Midwest Musings: Revision Hell
Perhaps that’s a bit overdramatic. Maybe more like Revision Torment with the chapter I’ve been going through. My post of June xx talked about decluttering and described the two steps I planned to take to declutter this manuscript. I also promised I’d update you with a progress report.
One of the changes in that plan involved starting from the beginning and inserting notes to myself with questions and suggestions. The plan was to begin each note with %% so that I could later do a find and readily find them. I also highlighted them in red. Some changes were easy enough to make at that point, so they were incorporated as I progressed. Some are still there to be tackled when I have more time to think about them.
About the second day of this approach it dawned on me that I could just as easily insert “comments.” But there were times went it felt more appropriate to stick with the original insertion, so I’ve been doing both. Don’t what differentiates them from each other; I couldn’t tell you. It’s just an intuitive thing. Rather than stop and try to discern which made more sense, I just did whichever felt right at the moment.
I also mentioned that I was changing the plot slightly and reducing the points of views from four to two. This process is a bit like pulling a loose thread on a sweater; the “repair” may do more damage than just leaving it alone. So I found myself leaving more notes for these than dealing with them as they arose.
This new revision process went pretty well until I got about a third into the book, about the same point I reached with the previous read-through when I stopped and altered my revision methods. Here’s what I found myself doing when I reached this point:
a) Spending an inordinate amount of time line editing. Doing things like deleting unnecessary tags, changing proper nouns to pronouns and vice versa, rearranging words, etc. There’s nothing wrong with this element of revision but not when I mistakenly let myself think that’s all the revision required.
b) Staring at the same paragraph forever, knowing something’s wrong with it but unable to figure out what.
c) Discovering long passages of telling versus showing. Nothing wrong with narrative, but is it shortcutting action or dialogue?
d) Debating if I even need this chapter.
If a writer friend were to describe these symptoms to me, I’d probably tell them to take a break, go do something fun that frees their brain or switch to another project temporarily. I took my own advice with the first two suggestions and sort of tried the third. It may be that other personal matters are blocking my concentration. We almost lost my ninety-year-old mother last weekend to pneumonia. She’s much better now, but that’s why there was no blog post last week. Now that she’s on the mend, I’ve returned to decluttering my home. A garage sale is less than a week away. Until that event takes place, my energies, both physical and mental, are focused there.
Just prior to writing this post, another idea occurred to me. Change my approach. A simple idea, but it seems to be having some positive results. I usually do most of my composing and revising on-screen, but occasionally my brain needs a different medium in which to receive the copy. So I printed off the chapter in question.
I also moved away from my office and set up temporary shop on the kitchen table. And I turned off the ever-present background noise of the television. Since high school, I’ve been studying with the television on. This process got me through college, my master’s degree and several years of writing, but every so often the auditory part of the brain needs a rest. That seems to be what I need right now.
Finally, I’ve made a commitment not to line edit as I read through the chapter in question. Instead, my focus is to take in its full totality – how it advances the story, whether this is the appropriate place to reveal such information, how it flows, and how it connects the previous chapter with the next chapter.
This is no aha moment discovery. Most writers are familiar with this line of thinking, the trick is knowing when to employ it. Sometimes you have to micromanage each line of copy, but sometimes, as I believe is the case for me now, you have to step back and absorb the organic whole.
Once again, stay tuned. I’ll report back in a future post.