Thursday, November 19, 2020

Revision Habits

I've just finished the second revision stage of my current work in progress, a light paranormal romance novella, a loose sequel to two previous novellas from the Wild Rose Press. All authors probably have their own individual approaches to self-editing within a few broad categories. Some writing mavens advise a separate editing once-over for each level of potentially needed changes. For instance, one for major plot and character issues, one for style, syntax, word choice, and grammar, and finally one for spelling, typos, punctuation, and other minor errors. A few seem to expect even more rounds of revision. If some writers strictly follow that advice, no wonder they may take years to finish a book.

Such writing mentors probably tend to be the same people who advise us not to bother with granular stylistic and proofreading changes on the first revision or two, because we'd be likely to waste time changing passages that won't even appear in the finished product. That may be good advice for "pantsers." I outline extensively, deal with plot and character difficulties at that stage, and excise elements that don't fit before the actual first-draft composition begins. Also, I edit as I go, at least on the level of sentence structure and word choice. This habit makes me a slower writer than I want to be, but on the other hand, it means I end up with a fairly polished first draft. After all this time, I really can't help doing it that way; my habits were formed over decades as an academic writer and more than twenty years employed as a proofreader.

Personally, I couldn't bear the waste of time involved in doing a separate pass for each level of revision, from global down to nitpicky. I tackle them all at once, sort of. Again, I probably couldn't force myself to do otherwise anyway. If I decided to start with overarching plot and character evaluation, along the way I would inevitably notice minor points that needed fixing. My usual procedure, after the revising-in-progress first draft phase, is to let the work rest for about a week, then read through it and make any corrections that occur to me. Next, I send sections to my online critique group and the whole thing to a critique partner for comment. After addressing all their suggestions, I leave the piece to sit for a few more days. Then I give it a final pass before submitting to the target market. Incidentally, the function that underlines misspellings in red is permanently activated on this computer. That way, I can't miss typos, as might happen if I depended on running spellcheck, with the risk of absentmindedly blowing right past an erroneous word.

Many writing authorities have strong opinions about how many drafts a work should go through before it's ready to submit. Do the terms "first draft, second draft," etc., have any fixed meaning in the era of computer word processing, when previous versions disappear into the ether unless they're printed before changes are made? A draft is an even more nebulous concept for someone who revises in the process of composition, like me. The document I send to a critique group or partner is more like "draft one and a half" than a definable whole number.

I've often thought how unfortunate it is for future collectors and critics that most authors nowadays won't leave successive drafts for scholars to study and compare to the finished work.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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