Hey, peeps! long time no…uh, read? Anyways, HI. *waves with both hands and hits self in face*
I’m poking my head out of the writing dungeon for a bit to say that any reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Death only invited me for coffee and fried pies. It was a lovely outing, very elegant and fattening, and I’m back now.
*ahem* So, I’ve been editing and revising my story, so far titled The Undertaker’s Apprentice. It’s been both wonderful and the deepest, dankest, dig-my-own-heart-out-with-a-spoon torture. As is all writing, yeah? So far I’ve got 155 pages (30,917 words) done up to my current satisfaction that I shall call “passably revised and edited”. It’s been a battle *flicks blood off of chewed nails* but that battle is coming to a middle and I’m picking up steam.
So I figured I’d share some things I’ve learned on this go-round and maybe help some others who are hacking and slashing their way through the twisted jungles of bad prose, illegible plot thread maps, bottomless murky rivers of unnecessary filler dredge, and poisonous frog filled valleys of darling characters.
SHILOH’S NO SHIT, HONEST TO PUCK, BEST METHODS TO EAT JELLO WITH A FORK
AKA: EDIT AND REVISE YOUR STUFF WITHOUT DESPAIRING.
AKA: OR DYING
- OUTLINES ARE YOUR BESTEST FRIENDS
Seriously, I like to embark on a free form journey where you roll down the windows, delete the GPS, and fall in with some gray-bearded biker called Stan all in the name of unfettered adventure, but if you want to eventually reach The End then an outline is, like, essential. Because it’s all fun and games until Stan has a heart attack going ninety down the blacktop and you’re left riding bitch and watching that endless pavement yawn at you ready to soak up the runny gray stuff your head will paint it with, because you’re probably not wearing a helmet, either, dumb-ass. Having an outline is the equivalent of a helmet and padded clothes; it won’t save you from every crash, but it will give you a fighting chance to come out of it salvageable. And, you know, not dead. Always a plus.
You don’t need a play-by-play (unless you roll that way), and you don’t need to know everything up front. I like to have a skeleton, myself; just enough bone structure so I can see how Idiot Character starts out and pinballs between Point A to Point Z and becomes Not So Idiot Character. I divide mine up into about three acts and write a handful of scenes in each one I need to progress to. That leaves me enough wiggle room to allow for inevitable game changes (because characters are fickle assholes) and for experimentation as I figure out the story in the initial stages. When I finally get to the Editing and Revision stage, that outline has solidified into a pretty clear map, so time wasting detours are less likely to happen. You’ll always hit a quagmire or two, but hey, at least it’s not a fiery highway death, right?
- BUY, COERCE, BEG, BORROW, OR STEAL ANOTHER SET OF EYES
I have a set of readers I trust (and have under my thumb) to read my completed chapters as I churn them out. They give me feedback in exchange for continued withholding of national and cosmic secrets. I also bribe them with cupcakes and Epic Sad Faces. My eyes see a lot of mistakes as I do my usual fifty million comb through passes for grammar, spelling, plot holes, and character lapses, but as Awesome with a capital A as I am, I will never see everything. Mostly because after all those passes I have cut forests worth of crap scenes and so I sometimes still see what isn’t there anymore. When I get an email saying, “Dude, WTF is going on in chapter nine? I thought Side Character F died already. That was kind of memorable. There were machine guns.” And so I will go back and be like, oh, yeah, my bad.
- DESTINATIONS CAN CHANGE
Detours can sometimes be good, because sometimes veering off the asphalt and taking the twisty, turny, cracked two lane can bring you into the heart of something much better than where you originally thought you’d land. Like a quaint little town with a history of cannibalism, or an unexplored wilderness inhabited by a tribe of wild orphaned children who have created their own empire with a currency based on comic books and the heads of slain adults. My point is, if you’re going through revisions and where you originally ended up just doesn’t work, find the last place that did work and veer off from that point. See where that takes you (just bring a machete and the newest editions of Batman and Buffy).
- CHART YOUR PROGRESS
It is entirely too possible to get lost in your intellectual thickets and decide it’s better to give up and let the flesh eating ants carry you away for their fest. Disheartening doesn’t even cover the feeling of overwhelming doubt you have when faced with the behemoth of your first draft. So do yourself a favor and find a way to show yourself how far you’ve come. Get a calendar and mark off how much you edited or revised each day. Get a white board and write out your outline, and then erase each event you reach and surpass. I like to take each new chapter I finish from Scrivener and put it in a Word Doc so I can see the story as a whole. At the moment I have 15 finished chapters. That is almost the entirety of my first act, which means I am 1/3rd of the way finished. BOOYEAH /
- TREAT YOURSELF
Reached a goal just now? Give yourself something awesome to celebrate with. Personally, I go for candy, a timed Tumblr session, smut fics, and a cheap Amazon splurge. Keeping your nose to the grindstone is helpful, but when it burns you out without little bits of nice and gooey incentive, you lose interest and end up becoming a listless meh staring blankly at your mess of words and drooling onto the keyboard. Which now brings us to:
- GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK
Sitting in front of the computer 24/7 is not healthy. I don’t care what your characters promised or threatened you with. Close the laptop. Go buy an ice cream cone. Interact with someone real (or just observe from a safe distance, at least until the urge to edit their speech and actions has passed). Read a book not written by you. Take a walk. Take over a country. Allow your mind to switch gears for a bit before you go back to your labor of
torture love. Not only will you have a clearer mind and maybe a few new ideas or solution, but you may have a new country to run, you sly dictator, you. *winks*
- MAKE NOTES. LOTS AND LOTS OF NOTES
I dunno about you, but I can’t fix everything in one go when I edit. Sometimes I need more research, sometimes I can see a problem but don’t have the time/don’t feel like fixing that part just then. Make a note of it. Highlight it. Do something that will stand out so the next time you pass through you will see it and maybe do something about it. Otherwise what you think you’ll remember for next time (yeah, right) will get lost and that could lead to future embarrassment when you think you’re really 100% done and you really aren’t, just sayin’.
- READ EVERYTHING OUT LOUD
Probably the best advice I’ve ever heard. No idea who said it first, but it’s sound. What you have on the page sounds fine in your head, but you won’t know for sure until you read it out loud. It’s a good method to use when you need to tighten up prose and dialogue. Just be sure you’re, you know, alone when you do this. Awkward writing is one thing. Awkward roommate/mother/father/sibling/grandma/plummer/ceiling cat happening upon you reading your cross-species erotica murder scene aloud is a whole other bucket of crawdads, my friend. It pays to be ever vigilant. Plus, less blackmail material on you exists. Win-win.
And those are all the pearls of wisdom I have to help you eat your editing/revision jello with a fork, m’dears. I hope they help, or at least give you a good laugh and help you save face at some time or another. This part of the process is not easy, nor quick, but it can be conquered. Bring your war paint and alcohol, and have faith in yourself. And in me, because we all know I’m a True Authority on what I’m talking about.
Shh. Just agree. Do it and I’ll let your family go.
I am now on my way back to the Editing and Revision dungeon. Don’t mind the screaming or the evil laughter. My internal editor (I call him Bart-George) is just doing his job. A little too enthusiastically. I need to watch him around sharp objects.