March 27, 2012

How I Tackle Revisions

Reading about another writer's process makes me feel less alone, or whacky, or stupid about the way I do things. Camaraderie is as reassuring as a warm blanket. I want, more than anything, to know "I am not the only one" . . . and that "I am like other writers."

I devour blog entries and articles that outline HOW other writers work. I love the details. I love feeling like I'm peeking right over their shoulders watching them. This connection to other writers informs and supports my own writing process. So, this is what my own writing process looks like:

I sit in the dining room, at one end of the big, empty table. My MacBook Air is directly in front of me. On the screen, two windows work in tandem, one is the latest rev of the WIP, and the other I affectionately name, "scrap.doc" On the table to my right is a printed copy of the WIP, double sided, in a blue folder, with two gigantic binder clips securing the pages. Invariably, a blue pen is propped on top of these pages.

When I settle in to work, I start with the print pages, opening the blue folder to reveal the challenge that will face me today. The clips secure the stuff-I-already-worked-on to the left side of the folder, and trap the stuff-I-have-left-to-fix on the right. Think of them as vicious metal bookmarks that keep me from easily hopping to another more appealing section of the WIP.

I write like hell on the paper pages. I always start a chapter by looking at the word count -- is this too long? Does it need to be split up? Does it have a good flow with the size of preceding and following chapters? Then I make a quick list of the major plot points. Then I cross-out, draw arrows, scribble through, notate, and sometimes even physically cut up the chapter until it's clear what needs to be done. Including writing things like "I hate this!" when I need to let it out.

That's when the "scrap" document comes into play. Often, I know the writing just isn't working, but I have to get over the fear of losing something good. So, anything I crossed out on paper gets copied into the scrap doc before I delete it from the WIP. I stuff these orphaned chunks into the scrap doc quickly and mercilessly. After all, I'm not throwing them away, I'm just setting them aside, like you do with a pretty little gift box before you finally dump it into the recycling bin.

Once I've fed the scrap doc, I read back through the chapter and make all of my other edits. If I miss certain phrases, I rescue them from the scrap, saving important details and adjectives until they come together into a much, much better whole than they formed the first time around. I find that the scrap doc gives me the freedom to find the right words instead of clinging to the wrong ones. It lets me clean house guilt-free. And that's when revisions go well, when you have the freedom to make the necessary changes.

In the end, the scrap doc is a graveyard of lovely yet repetitive descriptors, broken phrases, and useless adverbs, and over time I am certain I no longer need them. Then the WIP can really shine, free of the burden, and ready for the next step: scrap2.doc.


  1. That's a great idea, Melanie. I usually just resave my files with a date on them so that I always have the "scrap" on an older version--but I like how you keep them all together. That way if you think of "that one great scene that I chopped," you can just look in the document. Very smart! I might give that a whirl, thanks. Also, I love, "scrap doc is a graveyard of lovely yet repetitive descriptors..." Lovely image.

  2. Very interesting approach. I keep back ups of my old files and new files separated. I've had entire chapters "ghosted" by pc hiccups before. Talk about frustrating! Anyways, great advice. I'll be sure to keep it in mind. :)

  3. I do this too! So, no, you're not alone or wacky (or, we both are). A scrap doc (I title it "Little darlings") gives me comfort as well. And quite often, just like in cleaning my closet, I rarely miss what I deleted.

  4. "Little Darlings!" I love it! In my mind, it sounds like my what my mother would call us as she put us in time-out.

    @Catrina - the idea of an entire chapter getting "ghosted" scares the bejeebus out of me.


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