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Thursday, July 12, 2012

When Is It Really The End?

Art is never finished, only abandoned ~ Leonardo da Vinci
I would paraphrase this to say "No book is ever finished, it's just abandoned or published."

I'm going to talk a little bit about my revision process and when I send the manuscript out the door. Or in other words, when is done really done. I'll preface this post by saying every writing is different and you should do what works for you. Always do what works for you.

The process I use is one I adopted because I have an enormous problem with perfectionism. When I wrote, I would get a scene or maybe a chapter down and the revise the heck out of it. By the time I was done tinkering with it, I'd 1) drained all the life out of the writing and 2) gotten so sick of the flipping story, that I'd hop to another story.

I have a lot of one chapter stories started.

Finally, I had to take a good, hard look at what I was doing and I realized I couldn't allow myself to revise scene by scene or chapter by chapter--not if I ever wanted to finish a story. And so my process was born and I discovered something major along the way.

The rule I set for myself was I could do light revisions on what I'd written the previous day, but then I had to keep moving forward. My mantra became: It can all be fixed on revision. And I had to repeat it a lot.

There are writers who do their revisions as they go along and when they're done with a story, they truly are done. I'm not one of them and I can't be trusted to do it that way. My streak of perfectionism has only gotten worse, not better. However, I'm sure even these authors do a light run through before they send it off.

So my process is I write the first draft, with only light revisions on the scene or chapter I'm working on. If something big occurs to me in a later chapter that needs to be added in earlier, I make a note of it and I keep going.

When I finally reach the end of the first draft, I usually have a fair amount of things I want to fix. The major thing I learned as I wrote Ravyn's Flight? I learned that if I'd stopped and gone back to fix the first big thing that needed fixing, I would have had to go back a few more times to add in the other big stuff that popped up later. By waiting, I only had to go back and do the major revision work once.

In this first book, the first revision run was lengthy and it was extensive, but I learned a lot.

After round one of revisions came round two. On my early books, this was still a lot of work because my writing buddies always saw stuff I didn't, but after my first couple of books, this became less intensive. The nice thing about writing a few stories is how much you learn every step of the way. That's why I always recommend people try to write full stories. The middle will teach you different things than the beginning and the end has completely different lessons and so do revisions, etc.

Okay, so on the first book, the second round of revisions were also time consuming and extensive, but now the focus on round two for me is mostly on fixing transitions, smoothing sentences, cutting those paragraphs that I love, but that aren't needed in the story. Things like this.

When this is done, I do a polishing run. At this point, it's pretty light stuff and it goes fairly quickly. Then, no matter how great the temptation, that sucker is gone.

I almost never touch the manuscript while I'm waiting to hear back from my editor about her suggested revisions. I can only remember one time I violated this rule, but it was because as I was thinking about the story, a plot hole jumped out at me. I wanted to fix it before I forgot the solution. But normally I let the story rest for a while. This gives me a fresh perspective when I do get my editorial revisions and it also allows me to see things I couldn't spot while I was too close to the work.

I've almost always only gotten two weeks to finish editorial revisions, so there isn't time to over work the text.

After this comes copy edits where the story is gone over line by line for logic flaws, continuity issues, or grammatical problems. I try to turn in a very clean manuscript as far as grammar goes because I want the copy editor focused on the story itself.

Next comes the galleys, which are test prints of the book. No big changes can be made here unless it's extremely critical because every fix costs money unless it's a typo on the printer's part.

At this point, the book is finally done. Or maybe I should say the book is forcibly wrested from my hands and published. :-)