Write (Now) Newsletter – December 2008

by | Dec 3, 2008 | Write Now Columbus Essay Archives


“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? I’ll be posting this essay on my blog, BumGlue, so please feel free to click over there and post a response.

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

Nita Sweeney
(c)Nita Sweeney, 2008, all rights reserved


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