Some NaNoWriMo Wisdom on Revision

The wonderful NaNoWriMo website publishes all sorts of pep talks from established authors, including lots of wise advice about revision.

Today, I’ve snagged a few of my favorite bits to share with you if you’re one of our Winter Writing Festival participants who’s primarily focused on revision right now:

“Believe it or not, I LOVE revisions. It’s always easier to tinker with something that is already finished than it is to get “stuff” on that blank white screen. And that is how I think about it: all the hard work has been done, so now I get the fun of tweaking everything into line. Doing galley-proofs is tedious; revisions are the chance to get that brilliant insight in that it encapsulates your character’s personality in a single sentence.” –Mercedes Lackey, author of the Valdemar series.

“The hardest part to revise is the first half of your novel. Don’t lose heart. You will work so hard on those first scenes, getting them right. Then as you move forward, writing and solving questions you’ve asked yourself, you’ll jump backwards to fix something you just figured out and you’ll have to make sure that the change meshes with what you’re working on. But all of this work is narrowing your egress. Your book will necessarily gain focus, and the conclusion you’re working toward will become inevitable, which will make the last part of revising feel like downhill skiing. Without the moguls or trees. Good luck!” –Rachael Herron, author of How to Knit a Love Song: A Cypress Hollow Yarn   (started as a NaNo novel)

“Be open and free for the first draft, be ruthless with the structure for the second, and fanatical about the words for the third–examine every sentence. Remain true to your characters and story, but also be flexible and listen to and value feedback, see things from the reader’s point of view. Oh, and read the whole lot out loud, every draft. Get lots of pens, stickers, and index cards to make structuring fun.”  Julia Crouch, author of CUCKOO. (started as a NaNo novel)

“This is the body of my advice, and I’m only going to tell you one thing (because there are lots of good writing books on revision out there, especially at the Writers Digest store). Create a compelling, distinctive voice for your main character or narrator. The voice must make the reader feel something — anything. Without the voice, you’re a candidate for the slush pile….With it, you’re a potential winner of The Man Booker Prize.”  Pete Twohig, author of The Cartographer (also started as a NaNo novel)

I’m going to add one tip of my own, which I’ve found wonderfully liberating when I know I need to make a really major change in a manuscript (like, radically reduce word count, or change a major subplot, or reshape a lead character’s motivations).

When I need to make a radical change, I always worry that I’m going to mess up everything good about the story, and that worry can be paralyzing. So I just SAVE the manuscript as is, under the official title, and tell myself that’s still my main file. Then I make a COPY of the file, and call it something like CRAZYWILDEXPERIMENT.docx

I tell myself I’m just playing, just messing around, and I can be as crazy and innovative as I please, without posing any threat to the original version. Of course, what always ends up happening is that the changes DO improve the story. But I can wait until I’m really really really sure of that before re-saving the CRAZYWILDEXPERIMENT file under the official title name (and I always do save the older version, too, with the word FORMER in the new document name.) Helps me every time.

What about you? Do you have some words of revision wisdom of your own to share? 

8 responses to “Some NaNoWriMo Wisdom on Revision”

  1. Hywela Lyn says:

    I’m one of those people who loves revising too – I find it much easer than slogging out the initial first draft – but I’m also a terrible procrastinator, so the WWF is brilliant at making me get down to it and get stuck into something I actually love.

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      The WWF works that way for me, too!! So great to have someone there in the Chat Room saying, “C’mon, we’re going to focus for the next 45 minutes,” and then checking in afterwards to make sure you really did it!!

  2. Darynda Jones says:

    I love this!!! I, too, love revising. It’s the best part, IMHO. Also, I got to hang out with Rachael at The Night of Writing Dangerously. So fun!

    Thanks for this!

  3. I prefer revising to writing. It’s the fun part! Thanks for all the wonderful tips.

  4. I’m with you, Elisa – I am all about saving the previous version to free myself up to explore in the new version without feeling committed. And every time I decide to make a change that I think I might not be sure about I save another back-up until my revisions are named “BigAwesomeBook–v2.3” or v2.4… or v.2.5…

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      LOL, I have all those files, too. I finally learned to make a folder named “LATEST” and make sure whatever my latest version is is in it, so I don’t get confused.

      I also always email the latest to myself as I’m finishing up at the end of the day.


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