Monday, May 14, 2007

Ask The Authors: Rewrites and Critiques

Sometimes it frustrates me that I end up doing a significant amount of rewriting before I feel that a manuscript is “ready.” It's doubly frustrating when others read my work and make suggestions for improvement--I somehow feel that I should be able to do this all by myself. To assess how that stacks up against the experience of others, I’ve asked a number of published fiction writers to answer two questions. I think you’ll find their answers interesting. The questions are:

1) From first draft to finished copy that goes to the printer, on the
average how many times do you revise or rewrite a novel?
2) Other than your agent and/or editor, is there a person (or
persons) you depend on to read and critique your work before
submitting it?

Here are the responses (in alphabetical order):

1.) Four
2.) My wife!

1. After first draft: (a) to Jeff Gerke for review and I repair high level stuff, (b) to my editor who does developmental edit review, from which I get 30 page letter with all the painful corrections (macro stuff). In parallel with my developmental edit inputs from editor, I seek inputs from 30+ personal friend/reviewers, of which you are one. I also get a word gardening session in during this phase, where a freelance editor helps me cut down the word count (c) line edit conducted by editor on the corrected copy, (d) second line edit on the corrected corrected copy, (e) proof of typeset document once received from publisher, (f) proof of the paper copy of the final typeset document. That makes seven edits, if you count the work in the section (b) as two edits, which it is.
2. Jeff Gerke gives me a painfully blunt assessment before I ship my work to the publisher. I always correct it after I see his insights before I ship first draft. I have 30+ reviewers, of which you are one, who help me identify specific failures in the book. Linda Nathan takes over my 'word gardening' just before the line edit phase. She helps me prune the extraneous words from my work. So... two freelance editors, and 30+ reviewers.

1. I pretty much try to write the manuscript as I want it. But during the writing I will go back probably about twice to read and change. Turning it in at that point is just the beginning, though. I receive the macro edit, so then I must do the rewrite. Only after that does the book really start to shine. Then there's a track change edit, then a copy edit, and finally the proof stage. So by the time the book's printed, I've read through the story PLENTY of times.
2. No. Neither do my agent or editor read my work before it's submitted as the first draft. Only then does the macro editor read it. My editor doesn't even know how the book's going to end--and that's as it should be in suspense. The macro editor especially needs "fresh eyes" to read the manuscript. If he/she knows the twists that are to come, it spoils those fresh eyes.

1.) I write a first draft, let it sit, then edit it. Usually my critique friends have a first look as well, so the edit consists of my own editing in addition to their edits. Then it goes to the publisher. I usually go through one substantive edit and then after copyediting it goes to print.
2.) Yes, I have a small critique group (Leslie Wilson, D'Ann Mateer). We call ourselves Life Sentence. They are invaluable to me. They are my first eyes before I send something out.

1) For each chapter, I write a first draft. If it takes me more than one day, I edit the first part before I start the days work. Then I do another edit of it before the critique group that meets in my home sees it. I make the suggested changes that I agree with, then send it to the online critters I work with. After the whole thing is done, I do another edit of the completed manuscript, then send it in to the editors. So there are a minimum of four or five edits or rewrites. Often there are more, but I start with a well-thought-out chapter-by-chapter synopsis, even if the publishing house doesn't require one.
2) There are several people who attend the critique group in my home. There are maybe four or five in the ACFW critique group I participate in. And there are three very good friends who live in various parts of the world who critique my work.

1) I tend to revise as I write. Rather than start where I left off the day before, I re-read and edit what I've already written. I have to discipline myself to stop so I can get my fresh material down. I also think of things throughout the writing process at odd times, such as when I'm in church or just going to sleep or driving. I jot down the item and add it to my story. Once my story is finished, I like to let it steep for as long as possible, weeks if I can. Then I go back to it with a fresh set of eyes and edit/revise one more time.
2) I've done it different ways. Early on, I had a critique partner, and we spotted things in each other's work that helped each of us. Now, no one sees it. But I'm open to that changing. I'm teachable and need all the help I can get.

1. I rewrite as I go. I seldom have to do more than review sentence structure and grammar.
2. My wife reads everything before I send it off.

1) I don't actually do "first drafts" etc. of my novels, so this is difficult for me to explain. I tend to work in what I think of as "chunks." I do a few chapters at a time, revising a bit as I go on each one when it's completed, then I go back and work through that section again, sometimes at least twice. Then I do a few more chapters and repeat the process. I do this all the way through, writing and revising, then taking the "chunk" just completed and going through it more closely again. Once I have an entire novel, I go back through all the chapters and fine-tune what I've done. I suppose I could do this a hundred times and still not be satisfied. I probably drive my editors wild.
2) No one sees it until I submit it--not my agent, my editor, my husband, or my dog. No one. I'm way too much of a perfectionist to let anyone see it until I finally submit the manuscript. Nor do I talk about it to anyone either, the exception being to give my editor a little info on just what I'm doing, and to give my husband what he needs to know to help walk me through an "action" scene (or read a map for me--I don't do maps).

1) 5 or 6 is typical for those I do by myself. The ones I did with a coauthor took about 15 drafts to get right.
2). Yes, I use Meredith Efken, a freelance editor. Meredith gets my writing and knows the difference between the parts that work and the ones that don't.

