For July, we're talking about the dreaded first pass of revisions on your recently completed manuscript. Revision and I have a love/hate relationship. I love it when the fruits are immediate and beautiful; I hate it when I can't seem to get something right and I feel compelled to go back to the drawing board. After the celebration period (Yay! I finished another book!), I print out my manuscript and sit somewhere super comfy and far away from my computer. I put a pen on the table beside me, so it's accessible but not itching to be used.
My first pass is for finding overall structural problems or shallow characterizations or setting inconsistencies. I may find a grammatical or punctuation error, or a typo, in this process, but that's not what I'm looking for. I'm looking for the things that make that typo look like a tiny almost-pimple in comparison.
Printing out my manuscript is key. It helps me visualize my story as a real book. It is easier to see errors on paper than on the screen. And it is easier to get comfortable, which goes back to helping me visualize my story as a book. When I read for pleasure, I'm curled up on the couch, so that's how I read my own book during this first pass. I want to enjoy my book. That's the objective. And if something hitches me, takes me out of that enjoyment, that's a red flag. I pick up my pen and draw out a solution in the margins.
As tempting as it is to drop everything and fix that structural problem right then, I wait. I read through the rest of the book as if I have already made the change, and mark any other places where the new story element might clash with what is already there. In the margins, I mark the necessary changes.
After this read-through, I note on the last page my impressions:
- How does this story's ending leave me feeling?
- What do I think of the main character's behaviors? Are they relatable and believable, and do I approve of them?
- Does the ending feel natural or contrived? Did it take some work to arrive there or was it predictable and too easy?
- What major alterations must be made? What's my plan of attack for those problems?
I set it aside again and give myself time away from the manuscript, just to mull it over. It is rare for me to get a breakthrough while sitting at my desk. I get inspiration through living my daily life, so setting the manuscript aside and letting it cool, so to speak, is essential to my process.
After the cooling period, I pick it back up, and take it to the computer. I find the page numbers with the most red and start implementing my plan of attack.
I always enjoy learning about other writers' processes, particularly revision. How do you tackle that first revision?