Three Dirty Birds Before You Revise


Three Dirty Birds are chirping about what you should do before you revise your book, and what James Scott Bell thinks you should do.

Zoe: First I want to say that I did some of the exercises in the Theme chapter last Sunday, and ohmygod. What a help! It led to me rewriting the current WIP in a different POV, and totally unlocked it. I’m so happy.

Kate: So that’s where you disappeared to this week. I was wondering…

I liked this chapter, mostly because it validated my own workflow, and I always like that. 🙂 I like to edit the last couple of pages from yesterday in order to get back in the mindset of writing, and remind myself of the details of the story.

Zoe: I’m usually a first-draft-fast person, but I’ve changed it up with the current WIP because I love the rewriting process, and the first-drafting process is fraught with frustration and anxiety for me, so this time I’m doing a lot of revising as I write, bopping back and forth between new and old. It’s been enjoyable, and if it takes two months instead of one to finish the draft, it’s not really a problem because the time will come off the other end of the process, when I do fewer revision drafts.

Kate: I’m more like the Susan Meissner quote he included in this chapter–I’m constantly revising, so that by the end, when I have my finished product, it really is finished. It’s not really a first draft, because some of those sections have been gone over 20 times.

Ana: I’m… all over the place. I often have to do major rewrites once I’m done with the first draft, but with the last story that wasn’t necessary as I revised it as I wrote it, kind of like what’s Kate is doing. Heaven only knows how the next ms will go…

Zoe: The only thing I get concerned about with the revising-as-I-write thing is that I go over the first part of the book a bazillion more times than I go over the last part of the book, just because the first part is around longer. It gets peeked-back-at way more.

Ana: Which is probably why I currently itch to rewrite my ending….

Kate: That is a concern. Where I move around within the storyline, writing beginnings, then ends, then chunks of middle, I get parts all around the book that get combed through a lot more, then parts in between that probably get only five passes or so. It does worry me that there are uneven sections, and I try to go back to those spots a bit more as I finish up, but it doesn’t always make a difference. I think, because those tend to be ‘connecting’ sections, in between the ‘tent-pole’ sections. I’d like to think it’s not so big a deal, but the back of my brain says, “No.”

Zoe: In the 20,000-word step-back section, he talks about a book he was working on where “the feeling that I hadn’t quite connected with the book persisted,” and I have a sticky note there that says “Oh God I know that feeling.”

Ana: Hah, yeah, me too. I thought that was an interesting idea though, the 20k step thing. I’m not actively writing a novel, but revising one. I got about 23-25k into it this week, so yesterday was my day off, and today I’ll be going over that section again. Probably after doing some writing exercises from the deepening chapter.

Zoe: (I really liked the Deepening chapter. Looking forward to talking about it when we get to it.)

Ana: He talks about using the Word comments feature. I don’t write in Word, but I love the little window-thingy at the left hand side in Scrivener where I can scribble document notes.

Kate: I never noticed that before! Woohoo! New toy!

Zoe: I love that too. When I actually use Scrivener. It’s so handy. I always forget how to get to the overall document notes area vs. the current-chapter/scene document notes area.

Ana: I think you click the headline where it says document notes and you can switch to project notes? Not sure if it’s the same in Scrivener for Mac.

Zoe: That sounds right. Next time I run into that problem, I’ll come back and ask you again. 🙂

Ana: You know where to find me. Just follow the trail of chocolate.

Kate: Mmmm, chocolate.

Zoe: “Why are all these candy wrappers lying under this tree branch???”

Kate: I choked when he started talking about tables and spreadsheets. Freezes me up completely. I just cannot do that.

Zoe: I can’t either. It’s a sure way to get me to start on housework.

Ana: I quickly skimmed over that part and pretended it doesn’t exist.

Kate: What I’d like is a giant whiteboard I can write and erase on, where I can brainstorm and make notes and none of it is permanent, so I don’t feel trapped. More of a warm blanky feeling than a straitjacket sensation.

