Starting from Scratch: Mid-Stream Revision

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here because I’m currently on vacation with my family: 5 days with my extended family in the Utah mountains, then four days at the Stoker conference, then three days in Disneyland (with 4 kids–I’m going to die), then five days in Sacramento with family. It’s a lot of fun, but there’s not a lot of time for posting things on websites.

What there is time for, however, is reflecting on the revision process. I’m not far enough along in Strawberry Fields to need any major revisions yet; doing big revisions before a book is finished is a sign that either 1) you didn’t plan well enough beforehand, or 2) you’re scared of imperfection so you’re wasting time fixing things instead of finishing them. Ideally, I try to finish a book AND wait a month or so before I go back to it and start any kind of in-depth revision or re-writing. That does not mean, however, that I do no revisions at all. There is plenty of room for small-scale revisions as you go, as long as you’re not letting them get in the way of finishing your book.

When I talked about “Plowing Onward,” I described the way I use an outline: a broad skeleton that lets me know what should happen and when, and on which I can hang all the little details and backstory and foreshadowing that I know (from my pre-writing) need to be there. This system works really well for me, but that doesn’t mean I always get all the pieces in place on the first try. Sometimes (by which I mean “several times per book”) I’ll get to a point in the story where I know it’s time to go back and fill in all the extra details that I missed on the first pass. Maybe there’s a character who doesn’t show up until later, and I need to go back and add a few early references to make the introduction work. Maybe there’s a mystery that should be coming clear by a certain point, but I need to go back and add more clues. Recently in Strawberry Fields, I was writing up some character backstory that really felt stupid, and I couldn’t figure out why, and then I realized that it’s because I hadn’t foreshadowed it right–this was a good place for that information to be explained, but not a good place for it to be introduced. I had to go back and add a few blips here and there to make the flow of information seem more natural and less like a big crazy revelation out of left field.

This doesn’t work for everybody, especially if your internal editor is stronger than it should be–you want to be telling a good story, not worrying about repairing tiny mistakes. Most of the revision you feel like you have to do RIGHT NOW (particularly for newer, less-experienced writers) can actually wait until after you’re done. But once you’ve learned how to tell your internal editor to shut up and mind its own business, it’s easier to identify which changes can wait and which changes will help you write a stronger book.

11 Responses to “Starting from Scratch: Mid-Stream Revision”

  1. Titus says:

    Sometimes it seems like you’re answering my questions directly. Are you sure I’m not part of that mind-control test group?

  2. Emily M. says:

    Hi Dan–I stood in line this afternoon for a little while with your and your lovely wife and cute baby. This is a great blog–I appreciate the thoughtful writing tips, even when I don’t comment (and I am likely to go back to lurking, except I wanted to say hi today). I was tickled to be able to chat with both of you. And I wanted to say a couple more things, like while I didn’t necessarily agree with all the Whitney winners, I would not change the system that created their wins, if that makes sense. I loved reading all the Whitney finalists and learning from them, and I am amazed by all the work that’s gone into them. Kudos to your brother.

    And I’m interested in your favorite books on story structure; I’ve only read Mckee. Who do you like?

    And I swear, I will be purchasing and reading your book very soon.

  3. Steve D says:

    Have we discussed your family in Sacramento? it seems odd that we haven’t considering that’s where my family is. What part of Sac?

  4. Callisto says:

    I saw Dan at the Warbreaker signing! Hee hee! Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring my copy of Serial Killer along, and without it my courage failed and I was unable to bring myself go talk to him. It was fun, though, and your kid is cute, Dan.

  5. Arlene says:

    It’s not like he bites. Usually.

  6. Callisto says:

    But I haven’t gotten my rabies shots yet!

    Still. I couldn’t think of anything to say, and since I can gawk just as easily from behind a bookshelf as right in front of a person, I settled for distance. >_< Next time I’ll bring my book to sign.

  7. Arlene says:

    Yeah, I was a little tongue-tied when I saw you at Conduit, Dan. I promise I’m cooler than that. All my friends will testify. But I’m sure I’ll see you again at these things, so I’ll let my performance speak for itself.

  8. Fiona says:

    All I have to say is the earwigs in “Wrath of Khan” were my worst childhood nightmare. Great survey! I just love voting on what is the most scary every few days.

  9. Arlene says:

    Dan has been sucked into another dimension where the internet does not reach, apparently. Can’t wait for you to touch back down, Dan.

  10. Steve D says:

    he just got back from his vacation & conventions. he’s apparently doing a write-up on it right now (at least that’s what he told me).

  11. admin says:

    Yes, but everything I say to Steve is a vicious lie.

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