Saturday, July 6, 2013

Revision Series: Stepping Back

So, to continue from my previous entry, let me recap: my twitter buddy, Trisha Schmidt, suggested I talk a little about my editing/revision process. Because I have a short attention span, and I don’t like reading long blog entries, I am posting this as a series of blogs.

Reading your own work as an impartial, unbiased reader.
Hahaha. Yeah, I know. Right? That’s impossible.

I’m sure all of you understand where I’m coming from when I say this, but trying to step back from your work is one of the most difficult things to do when writing. Though I’m telling you “try it!” I’m not even sure I can fully manage this unless there’s a year or more between my writing the words on paper, and the revision. And let’s be honest, if you’re excited about a project, you don’t have that sort of time.

However, in theory, if one was able to step completely back from his or her writing, this is the ideal mental plane to be on when approaching revision. Sometimes stepping away for a little while, even just a few weeks, can be beneficial.

The times when I have had the most successful revisions have been when I didn’t let my emotions get in the way. If you are close in on your work, it's really hard not to get attached.

Kill your darlings.....
“Kill your darlings,” they say. Kill them I did. In my most recent revision, one of my favorite scenes that I have literally been clinging onto for years as a prologue finally had to go. It bogged down everything. I love the idea of a prologue, it seems fancy and fun and unique. It leads you into a story with some pre-knowledge so you feel privileged - or that’s what I thought from an author standpoint. Maybe that’s how it is, but from my reader standpoint, they’re not that unique, fun, or fancy, and sometimes they can be disconnecting, and you just want to skip them and get to the start of the story (there are always exceptions, of course! David Benioff’s City of Thieves prologue is perfect, please read that book). But remember, you're getting this opinion from one of those annoying lazy readers who doesn’t want to put the work in (sorry guys, can’t change who I am. Grip me from the beginning and I’ll keep reading. But this is why when I write I try to accommodate lazy readers as well).

How to think about stepping back...?
I feel that lately this stepping back idea has been working for me. Here’s what I try to do: I pretend I’m reading this story from a workshop standpoint. Someone who is looking to improve their work - how can I help them? Just like I would do when I look at another person’s work, I first look at the big things like:
  • Setting (where and when is this? on a smaller setting scale - am I describing enough? can I visualize where everything important is?)
  • Characters (can I see and hear them? do I know their names and relationships? am I getting an idea of their personality yet?)
  • Events (are they clear/blocked out in an understandable way)
  • Dialogue (is what being said necessary? natural? fit the character speaking?)
These are just four examples of big scheme things. As you hone things down, you will get into more nitty-gritty items. I plan to later include entries with more in depth about individual aspects of writing.

When looking at these big scheme things, try really hard to focus only on what’s on the page, not what you already know. Remember, you have an unfair advantage - you know your characters already, you hear their voices, you can see the settings in your head, but you have to get your reader to that same place. That’s the point of a writer: ....You have a story in your head that you love enough to share with others, and in order to get them to really understand the story to it’s fullest, you have to portray it for them, the way you see it in your head.....

So, to sum up this revision series suggestion: cutting and changing things is the heart of revision, so try to step back from your work during this process, it will make your life a lot easier. 

If you have any suggestions or questions about things involving my/your revision process, leave me a note or a tweet @jacquelinebach and I will try to talk about it next time! 

Thanks for reading.


  1. My "getting away from my ms" time was when I had my beta (a close friend) read it. Definitely crucial to come at it differently. Sometimes printing it out can help--I read it differently when it's on paper than when it's on screen.

  2. Yes! Printing it out for sure helps, something about that disconnect of the computer screen vs a piece of paper.

  3. Great suggestions. Murdering is difficult but feels great when completed. I love to print out in a different font than I have been writing in. Totally new mindset. Nice digs here, my friend! Peace...

    1. Linda, thanks for reading! I really like that idea, printing and using another font - getting a different perspective - I've put it on my Kindle before and had that same feeling :) And thanks again for your comments on my short story, sooo many helpful suggestions! And as you said, some revision and distance there will help :)

  4. That is a great way to look at it -- if I were coming at my own book as a critquer, what would I suggest to the person? I'm going to need to try that. I've been revising my book for months now, and I need a way to get a new perspective on it. That could be the key.

    1. It's really hard, and sometimes it really takes some time away from it, but I hope it helps! Thanks for reading :)

  5. Such great suggestions, Jacqueline. I've tried to look at it that way too. And recently I've discovered that I'm more subjective if I'm in a bad mood--I won't let myself get away with anything.

    1. Writing and mood are so connected, it's easier to cut things when you're in that sort of mood for sure!


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