Tuesday, April 9, 2013

It's Spring and Revisions Are in the Air

   The weather is warming up, the sun is shining, and we all want to be outside cleaning up our gardens and getting ready for the summer.  Only a lot of us can't!  I know at least four people who are feverishly working on revisions right now; mine arrived two weeks ago (along with a gentle hint that if I got it done in a timely fashion the book could be published a season sooner than previously thought).
   As it happened, the package arrived when a non-publishing friend was visiting.  He'd never seen an edited manuscript, so I showed him a few pages.  His eyes went wide, then he blinked a lot and said something like, "Wow, that's a lot of green ink.  I'd be really pissed off."
   I'm sure that the process I go through with a revision is similar to a lot of other writers.  I'm thinking it's a bit like grieving for a dead pet.  Various painful stages have to be weathered in order to come out on the other side.  So I explained it to him.
   First, I glance through the manuscript carefully to get a sense of what needs to be done.  I stop from time to time to read a comment in the margin.  And sometimes I do become angry.  But never at my editor.  My editors (I have three) are all very smart and knowledgeable.  I get angy at myself for not producing a perfect manuscript, one they would read and say there's nothing more to do.  Ah, wouldn't that be nice?  To write a perfect manuscript.  But that's impossible, so I get angry at myself in order to motivate myself to dig into the text and make it as good as possible.  There's a bit of the high school cheerleading emotion here, but it seems to work.  For me anyway.
   Second, I start at P. 1 and begin addressing the problems my editor has highlighted.  I was once an editor, so I always do my own editorial suggestions well before I get those from my editor (and I can be really nasty about my writing); so I add my comments/suggestions to the list.  Also, my lovely wife Alison and my agent will sometimes offrer suuggestions.
   Initially, I attack the easy stuff.  Mispellings (I am not very good at spelling) and grammar (I happen to be very creative when it comes to punctuation).  My aim here is to correct the obvious mistakes, but even more important to become comfortable again with the text (after all, it can be weeks, sometimes months since I last reread the text).  Then I go back over the manuscript to answer some of the harder questions and suggestions.  This phase often requires additional research of one sort or another.
   It's hard to say how many times I have to go over the text before I've answered all of the questions.  I can only say it is not just once or twice; maybe closer to a dozen or so times.  Eventually, I can sit back and say that I've satisfied my editor, myself, my wife and agent --  that the text is a lot better than it was when I sent in the original draft.  Am I done?  Not by a long shot.
   Here's where I enter phase Three.  I put the manuscipt aside for several days and try to forget about it.  Not an easy thing to do.  After a while, I will open the manuscript and make believe I am reading it for the very first time, with an eye to catching any repetition, any line that seems fuzzy, any idea that needs to be fleshed out a little more, any sentence that feels as if I had worked on it, etc., etc.  I want the information and the themes to be accurate and clear, but I also want the text to have a smooth, graceful flow. 
   After I finished explaining this to my friend, he said (and I think he meant this as a compliment), "And here I thought you spend most of your day reading or taking naps."  I do, of course, read a lot and I also think napping is a much underappreciated art form.  But right now I have to get back to this revision, where I'm still working through the Second phase.  With every page revised, I'm a step closer to getting out into the sunshine.                    

5 comments:

Emily said...

Thanks -- this was extremely helpful!

Linda Zajac said...

Your "dead pet" simile cracked me up, but it does feel that way when they come back all red and bloody. I've been known to leave a trail of prominent right facing arrows as I skip over the this-needs-more-thought items. Good post about revising.

Robert said...

Writing is about rewriting. Fortunately, readers don't have to read the early versions. Thanks for sharing your process, Jim.
p.s. Naps rock! If they're good enough for Thomas Edison (a well-known napper), they're good enough for me.

Anna M. Lewis said...

Great post. Exactly what I'm going through right now.
Today got back the 2nd go around with line edits with one book - AND the comments from my edits on other book. Ahhhhh!
I just finished my first line edits last month. I told everyone that my head didn't explode and my eyes didn't pop out and roll off the table. What an interesting experience.
Was talking to the husband today and commented that I did a lot of work on that first round of line edits. He said, "Well, if you had written it correctly the first time, you wouldn't have to do be doing that now." He was joking... I think, but so glad to hear I'm not alone!

Also, naps do rock. I get up at 6:30 am and go to bed most nights midnight. After a morning of writing and editing (and then lunch), my body is screaming for a nap!


Jim Murphy said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. I was also thinking that the revising really never ends, at least for me. I'll send in a revision, then get some more comments. Which is fine. I do more work and back it goes to the publisher. But I keep noodling away at it, playing with lines here, phrases there. If I think I've made some interesting changes, I'll send them in and hope it's not too late. P.S. And when the book is finally published, I read through it with a red pen to make changes (hoping it sells enough to reprint so I can get these new revisions in). My publishers love me for this.