Zoe: Sticky notes are my best friends. Messy, disordered sticky notes. Many of them with the sticky strip and the writing on the same side because I didn’t notice the pad was upside down when I started scribbling.

Kate: Lol. You artist, you.

Zoe: It’s my warm, yellow blanky. (Speaking of which…I tried the tip for writing down a story question before I went to sleep last night. Didn’t wake up with any answers—I guess I’ll try again tonight, if I don’t solve it during my writing today. On the plus side, I didn’t have a bunch of dreams I remembered on waking, which for me is heaven. I don’t feel like I’ve slept well if I feel like I’ve been up and running around all night. This is the first night in months I’ve woken refreshed.)

Ana: Zoe–too lazy to bother with dreams. The question thing didn’t work for me, but I only tried once.

Kate: I should try that.

Zoe: At the very least, I have my question jotted down on a note, so I’ll keep thinking on it every time I shuffle through my stickies.

Kate: Writing out questions helps me figure things out. I’m very verbal, so I have to actually say or write a question before my brain turns on.

Ana: I do that, too, Kate. I have a ton of notepads just for talking to myself and never reading it again. Is anyone keeping a running outline?

Zoe: Not me. I’ll do a synopsis at some point, like he suggests in a later chapter, but no running outline. Feels stifling.

Kate: I’d like to try one someday, but not at this moment. Of course, the story I’m currently wrestling with is short enough I can hold the whole thing in my head. When I get back to Knight, it might be a different story.

Ana: How long is Knight?

Kate: At last count, 95K and climbing.

Ana: Nice.

Kate: It’s a good size, there’s a lot of story in there.

Ana: 90k has been my upper limit so far.

Zoe: I’ve pushed close to 100K, but I prefer not to go over. It’s a lot more work, revising (and even writing) those big books! I’m shooting for around 50K with the WIP.

Kate: I really want to break up the werewolf one into three novellas, but I don’t think LI will let me.

Ana: I’ll be revising my 90k book in a few months… Not really looking forward to it! (It’s already kind of broken up. The ‘prequel’ is 70k. There may be another book in the series, but I’m not sure about that yet.)

Kate: That’s going to need a chunk of time.

The last thing Bell talks about is critique groups. I really like mine, though I’ve been inactive in it for the past year, what with work and life and stuff. But the support has been a big boost for me, especially when I’m feeling iffy about a work.

Zoe: I recognized myself somewhat in the quote from Robin Lee Hatcher. I really need to do the creative process alone. I’m not ready for anyone to see anything until it’s a few drafts in, until I get to the point where I’m like, “Okay, what am I not able to see for myself?” And then I go to beta readers instead of a group, because…I’m just more comfortable with the one-to-one thing, with giving drafts to them at separate times.

Ana: I’m with Zoe on that I prefer one-on-one feedback/critique over public execution, but I don’t mind sharing early drafts or incomplete things… probably because I started out by posting incomplete first drafts on the internet.

Kate: The critique group tends to keep me on schedule. We have an upload every week, I try to upload every two weeks, and you HAVE to upload every month. Plus, the practice going through someone else’s manuscript and explaining why something didn’t work is good for going back and revising my own work.

Zoe:: Editor deadlines keep me on schedule. (Which reminds me; I need to get with my editor about when he’ll need my current WIP so I have a deadline for it.)

Kate: I love deadlines.

Ana: I need more deadlines. This self-discipline thing is hard.

Zoe: It’s for the birds! 😉

Kate: Not this bird. Especially since our next topic is “The First Read-Through”. Strikes terror in the heart.

Zoe: I don’t like sharing incomplete drafts because everyone has their suggestions and ideas for where the story should go, and I can’t hear those until I’ve gotten down what I want the story to be. Ooh, the first read through! I’m always excited about that. We should talk about that chapter. 🙂

About the author: Kate Lowell

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