The September issue of Writer’s Digest has an article by Gabriela Pereira titled “The Great Revision Pyramid.” I was eager to read the article, as I’m working on a major rewrite of my second novel.
In the article, she talks about how non-writers might think that once the first draft is written, the book is basically done. Most people don’t understand what actually takes place in that first revision; that the real work comes after the first draft is finished.
“Writers know better,” she says in the article. “They know that a jumbled draft can be even more terrifying than a blank page.”
She goes on to describe a better way to revise by taking it layer-by-layer instead of focusing on everything at once. Start with narration on the first revision and then work your way down to the final step of the cosmetics. I won’t spoil anything else, so feel free to subscribe to the magazine to check out the entire article.
The article has plenty of great advice, but what I really want to talk about here is that quote from above. “…a jumbled draft can be even more terrifying than a blank page.”
That’s pretty much what went through my head when I opened up my second novel and decided to try cleaning it up. I wrote the novel a few years ago, so I expected to find a lot of mistakes, but what I didn’t expect to find were all of the problems with the structure of the story. Entire scenes needed to be switched around, deleted, or rewritten from another character’s POV. Characters were phony and inconsistent, or (ever worse) generic. And, much to my disgust, gigantic plot holes jumped out of the page at me like one of my kids’ Halloween pop-up books.
Revisions were difficult at first–so difficult, that I quit and worked on other stuff. In a single read-through, I was trying to catch plot problems, character problems, grammar problems, and take notes on the overall structure.
The problem is, that’s not a productive way to revise a novel. It’s like walking into a neglected, messy house and expecting to clean it up in a single afternoon.
The method Gabriela writes about is a much more manageable way to revise. You have to break your revision down into layers and tackle one at a time. While I’m not doing it quite the same way the article suggests, what I am doing is working.
Since the biggest problems I found with this novel are related to the plot, that’s where I’m starting. As I read the novel, I’m keeping an outline file open and outlining every single plot point, as well as highlighting parts that might be inconsistent or out of place. Once I have a solid outline, I’ll start looking at the order of the scenes and figure out which ones need to be created, killed, or recast.
This is so working so much better for me than trying to do everything at once. The only thing that’s giving me trouble now, is that I need to turn off the copy-editor that lives in my head and stop focusing on the grammar as I read it.