Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Revisions, revisions

At the May meeting of Romance writers of Atlantic Canada, Julianne MacLean, author of many beautiful historicals, gave a presentation on revision. Her session gave me several lightbulb moments and took a sizable weight off my shoulders.

I know that many experienced authors have critique partners, and I find feedback from other writers and readers invaluable. That said, I’ve always had this idea in the back of my mind that really talented authors can see most of the weaknesses in their writing for themselves. I’m not talking about technical glitches like grammar, but deeper issues like characterization, POV and plot. When a reader makes suggestions on my writing, I ask myself “Why didn’t I see that?” I found it very reassuring to hear a multi-published author whose books I admire say that she doesn’t always see those things either. As writers, most of us are just too close to our work to see the forest for the trees.

I’ve written before about being a pantser. My natural tendency is to start each writing session by going back over what I wrote the last time and polishing it before moving on. I depend on that process to help me figure out where the story is going next. If there’s something in the MS that bothers me, I can’t go forward until I’ve fixed it. It turns out that Julianne’s process is similar. For me it can lead to painful episodes of being bogged down, but the upside is there’s less work to be done after the first draft, because it isn’t really a first draft.

I’ve tried various revision methods, hoping to become more efficient. I’ve found Holly Lisle’s “one-pass revision” technique useful. It’s explained on her website. In a nutshell, you go through a printed copy of the MS from beginning to end and make notes on the pages, and when you’re done – you’re done. Only I still find myself going back and making more changes. I seem to be hardwired that way.
So, I’ll go with the flow. Write, polish, write a little more. See where the story takes me. Go back and detour. Been there, done that. Should design a T-shirt. But in the end, I get there.

I'll be getting first edits back on Heart before too long, so Julianne's workshop came at the perfect time for me. I'll go through the MS again, and keep in mind that just because I didn't see all the flaws for myself doesn't mean I can't write. It'll be a better story, and that's what it's all about.


  1. I'm hoping to cut down on my revision time by doing a cleaner first draft. I used to do that but got away from it for some reason. Need to get back to doing things that way.

  2. I'm the same way, Kelly. I take a ridiculously long time with a first draft, which really isn't a first draft because I polish as I go, but it saves me time at the end.

  3. Hello, I agree about getting critiques. My critique partners always catch things I don't, and I've become a stronger writer since working with them. Nice blog you have here. :)

  4. Thanks for dropping by,HWE!I don't know what I'd do without other eyes to read my work.

  5. This is a wonderful post, Jennie. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who can't move forward until I fix previous problems.

  6. Hey LoriBeth, thanks for dropping by! Nope, you aren't the only one. It seems there's a few of us, which makes me feel a lot better.