Monday, September 5, 2011

So, How Many Times Do You Revise a Book?

I am talking about chapterbooks/novels right now, for picture books are a different kettle of revision fish for me. Anyway, this is kind of how my process goes:

Step 1:  Write a first draft.  (Not the easiest step, but my favorite.  Usually, there is no time limit or deadline unless it is self-imposed.  It can take a while to finish. For example, The Seven Tales of Trinket took 5-6 months to write--even though I started to try and write it in 2003 but the computer crashed and I figured the story must be cursed* so I did not attempt it again for several years)

Step 2:  Revise for clarity of story.  (This is my first revision and it is just for me.  This is when I try to decide if the story even makes sense, and if it doesn't, I've got my work cut out for me.  I usually try to finish a revision like this in a few weeks.  It is far more intense than a first draft, but easier in some ways, since the ground work is laid.)

Step 3: Revise for Chapter Breaks.  (I usually write the book as one giant lump, except in cases where there are natural breaks, as in Trinket where there were 7 tales which were already broken up.  This is the revisions where I am deciding where to break the chapters and how to frame them, and if framing the chapters is even necessary.)

Step 4: Revise based on Agent's Feedback.  (This might happen three times.  My agent, Jo, first works on the Big Ideas of the plot with me.  Then she might do a round of line edits or two, depending on how much sense I make as I revise.  For Trinket, we did three rounds.  None of the rounds were incredibly difficult, but each time we went a bit deeper until the story held together the way we envisioned it.  I am on my second revision for Jo for my book, Keelie of the Lake.)

Step 5:  Revise based on Editor's Feedback.  (This also might happen several times.  My editor, Beth, approaches revision in a similar manner to Jo, wherein they both look at Big Ideas of the plot first, then work they way down to sentence fluency/story consistency and the picky word choice edit is saved for last. For Trinket, we did about 3 rounds.  The book is in copyediting right now, so I suppose when I get it back that will be the 4th round.)

If you count all of those up-- 2 for me, 3 for Jo, 4 for Beth, that gives us 9 revisions. Sheesh!  That seems like a lot of versions of the same story.  The funny thing is, it doesn't really FEEL like a lot of revision.

It feels like getting closer and closer to the way the story is supposed to be.

How many revisions do you do?


*Truly, it was a good thing that those 80 pages were lost.  I can still see a few of them in my mind.  I was not a patient enough person to write the story back then and I think I would have botched it.  I know I did not have the strength of heart to revise 9 times back then, I can tell you that much!


Joanne R. Fritz said...

You sound so organized, Shelley!

I've written some picture books that I've revised at least 15 times, but as you say, picture books are different.

Only completed one MG novel so far (it took me almost two years) and I revised it once just for me, to make sure it made sense.

I planned to let the novel simmer for a year and then tackle more intense revisions (paying attention to characters, plot, description, use of adverbs, etc) when I wasn't so sick of it. But I suddenly got a referral to a Well-Known Agent and found myself scurrying to revise, revise, revise.

Well-Known Agent turned me down, but the experience was invaluable. Now I'm letting the novel simmer as I wanted to in the first place and I've started writing another.

Rebecca Gomez said...

I don't know!

My process is similar to yours (though I don't have an agent/editor yet), but I've never counted revisions.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I have a similar process, but am finding my first major revision of my current WIP is taking a lot longer than usual. I've got about 100 pages left--I think I just need to power through and finish the darn thing!

Myrna Foster said...

My first revision is more comprehensive, and it takes months. I'm still figuring out the story, adding and subtracting characters, stuff like that. I go over and over some patches, especially the beginning, so it feels like I'm rolling more than one revision into one.

Really, I'm still figuring everything out. I've revised Star Swans four times, and I'm on my first revision of TBW. I didn't let anyone read Star Swans until I'd revised twice, but I've been letting a few people read TBW as I finish my first revisions.

You DO sound organized. :o)

Kelly Polark said...

I do so many. I read chapters before going on to write more, so I revise them as I read them. Then revise after my first full read through. Then after the critiquers have had it. Then after more critiques. It seems neverending!

Shannon O'Donnell said...


MG Higgins said...

My revision process can take years and involves much manuscript incubating. I love that your agent is so hands on. I agree that all of that work gets your story to where it's supposed to be.

Jessie Oliveros said...

I love hearing others' methods. Editing is something I'm still trying to figure out...and whether a story needs a rewrite or not. And what a rewrite really is (finding it's different for different stories). Anyway, this was helpful to hear. Thanks:)

Anne Spollen said...

I lose track. And I revise the old stuff as I write the new stuff so it's all mixed up.

So, a lot.

Writing really IS revision, doncha think?

storyqueen said...

Joanne-Not really organized, just kind of works out that way. I can't even look at the little things until the big things are done!And simmer time is important.

Rebecca-I actually just counted a few more minor tweaks...don't even want to think about it!

Stephanie-Me too!! TOMORROW!

Myrna-I am the least organized person I know! Really! But that's about the only way I can deal with the big reviso.

Kelly-You are a braver lass than I!

Shannon-I probably shouldn't have asked, huh? But I am hoping that naughty boy factory gets done soon!!

MG-I am very lucky that Jo has such great insight into things:)

Jessie-Shhhh...don't tell anyone that I never think anything of mine needs much of a revision until someone else tells me.

Anne-Well, I kind of think that writing is writing and revision is heck!