Monday, January 9, 2012

My Prior Revision Attempts and The Wait

Until 2009, I'd always revised as I went. Of course, I mostly wrote short stories. In short stories it's easy to get away with revising as you go because, well, they're short. Until Nanowrimo 2009, I'd never managed to complete anything longer than a short story because, well, I was revising as I went. I'd write about one to three chapters, spend hours and weeks tweaking and perfecting them, get distracted and leave the piece alone - never to return.

So, in November of 2009, I managed to shut away that editor for a month and get my first major draft done. Something I'd never done before (though not from lack of trying).

So my first generality of revision for anything longer than ten pages is: do not revise as you go. It really, really doesn't work.

Which brings me to the first revision rule of thumb I've heard over and over - get some distance or "The Wait."

Getting distance from the first draft is suppose to be crucial to revision because I can come at my piece with less bias. The way to achieve this distance is with time - "The Wait." Let your book sit and stew for a while. Depending on who you ask, the time in "The Wait" varies, but going by another rule of thumb, it's about a month.

So upon completing my 2009 draft, I knew I needed "The Wait" to get some perspective, though I was itching to get my hands on the piece and get into it.

Well, I waited somewhere between four and six weeks, a little over a month. My enthusiasm for piece dwindled, but I was determined to work on it. So I tired. And I tired. And I rewrote Chapter One, and wondered if I needed to change main characters, and if I should really start at Chapter Four, and if I should pull all my hair out because my female protagonist was annoying...

Needless to say, I fell "out of love" with that book and shelved it.

Enter November 2010. I have a new idea based on some old characters. I get the draft down, and all the while I keep thinking, hey, I've really got something going here! This book is completely marketable, and it's new and interesting! But it's going to need some revision.

So I followed that rule of thumb, but thought, maybe I was a little too soon with 2009's novel, so I'm going to wait a little longer on this one. Get some more distance and perspective. Oh, let's say, three months! Because if one month is suppose to be good, then three months should be better!

I think I got as far as revising the first line, and that was about it.

Well, November 2011 is wrapping up and I'm really really itching to start revising - mostly because I wrote this entire book without knowing where it was going at all. So by the time I reached the end, I knew that the beginning was going to need work. And I was really curious to see if all these connections I thought I'd made really were as awesome as I thought they were!

But that little voice was telling me "you need to wait."

Then another voice was saying, "has waiting really helped you?" The answer - not really.

Well, I knew that the first thing I wanted to do was print the whole thing out (because I wanted to slash some of those scenes I knew where dragging on too long, or were totally useless, and basically, the first 30 pages). It would feel so wonderful just x-ing through pages! I mean that's revision right?

Well, my printing plans didn't go quite as quickly as I'd hoped. It took me two weeks to get the thing printed, and I think, that was the perfect amount of time for me. Which leads me to my thoughts on "The Wait."

Yes, we do need to distance ourselves from our work so we can come at it with fresh eyes. We need to forget the beginning so we can really see how it relates to the end, which is what "The Wait" does. But, how long we need to wait is going to vary. I think my earlier problems was I was waiting too long. I have a buzz, an energy after finishing a draft that keeps me involved in the story, and that by waiting, I was allowing other things to take control of that energy, so when I finally made it back to my writing, I'd lost interest. I really had fallen out of love with my piece. I need to keep that love to continue working.

So I'm going to venture out and say there shouldn't be any sort of set time for "The Wait," but should be like a weekend away from a lover - just long enough to miss it, but not long enough to forget. For me, that was two weeks. For some it could be two months, or even two years. But when you start to feel that spark for the book fade, that means you need to stop "Waiting" and start rewriting.


  1. murgh.

    Now I feel a bit silly for dragging my feet and waiting two months before I'm starting my round of revisions on November '11.

  2. No! Some people like to wait longer. I trying to get that it's more about a feeling than a time limit.