Mention the word “revisions” around a group of writers, and you’ll get a mixed chorus of “ugh!” and “squee!” It’s true – some writers hate revisions while others love them. Those who hate them say they prefer the creative part of the process and hate getting bogged down with the technicalities of grammar and sentence structure and rewriting the same sentence 23 times before getting it exactly right (only to end up deleting it in a later round). Others say they love giving their stories that beautiful polish, knowing that every change is making the story and the writing better.
I’m kind of in the middle here – I do love the creative process, which for me, continues through the first few round of edits, but the process can also wear on me, becoming tedious and boring. There are only two times I truly hate revisions and edits, though. The first is when I need to make a plot or character change that’s going to cause a ripple effect throughout the story. Making this one revision, whether big or small, means cleaning up several scenes, sometimes even adding a new one or completely rewriting one that I already loved. The job feels huge and daunting and I whine about how much I don’t want to do it.
The other time I hate revisions and edits is far into the editing stage – that point where I thought I was done, but realize I need to make another pass or two through the manuscript. By this time, I hate – I mean, HATE – the book and the characters in it and I just want to kill them all off. I’ve read the story so many times that I think the whole thing sucks and I should simply trash it and this whole idea of being a writer because I’m really just a fraud. But when I’m done – well, I love the book and the characters all over again, and I know it’s the best book it can possibly be. I learned a secret about how to handle this at the Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans Workshop last week that I’ll share when we get there.
But first, how does this all go together? How do I get from the first draft to that point of knowing I need to make plot or character revisions to the point of hating the book because I’ve read it so many times and then back to loving it? How do I know when I’m ready to hit the Publish button?
First of all, let me say that every book has been different. The writing process has varied, and so has the revision process. But I do follow a general progression of steps, which I’ll outline here and we’ll get into in subsequent blog posts.
Before I list those steps, though, I feel the need to define the difference between beta readers and critique partners. At least, this is the difference to me:
Critique partners are other writers (usually published now that I am) or editors who give me detailed feedback. I use them at different stages, which you’ll see in a moment, so the kind of feedback may vary, but the point is that they’re focusing on the craft of the story and the writing – the technicalities that readers don’t specifically notice but know there’s just something “wrong” there. My “critters” can explain what exactly is wrong or at least help me figure it out for myself.
Beta readers can be writers, but are also just readers who enjoy reading and can give good feedback on the story, but usually in more general terms. Sure, they’ll point out a typo or grammar mistake, and they’re really good for noticing inconsistencies (a character’s eye color changes, for example, or their aunt has a different name later in the book). But they’re also good for overall reaction. While my critters are focused on the trees, the betas can look at the forest. They can tell me if the plot makes sense or if there’s a hole somewhere. They can tell me if they loved the whole thing, or liked certain parts but not others. They’ll say, “I don’t like this character. He rubs me the wrong way.” But, compared to my critters, betas may not be able to pinpoint what it is that they love or don’t like. They know a character gets on their nerves, but may not realize it’s because the words or body language I’ve given him doesn’t mesh with the character I’m trying to portray. Betas are often people with different perspectives – I get The Man’s opinion from a male perspective; maybe someone who’s familiar with a disorder one of my characters has to make sure I’ve kept it “real”; and, of course, avid readers who know when a story works and when a character is swoon-worthy.
Now, I do have what I call an alpha reader. She is also my business partner/co-publisher. She gets to read everything first, sometimes even before I do, and her primary function as the alpha is to serve as cheerleader and sometimes idea-bouncer-offer (she serves other roles later in the process). Choose this person carefully because he/she will probably read your book several times before it’s ready to be published or submitted. You don’t want them to hate you for putting them through that. (The Man will NEVER be an alpha reader for me. In fact, he doesn’t get to read until the very end because he won’t read it again to see how I addressed his feedback or to see how it’s evolved. Then he talks about the book and he’s wrong about half the things.) So, yeah, choose wisely.
Proofreaders, one more distinction I want to make, are reading specifically for typos, missing words, extra words, grammar mistakes and the like. They’re also making sure that the last round of line edits didn’t cause a sentence (or whole paragraph) to accidentally disappear. Yes, that’s happened before.
Now onto my process. These are the steps I follow as soon as I complete the first draft in an ideal situation, but sometimes I have to combine some steps to be able to meet my deadlines.
- Read-through while taking notes.
- First round of revisions for plot.
- Give to alpha to read and get feedback.
- Second round of revisions for more plot issues based on alpha’s feedback/brainstorming sessions, as well as character arc and development.
- Give to critique partner(s) who I admire for their excellent plotting and character development.
- Third round of revisions to address critters’ feedback, as well as scrutinizing and fixing structure of scenes, chapters and paragraphs.
- Fourth round of revisions for theme, descriptions and dialogue.
- Give to first round of beta readers.
- Fifth round (now called edits) addressing betas’ feedback and polishing the writing.
- Give to different critique partner(s) who I admire for beautiful writing and grammar technicalities.
- Sixth round addressing critters’ feedback and polishing the writing even more.
- Give to second round of beta readers.
- Sixth round of edits addressing any more betas’ concerns, as well as combing for repetitive words and phrases and finding better ways of saying the same thing.
- Give to line editor.
- Fix line editor’s issues.
- One last read-through.
- Give to proofreader.
- Fix proofreader’s issues.
- If time allows, give to one more fresh set of eyes just to be sure nothing went wrong while fixing the proofreader’s issues.
- Collapse from exhaustion … then celebrate.
We’ll go through these in detail over the next several weeks. For now, if you haven’t already, I recommend lining up your first round of critique partners and beta readers. And if you have an alpha reader, you can decide whether you’re ready to let him/her read your baby yet or if you want to go through it at least once before
slicing yourself open and exposing your soul er, sharing this little project you’ve been working on.