finish a manuscript, I usually let it sit for a few days and just simmer. I debate my ending--I used to always rush my endings and would have to rewrite them a time or three. These days, I've gotten better at that, but there are still many times when I've forgotten an element or not quite drawn it together like I need to. The missing parts usually surface in a day or two, so I go back and plug those in.
At that point, I do a complete, quick reread. Again, this will involve catching errors and smoothing phrases. I've learned over the years to not be lazy when it comes to those niggles of uncertainty--if a phrase or sentence or paragraph feels a little weird, I used to just ignore it. But then critique partners or edits would always ding me for those, so I decided I should trust my instincts. I rework anything that doesn't feel right.
|Especially when in costume at a creepy castle ruin|
with suspicious birds flocking above your head.
You may also want to consider removing blindfolds...
After that, I take time off from the manuscript. Sometimes I'll be sending chunks to my critique partners as I write, but if not, then this is where I send it off for critique. Once I get that feedback from my awesome friends, I'll input all the changes I agree with, which sometimes involves more revisions and the occasional rewrite of certain parts. I also often must, at this stage, cut words. I tend toward long-winded, and my target word count often gets left in the dust--and my publishers can't always be lenient about that. So if I have to trim, I do it at this stage. Sometimes I can just cut a few scenes, but often it's a line-by-line, excruciating process.
Once that's done, I need to do one more final read-through before I turn it in. Usually this is just typo-catching, but when I'm reading more slowly, I tend to note smaller inconsistencies that I take care of. I might tweak early motivation again, or adjust how something in the second half jives with the first. Basically, I'm making sure it's as squeaky-clean as I can get it. Then I turn it in to my editor.
|A Soft Breath of Windcoming November 2014 - |
the one set in A.D. 58, not the one
with hollandaise sauce ;-)
I'll have done most of my research either before I begin or in the first few weeks of writing, so I don't have to stop to do major searching. There are always small questions to look up, most of which I'll check on as I'm writing so I can plug in the answers and keep steaming ahead. Occasionally I'll just insert a # and look it up later. In my last MS, I had a French chef blustering, "You interrupt me for coffee, when I am making #, the most temperamental sauce there is?" I knew there had to be a temperamental sauce, but I also knew I didn't have to stop then and there to find it, because it wasn't going to effect what came next. [And it's hollandaise, by the way. ;-)] Other times I really do have to stop and see whether scissors existed in A.D. 58, because it will effect how my physician character performs his tasks throughout the scene. So I'll stop then to look it up.
In general, I write a clean first draft, so I don't have to spend a ton of time on revisions. But I write a clean first draft because I pay a lot of attention to what I just wrote and go back for frequent rereads. For me, this is what works. It's what allows me to keep the creative juices flowing. I don't agonize over every phrase and scene--if I did, then a draft system would probably be necessary to get me over it.
For some, like Stephanie, it's liberating to write a rough first draft, knowing you can fix it. For some, like me, you just can't keep writing until you feel pretty happy with what you've already put down. Both are great, so long as you figure out what allows you to get to The End...and so long as you know where and when you need to work. No matter which method you use, you're going to be putting out the same amount of effort--it's just a matter of whether you do it all at once or in stages. Don't ever think you have to do it like someone else does!photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc