Jan Stafford Kellis

Writing vs. Revising

I recently discovered, or maybe admitted is a better word, that I enjoy revising more than I enjoy the initial writing. If the entire act of writing, beginning with an idea and ending with a book or at least a booklength manuscript, can be distilled into basic steps, mine would be:

1. Brainstorm.  This is great fun! I use a Levenger notebook with the Circa discs so I can easily rearrange my notes, and I write down the overall aim of the piece as well as the general order in which I will proceed, ending up with a fairly loose outline/bullet list for each chapter. Some pages contain notes in mind-map web formations, some contain unrelated phrases, some have tables or charts sketched as I consider, with each book, including graphs or charts but so far I haven’t done so. (I’m thinking maybe I’ll incorporate graphs and charts in book #3, which is wavering between steps one and three right now.)

2. Create a cover.  More fun, and artistically stretching as I can barely jot my name in a legible manner. I usually manage to doodle something usable, then re-create it on Publisher. I might start writing the cover copy at this point, but I might wait until the book is more focused.

3. Write the first few chapters. The number of chapters written in this step depends on the overall length of the book, the logical places to take a break, my momentum, and my non-writing schedule (all the tasks I must do each day, such as work at my full-time job and keep track of my child and spend time with my husband and help run his business). When I get stuck, I go back to the notebook and re-read my brainstorm notes, adding to them as much as possible so I feel like I’m really working on something. I’ve read many books on this subject and most authors tell aspiring writers to write a minimum number of words per day (2000 is a common amount; the last book I read, Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See, suggests 1000 per day) but I’ve concluded this regimen doesn’t work for me. However, I don’t make a living from my writing! If I did, I’d probably  have to strap myself in and crank out a few grand per day.

4. Revise the first few chapters. I can’t help myself, I’ve got to revise as I go! I try to force myself to wait until I’m finished writing the entire first draft but my revision tendencies are clearly stronger than my inital writing tendencies so I give in and revise at whim. As I’m revising, I keep my brainstorm notebook close by and jot down all the new ideas for future chapters. This is how and when foreshadowing of future events can be inserted, creating a more even and natural flow in the final copy.

5. Write the next few chapters.

6. Revise the next few chapters. Revisit the cover, consider the cover copy and make sure everything promised on the cover is contained in the book and the most important things in the book are included on the back cover.

Keep repeating steps five and six until the work is done.

7. Re-read the brainstorm notebook. Check everything off as you go, or just draw a diagonal line through each page if the entire page is either a) already included in the book or b) unusable.

8. Revise the entire book! Yes, revision isn’t over! It’s possible to revise until your eyes fall out, but it’s not necessary. I generally revise (as in, re-read with a highlighter, post-it notes and a pen in hand) two or three times immediately after finishing writing the book, then I have someone else read it over and give me some feedback. I have four people who usually read my work before it goes anywhere else, and while they’re doing that, I’m relaxing with the brainstorm notebook, in case any other little ideas spring forth. I’ll frequently have about 27 new things to add to the book by the time I get it back from my readers.

9.Take a break. Take as long a break as possible, at least two weeks, up to several months. Let the book get dark and dusty.

10. Revise one last time. Read it with fresh eyes and incorporate the pertinent feedback and any other brainstorming notes generated during the respite. Enjoy the satisfaction of a finished job. Pat yourself on the back. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Read a book, written by someone else, and notice that yours is just as good (maybe better).

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