A playful approach to revision

Lately I have been making tiny steps forward in my writing. The most effective strategy for me to be able to write anything is to NOT look at the news or social media. Because the news is so terrifying on so many levels (with the occasional flash of hope for something better in the future… which is almost painful given the circumstances), I can’t quit reading the news. But if I want to get anything done, I need to try to do my work before I let myself peek at the latest scenes from this slow-motion disaster. There are true villains in this drama, and I am also carving out time to try to change that by working with Vote Save America, which provides some solace, at least, to know I am not alone in wanting something better.

So anyway, that is step one for me to get writing done. But the other challenge is the same challenge as always: I just don’t feel as excited about revising my writing as I do writing first drafts. When I write first drafts, I am a rock star. I am creating something new and amazing. When I am revising, I feel like the lowest form of life imaginable. I can’t believe how much is missing or poorly executed. You won’t be surprised to hear that procrastination is a challenge right now.

I have found this blog a useful accountability partner, so I may start posting progress reports on here again. So for today, I want to remind myself of the ways I can make revision feel more creative and rewarding.

1. Journaling.
I love journaling, free writing, brainstorming. It goes hand-in-hand with my love of writing first drafts, I guess. There is no standard to achieve when I journal. It’s just a chance to let the ideas flow. And it seems to cheer me up if I tell myself, okay, journal a bit about what you are going to write or revise today, and then you can journal afterwards on how it went. If I journal specifically about the novel, I call it process-writing, and keep those notes in the same Scrivener file as the novel. If I journal more generally, that part stays in my journal file on Ulysses.

2. Timers
I know that timers are a source of torture for some people, but I have found it inspiring to set a timer to see how much I can get done within a time limit. This works with fresh drafts, yes, but it is a powerful tool with revision because it helps me commit to the moment rather than pondering ways to procrastinate. I can also count on the time running out, and then finding some small reward. Or even better, to get so wrapped up in the work that I keep writing, even though the time ran out.

That’s the irritating thing about my reluctance to revise. It’s so doable. If I can just start, I discover all sorts of ways back into the work, little fixes that are easy to make.

3. Reread my work.
Sometimes, when I feel most resistant to the work, I say, okay, that’s fine, why not just reread it? Just by reading over what I’ve written, I usually find myself making changes. It’s super easy and doable. It also helps to read the work aloud, but I tend to save that for editing, not revising.

4. Creative writing prompts
I love working on writing exercises from creative writing books. I think there are probably tons available online or via apps, now, too. It is perhaps what I miss most when I am trying to be disciplined about focusing on one main project. But creative writing prompts can be applied to revision, too.

5. Switching Point of View
If there is a section that needs work, I can try writing it from a different point of view to see what happens.

6. Conversations with the characters
I can write a conversation with a character asking them for advice on a section. Sometimes they are wiser than I am. And it’s just fun, too.

Takeaway: Be playful.

I have to admit that I prefer to approach writing with a sense of play rather than with some serious, grim Calvinistic demeanor. It is the joy of creative play that draws me to this work. It seems to me revising should be, or could be, just as playful as writing the first draft.

So my goal this week is to find ways to enjoy and look forward to the time I spend revising. I will report back here now and then on my progress.

I hope you all are finding ways to write, too, and possibly to find moments of joy in defiance of all that is so grim right now.

Revision Redux, Round 3

Just wanted to report on my progress on the revision. I finished the over-700-page (!!) Douglass biography this week and took some notes that may be helpful in thinking about my novel, plus a few that I may blog about later.

I make steady progress when I set to work on the novel revision, but I did catch myself putting it off, too. There was an article I quite liked on NY Times https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/why-you-procrastinate-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-self-control.html that suggests if you manage your mood about a specific task, you are more likely to complete it. So I spent a little time asking myself what may have affected my mood about this revision because overall, I have been interested in seeing what emerges by shifting Point Of View.

I realized that I have FOMU—fear of messing up. As much as I am inspired by this idea to revise and re-vision how this book should unfold, I can’t shake the fear that I am going to mess it up. In some ways, that fear is hard to counter because while I don’t think I am going to mess it up, I can’t guarantee I won’t. I can’t guarantee that what I am writing now works, so how can I guarantee that this revision will work? The best I can do is to remind myself that I write not to achieve writing success, as pleasant as that might be. I write because I love to write. And if I love to write, why not see where this revision might lead?

Revision Redux, Round 2

I am surprised, again, to find I am making progress on the revision. On days when I have more time to write, this revision is my top priority. On days crowded with work and family commitments, I still take a few minutes to consider where I am and where I am going with this revision, which tends to help me stay on track.

One surprise is that I am getting fresh ideas for this novel, new scenes or glimpses into characters, even after so much work on previous plans and drafts. Revising the novel to one limited point of view has sparked most of the fresh ideas, including filling in some (likely) missing details.

Of course, I have had the experience in past revisions of generating a new idea, description or detail that I integrate somewhere in the text, only to cut that exact line mercilessly during the editing process. So I do not know right now if these new ideas are flowers or weeds :). Nonetheless, I learn even from what I cut.


Revision redux: Round 1

I am amazed to find myself making progress. I know I said in the last post that if I can get started, things usually work out. The problem is I never believe things will work out, one reason starting is so hard.

I admit some of what I am doing is easier thanks to the writing app Scrivener, which allows me to rearrange, categorize, and annotate the existing scenes. I don’t think I would try undertaking such a revision without it. Of course, it helps that I’ve had a lot of practice with this app, and I’m a sucker for trying out different kinds of software, something that some writers do not enjoy.

So far, I am not overwhelmed by the endlessness of the work ahead, as I was last time I revised. I am not sure if that’s because I am in denial or because I am, well, used to revising this novel. One difference, perhaps, is that I am focused on the goal of Better, rather than the goal of Done.

Revision redux

After gathering some encouraging and helpful feedback on my novel and engaging in extensive research into the query process, I have decided it’s time to revise, not query. It was an easy decision to make because the only part of the writing process I dread more than revising is submitting my work. So it’s a win-win.

I have decided to use this blog as an accountability partner for me to report periodically on my progress, just in case I lose momentum. I am hoping I won’t. It is starting that is hardest for me, not the actual work. Before I start revising, I tend to view it as not writing and therefore not good. Once I get moving, I remember that revising IS writing, and it can be quite joyful. Or it will inspire me to make a fresh pot of coffee. Again, win-win.

My revision goals:
1. Shift from three storylines/protagonists to one. I think this will make the book more accessible to readers. It will also make it easier to query and find comps.
2. Commit to writing the book only in third person limited and past tense. The current version is more experimental, switching not just between p.o.v. but also tense. That was very fun for me as the writer, but might not be so fun for a reader, and at some point, I have to let the reader win.
3. Identify and, if necessary, tighten the arc of each scene.

Those are changes I believe I can make. With luck, I will find other ways to strengthen this novel in the process.