I once heard someone say that the process for writing each book is different for each book that you write. Wow, have I found that to be true!
I wrote STORYBOUND on the odd free afternoon, over a period of about six months. I didn’t have much of an outline, more of a general direction for the story, and then spent a lot of time piecing scenes together to make a complete draft. My deadline for STORY’S END fell near the end of a year in which I had my third son (three boys three-and-under makes for a wild ride), we moved cross-country to Seattle, my husband started a non-profit, so why not squeeze a book in there, too? ha. It was crazy-making, and I wrote the first draft in a little over a month and vowed I would never do that again.
This time, I’ve been working away all year long. I tried to start with an outline, but I didn’t stick with it. Sometimes, I’d have a solid Saturday where I’d get 3K done, but most weeks I would aim for 500 words a day. This often made for disjointed scenes, but it was very doable, and I was able to squeeze writing time into my ordinary activities.
But then summer came and my steady trot turned to a stumbling gait, and I found myself at the end of the August with only two-thirds of a manuscript. I spent the last week of August writing full-time, which had several odd effects. First, it was very helpful to live and breathe the story-world. Second, I found myself finishing writing for the day craving another story – a novel or movie or something – and I think this had to do with refueling creativity. Finally, it intensified the typical writing emotional rollercoaster, to wit:
Me, Writing Day 1: I’m only 40K in. I don’t like where this story is going. I think I”ll set it in Alaska instead of Iceland. How about a campout instead of a study abroad program?
Later that night: What am I thinking? I can’t rewrite a book in a week. I have to make what I have work.
Me, Writing Day 2: This book is horrible. No one is going to want to read it. I don’t even want to read it.
Me, Writing Day 3: Maybe this isn’t horrible. *discovery of brilliant plot point* This story is amazing! I love it!
Me, Later that night: Near tears. I can’t believe I’m going to send this to my editor. No one will read this.
Me, Writing Day 4: Cautiously optimistic. Finding equilibrium
Me, Writing Day 5: I just want to be finished.
Me, Writing Day 6: Problems worked out, plan set in place, now I simply need to execute it.
It’s hard to say where I’m at now, except that I’m so ready to be done! The past two weeks of revision have been a long haul of reading, re-reading, making notes, and reading the manuscript again. Once I’ve got the rough elements of a draft in place, I usually work through the following steps:
1. Re-order the outline. Once I’m near the end of a draft, I’m able to revise my original post-it-note outline and figure out what missing scenes I need to write or what needs to be cut. This is also when I confirm that the days and nights match up. Working from this new outline, I then fill in any blank spots in my draft.
2. Read through the manuscript in one sitting. This is when I find things that worked in old versions but don’t anymore, darling scenes that really just need to go, and the humbling discovery of those oh-so-favorite words. For example, my characters’ eyebrows were arching all over the place, Wren’s stomach was constantly having trouble, people were forever crouching low and/or bending down, cheeks were flaring, gazes were being fixed on too many things, and birds cocked one beady eye at everything in sight. It was awful. And funny.
3. Read the manuscript out loud if possible. This is a great way to catch word repetition. I read on my laptop and am ruthless with the delete key. This is also when I make little notes of facts I need to confirm.
4. Do any last-minute research. Wren, the main character in THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN, is into science, so this book has a lot of astronomy references, which means I have sentences like: “Jack picks ups some really cool piece of ancient astronomy equipment here.” Now is when I go find out what those things actually are. Instead of getting bogged down in research during the writing process, I get bogged down in the revision process. Clever, huh?
5. Final notes for each chapter. I make little notes at the beginning of each chapter for final tweaks. This is what I’ve been working on today:
When all those little notes have been addressed and deleted, I can officially say that this first draft is complete, and, if there’s time, it gets sent off to my early readers for their feedback. Fortunately, I have an editorial agent, so she is another welcome reader before I’m ready to send it to my editor.
What about you, fellow writers? Do you have any favorite tricks for tackling revisions? And, because I’m so tired of seeing my own repeated tells (cheeks flaring hot, shrugs, and exchanged glances) do you have any overused words or adjectives that pop up in every manuscript?