Wednesday, December 03, 2008


“I believe more in the scissors than I do
in the pencil.” - Truman Capote

National Novel Writing Month 2008 (NaNoWriMo) ended November 30 leaving me with 66,103 words of a novel which I now must expand and revise. It seems there are as many methods of revision as there are novelists. Some writers make only a single pass through, but a very thorough one. Others revise draft after draft. How do you handle it?

For my first NaNoWriMo in 2004, I simply did writing practice in response to prompts which I had created. My only parameters were that the topic had to relate to golf or my father. I wound up with 50,000 words worth of little essays. No plot. No consistency. I spent the next four years completing it.

I began the revision process by simply printing out all the pieces. I double spaced them, 3-hole punched them, and put them in a three-ring binder in chronological order. Unfortunately this chronology spanned my entire life and reached back into my father’s as well. I took this binder to a coffeehouse and spent three days reading it all the way through. I tried to figure out which pieces were workable the way they were (very few), which bits needed to be chucked (many) and which parts might work with revision (some).

Next, I stepped waaaaay back from the individual written pages to think about the whole story structure. I stepped so far back that I wound up in grad school to study plot and characterization and other aspects of craft. I looked at what and where the climax would be and the different turning points that would lead the characters to the climax. I figured out the story’s timeline and the overall shape of the thing. I chopped the NaNo book into pieces again and, according to where I thought they fit in the timeline and story arc, I rearranged them using tools like yWriter and index cards and lots of weird outline type things to actually move the ideas and the huge wads of text around. I found holes the size of small countries so I spent tons of time writing new scenes to fill them.

Once I felt I had all the pieces in all the right places, I went through and polished, polished, polished correcting grammar and punctuation, tightening the dialogue, and checking for unnecessary repetition of words. When I was through, I had probably read every word in that book four or five times. I wish I could say it was perfect, but every time I pick it up, I can still find a place to tighten and polish, revise and correct.

I would love to hear from folks who have tackled revising a book-length work. How did you approach the revision process? How many passes through do you make? What tools do you use?

For those of you who have a draft to revise, good luck! May the rest of you have one soon.

     If you appreciate Write (Now) Newsletter and would like to make a DONATION, CLICK HERE.