Revisions, Revisions

Pen and longhand writing
Photosteve101 via Creative Commons 2.0, 2011

On Monday, I talked about digging out No Marigolds in the Promised Land, the free novel I serialized in my newsletter a while back. And I mentioned how this thing basically came off as an intermediate draft. Because… Well… It is.

But what is my revision process, actually?

I base a lot of what I do on Stephen King’s On Writing, which I first around the time I wrote my first novel. King suggests writing the first draft with the door closed. For the most part, that’s what I do, although there are some writer buds, particularly a few who already know my work, whom I’ll show scenes to make sure they work. But never the whole draft. Sometimes what I show them gets cut anyway. That goes in the drawer for a month.

Now, since going indie, I’ve been reliant largely on beta readers. I miss having an editor, but it’s not in the budget. That may change with the four (or five?) pending Compact Universe series. Clayborn Press’s editor has not had to do much more than clean up a handful of typos as these are rereleases. Out comes the book after a few weeks or months. For instance, The Exile which is the second novella of the third story arc in the series, will come out next week. It actually had two drafts already because I wrote it longhand. This one will get read to my stepson or my wife or both. And then it will go to the betas.

And the betas are key. Sometimes, it’s hard to find a good one. Not for lack of trying. I was harsh on one particular beta because she missed certain things that most people picked up on. But usually, I have two or three I can count on for brutal honesty. MD Thalmann, for instance, hammered on Second Wave. Our styles actually clash, but I consider that a learning experience. It helped me write Storming Amargosa while making revisions on later stories more coherent. I’ve been giving my betas cleaner drafts as a result. (No Marigolds notwithstanding.) G. Michael Rapp is an English teacher by trade, and he similarly hammered on No Marigolds, though his advice was less structural. It was also easy to filter as he voiced preferences for decisions I had already taken in another direction. It was still good to see these notes as it made me go back and look at how I approached dialog for certain characters. (The fun part about having Dirk Thalmann and Greg Rapp, as well as Jenn Nixon, do my books is those little comments at the side only your friends can make when they get an in-joke. That’s one way to do it.)

So it’s time to go back and look at my formatting, to implement a lot of what the betas have said, and to see if what they missed – which are things I also missed – stands out as needing work. And believe me, when two or three people carve up your work, the stuff they don’t get that you also missed stands out like an uncorrected sore thumb. With Marigolds, there was the additional step of making all the formatting consistent as part of this is log entries and part of this simply has “Geneva, Switzerland, Earth – 0600”. How is that rendered and in what order?

The last step, and a fairly recent addition to my process, is the Grammarly step. I break the manuscript down into chunks Grammarly can digest, then reassemble them. Although the free version of Grammarly defaults to UK English, it’s still enough to catch misspellings and grammar errors that missed the first passes. When that’s done and the comments are all pushed out, the manuscript is ready. I do this for both submission and independent publication.

My process is born of traditional publication, but it has to be. Indie pub has turned publishing into a shit volcano. So while I have let slip a few less-than-stellar publication drafts, over all, it’s helped me keep readers engaged.