Things I learned from revision

June 11, 2011 at 2:11 pm (Anatomy of a revision, Writing work)

So 31 Days of Revision (like 30 Days of Night, only with fewer vampires and slightly warmer) was, I think, an overall success.  Keeping track of my progress was a good way to reassure myself that yes, I was making progress, as well as providing a little extra incentive to actually make progress.  It’s one thing to slack off on revising a chapter when it’s just me and a looming deadline; when it’s me, a deadline, and the possibility of the entire internet watching me at any moment, that’s another matter.

That may not be an unmitigated good, though.  This revision went quickly, and I think I may have pushed myself a little too hard near the end.  Particularly since I did not blog the step that went after the revision: the prose-polishing, last-bits-wrangling, what-the-hell-is-this-character-still-doing-here draft.  Because I’d set myself a difficult deadline, I ended up doing that draft in about three days.

Three days.  500 pages (450, by the time I was done).  If I had tried to blog about it, the resulting entries would have consisted entirely of “AAAAaaaaAAAAaaaa garble blit fner AAAAAAA” and other such insightful commentary.  The result was a damn good novel, at least to my eyes, but I’m not sure I can do that again.  The resident organist had to keep pulling me away from the computer so that I could get a rest.

That said, the whole revision-and-blogging process taught me a few things:

  • I can do it.
  • It’s really not easy.  I needed all the time I had to spare, and some important things did not get done because I was revising (BRAWL, social contacts, certain household tasks…come to think of it, I’m crap at those anyway.)
  • The pace of the revision may be why I didn’t have my usual crisis midway through.  I tend to start questioning whether this novel is even worth it around about Chapter 12-15, and this time I didn’t have time to question myself.  I had to get those chapters done no matter what.
  • There’s gotta be a more efficient way of writing a beginning.  I think I went through five separate beginnings for this novel, and this last one works better than any of them.  Why didn’t I just skip to that step?
  • I love my endings.  But I need to slow down when I revise them.  They take just as long to polish as the other chapters, if not more, and I might as well take the time to fix them the right way in the larger revision.
  • Keeping a scrap file of all the material I’ve cut from earlier drafts?  Totally worth it.  They make great sources for later pillaging.
  • It is never, never so simple as just moving a conversation.  Context is everything, and if I don’t have reasons for my characters to be having this conversation at this time, then I need to find them.
  • I seem to have a thing for characters crashing through windows.  Not autodefenestration — well, in one case someone throws himself out a window — but usually crashing into a room via the window.  What would you call that?  Refenestration?
  • I still don’t know if this novel will sell.  But I’m glad to have turned that first draft into a really good novel, regardless of sales.
  • Insulated mugs rule.

What’s next?  Well, I’ve got half a first draft here, and even if I’m going to have to make some major changes so that it matches the revision, it’s still a good start.  So it’s off to the composition stage, spinning this story out to an ending that may or may not involve jetpacks.  And quite possibly waltzes.  But not both at once.  I will probably not be blogging this process, partly because I’ve just started a new job and balancing composition and work will be difficult enough as it is, partly because it’s substantially less interesting.  I may try to do semi-regular updates, along the lines of “here’s what I wrote this week: the horrible old woman in the hall, a misunderstanding involving garden implements, more rooftop chases (which will probably be cut) and an excruciating parental conference.”  (All of these are in the first part of the draft, by the way.)

Thanks, everyone, for your help and your support.  It really meant a lot, and it helped me push through this draft.


  1. Auntielou said,

    You inspire me every day, but I am disappointed not to be able to look forward to waltzing in the sky with jetpacks.

    • mlronald said,

      You do realize I’m now going to have “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” in my head all day, only with new words?

      • Auntielou said,


  2. Karen Mahoney said,

    Well done! That’s such great work, and I’ve really enjoyed following along (in a sick, twisted kind of way).

    This one part confused me, and as I’m curious by nature I must ask. What did you mean by:

    “Well, I’ve got half a first draft here, and even if I’m going to have to make some major changes so that it matches the revision”

    Is this your next project? When you say it must match the revision, is it because it’s set in the same world? Ah, questions, questions… 😉

    Good luck with the new job!


    • mlronald said,

      I’m tempted to play coy and just say “maaaaybe,” but yeah, same world. Direct sequel, in fact. While the writers’ group had this novel, I started in on the next. In hindsight, that may not have been a good thing, but hey, now I have a start!

      And thanks!

  3. Erik Nelson said,

    somehow I am reminded of Monty Python’s competitive novel-writing sports announcer sketch

    • mlronald said,

      Heh. Would this be the one with Thomas Hardy doodling in the margins and staring off into space?

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