Writing and Revising

I’ve had some trouble starting a post for today, in large part because I am too absorbed in my current work-in-progress to focus on a blog post.  And so I thought that I would turn the issues facing me with my WIP into a post that would be helpful to me as I write it, and, perhaps, helpful to you as you read it.

Right now, I’m in the closing stages of writing a book — the third installment in the Thieftaker chronicles, which I write as D.B. Jackson.  I’m at about 85,000 words, on my way to 100k or so, and I’m having trouble focusing on anything else.  I’m writing this book quickly — at a swifter pace than I have any other book I’ve written (except for the Robin Hood novelization, which had a ridiculous turn around, and which I wrote from a script).  I wrote half the book — 50,000 words plus — in February, and I expect to finish the first draft sometime in the first week of April.  The book is due May 1, and I started it later than I should have — hence my accelerated pace.

I normally write pretty quickly, but I also usually do a good deal of polishing as I write.  In the interests of getting the draft done, I’m doing less polishing this time around, which means that my revision process is going to be more important than ever.

Ideally, I like to leave a manuscript for a few weeks before I go back to revise it.  I can’t do that this time.  Everything is compressed, and I really don’t know what that will mean for the finished project.  On the one hand, a hurried manuscript is not necessarily a good one.  On the other hand, there are times when I over-polish as I write, and my initial drafts wind up being too studied, not spontaneous enough.  That will not be a problem this time around.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been less certain of what I will find in a manuscript when I go back to read it through for the first time.  It should be interesting.

Part of what makes the revision process work for me is creating as much distance as possible between the writing experience and my reading of the draft. Distance from the creative process, distance from the emotions and ambitions I entertained while writing it, distance from the characters who were speaking to me while I wrote.  Why is distance so crucial?  Because I don’t want to read this book as the guy who wrote it.  I want to get as close as possible to the reading experience of those who will be judging its quality and commercial viability.  They don’t know what I intended to do with the book; they don’t know the backgrounds of my various characters.  They only know what the book tells them.  And so I want to read the book with their experience in mind.  Of course, I then want to turn around and fix the problems I find in a way that feeds into my creative experience, that reinforces all the stuff I’ve been trying to do as writer-guy.  There is a balancing act here, and it’s not always easy to carry off.

As I said, in the past I have used time as a key tool in creating distance between writing and revising.  If I can put a draft away for five or six weeks, then I actually don’t remember as clearly what I was thinking when I composed the draft in the first place.  I find that enormously helpful.

This time around I won’t have that distance in terms of time, and so I have to create it in different ways.  First, since I wrote the draft on the screen, I will read it through on paper.  That probably sounds silly, like something that couldn’t possibly make much of a difference.  But for me it does.  Seeing the words on paper, rather than on the screen, is a fundamentally different experience that often allows me to notice problems I might otherwise miss.

I will also read as much of the book as possible aloud.  This can be exhausting, so I don’t always get through a whole book this way.  But “hearing” the book, even if in my own voice, is another way of experiencing the writing in a new way, and once again it exposes problems I might otherwise fail to notice.

And finally, I will try to put myself into the mindset of a reader rather than the writer.  And in order to do this, I will try to read as a specific reader: my editor, my agent, my wife; someone who I know, whose comments I can anticipate.  This is basically role-playing and it’s a skill I’ve developed over time, one that really does help.  There are times when I will read a passage and know right off that, say, my agent would have questions about it.  Seeing the issue through her eyes — or through the eyes of another reader — allows me once more to remove myself from the writing process and experience the book as if for the first time.

All of these things help me separate my internal editor from my internal writer, so that I can be as dispassionate as possible in my reading of my own work.  This allows me to be ruthless with cuts when I need to be, and also to recognize what works, not just in the moment when I wrote it, but also for my readers.

That, at least, is the plan.  We’ll see if it works with this newest book.

What tricks, if any, do you use to make yourself a more effective editor of your own work?

David B. Coe

Filed under For Novelists, learning to write, the business of writing, writing life, writing process. You can also use to trackback.

There are 7 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Kate Elliott

    I’m bookmarking this. Really useful.

  2. 2. David B. Coe

    Thanks. I would imagine that you have techniques you use when you’re moving from writing to self-editing. Anything here ring a bell? Or do you take a different approach?

  3. 3. Kate Elliott

    First I run around whining and weeping, then I change things.

    I just liked the way you describe the process, about how important it is to distance yourself from “yourself-the-writer” and try to see from the perspective of people who are coming at it fresh.

  4. 4. David B. Coe

    “First I run around whining and weeping, then I change things.”

    Love this.

    Thanks for the kind words about the post. I don’t think anyone else read it . . . .

  5. 5. 'Rora Rose

    I love reading the different ways that authors edit their own work. I find that I also do a lot of polishing as I go and it’s only recently I’ve stopped so that I can get through the raw bones of the rest of the plot. The first few chapters of my book have been so heavily edited and read over that I’ve actually banned myself from touching anything that I haven’t written in the past couple weeks.

    Printing it out is possibly my favorite way to go over a text. It’s such a distinction from typing it or even writing it in my notebook that it jars me into noticing changes I have to make. There was once when I would print pages, scribble all over them, then hand write the changes into a notebook. And I wondered why it took so long to get anywhere…

    I am rather fortunate that I have a captive audience available when i need to bounce chapters off of another reader, though he is getting to the point of having too much exclusive knowledge to have that necessary distance. It all comes down to what sort of edit I’m trying to achieve and experimenting, since this is my first large fiction work.

  6. 6. Amy Bauer

    Well, i just read it. So that makes at least two people. :-)

    I think reading out loud is crucial. Awkward phrasing is certainly highlighted when you read. I’m looking forward to seeing if there’s much of a difference in your writing in between the 2nd and the 3rd Thieftaker books. Should be an interesting little thought experiment.

  7. 7. David B. Coe

    Rora, thanks for the comment. I agree: printing out the book is really the best thing I can do to for my editing, because, as you say, I notice so much more.

    Amy, thanks. Reading out loud helps me a lot, too, and I have actually found myself editing passages in my mind while doing readings at cons and bookstores! I am hoping that when all the revisions are in, there won’t be a lot of stylistic difference between the second and third books. But as you say, we’ll see.

Author Information

David B. Coe

David B. Coe (http://www.DavidBCoe.com) is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (http://www.dbjackson-author.com), he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (http://magicalwords.net), and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.



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