1. I revise approximately 8 to 10 times - minimum.
2. Yes! I have two critique buds and my husband.

1) I self edit ferociously as i go along.....nearly every chapter, when i finally feel it is ready to go, i will read out loud .....if it passes that test, it is put with the rest of the chapters that will be going to my editor (jennifer enderlin, st/ martin's press).....usually, using her notes, i do an end-to-end sweep of the book, rereading each chapter, often out loud again--seldom does all this take more than 6 weeks.......there may be one more shorter fix, but that will be it....
2) My editor is my only reader until she says the book is done or until she says there's a that point my agent and several others become "cold" readers--i.e. readers who have little idea what the book is about......i do have several other readers i use for different purposes such as language, description, or "everyman" reaction.....i will usually have them reading while my editor is making her final reading.....

1.) I’m going to guess eight to twelve times. I write with a sort of leap-frog method, reading and revising the words I wrote yesterday before I begin writing today’s new words, then at intervals, probably one-third and two-thirds of the way through, I reread the entire manuscript from the beginning, revising again as I go. Once I finish a first draft, my critique partner reads and comments and I go back over each chapter making changes with her comments in mind. Before I send the manuscript off to my editor as a “first draft”, I read again, with the intention of weaving in more of the 6 senses (although this is something I’m learning to do as I go now.) I read again to bolster characterization (since I know my characters so much better by the time I finally reach the end of the initial first-draft). Finally, I read my manuscript aloud, concentrating especially on the dialogue and accompanying beats.
Let’s see...that makes six or seven times. Then after I get my substantive edit, I read and revise again. There’s another read-and-revise in the line edit stage, another in the copyedit, and finally I read galleys—the last time I have a chance to make changes (and then only minor ones.)
2.) For the last five or six books, I’ve had a critique partner, another multi-published author who reads everything I write and gives me invaluable feedback and suggestions. Likewise, I read all her manuscripts before she sends them off to her editors and have learned so much through this process. I also have several non-writer readers, including my parents and a couple of friends––who read each manuscript with an eye to simple errors like typos, inconsistencies, dialogue that seems “off” and just an overall impression of the book. In addition, if my lead characters have a career with which I’m not familiar, I try to have someone who works in that field read the manuscript—or at least the sections that would require knowledge of my characters’ occupations. I’m always surprised how much “insider info” there is about various careers I thought I understood.

1) eight to fifteen revisions, on average; full rewrites, three
2) my wife

1. I revise as I go, so there are multiple revisions too numerous to count, especially of the first 10 chapters as I find the voice and conflicts, etc.
2. I have belonged to a critique group for years, one full of veteran, published writers. Their input is very important to me, especially in the beginning and in scenes of high conflict, to see that I'm saying what I think I'm saying, to catch character flaws, to tell me if what I'm trying is possible and logical or not.

My sincere thanks to each of the authors who responded to my question. Every one of them has been important to me in some way--by encouraging me in my writing, by teaching me things (whether in a class or just through reading their work), and by their friendship. I'm grateful.


Anne Mateer said...

Thanks for collecting and posting the answers to these questions. It sure helps to know that there is not one "right" way to write a novel.

Demian Farnworth said...

Fantastic! It really made me stop and think about the way I do things. I tend to blurt everything out in a third grade reader-type first draft from start to finish. Then I go back and do the layering of senses, flow, rhythm, etc. Thanks for sharing the other great ideas and techniques.

Susan Barnes said...

This is very encouraging. I do so many rewrites I've stopped counting.

Kristy Dykes said...

Great post, Dr. Richard! It shows there's more than one way to skin a cat. I enjoyed being a part.

Mary DeMuth said...

Thanks for posting this. So fascinating how we all work differently.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to see there are others who take as long as I do to get to a finished draft. Thanks for collecting these answers. So interesting to read about other writers' methods.

Southern-fried Fiction said...

Nice to know we're not alone in all this editing, Richard. One thing you said is why don't you see the stuff your crit partners do. Frankly, we're too close to our own work to see it. I catch it in others' work, but miss it in my own. :o) It'a all part of growing in our craft. Eventually, you'll catch a lot of it yourself.

Unknown said...

thanks for posting this. now i don't feel too bad about my constant rewriting.

I'm on the hunt for a crit partner.

Teena Stewart said...

Fascinating. Everyone does it a little differently. Editing is not my strong suit and I have learned a ton over the past year by running my work through a critique group I started. It's amazing what they catch and it always comes out better than before.


Unknown said...

I'm so glad you did this. I thought I was nuts because I revised my first book about 5 or 6 times at least and I feel like I have to do it again. I'm on my second book and felt like I was missing something because of my habit to revise as I write. Thank you to you and to all the authors that contributed to my peace of mind, lol. I feel like I fit right in here:-D
Angie B

Ane Mulligan said...

Nice to know we're not alone in all this editing, Richard. One thing you said is why don't you see the stuff your crit partners do. Frankly, we're too close to our own work to see it. I catch it in others' work, but miss it in my own. :o) It'a all part of growing in our craft. Eventually, you'll catch a lot of it yourself.

relevantgirl said...

Thanks for posting this. So fascinating how we all work differently.

Susan said...

This is very encouraging. I do so many rewrites I've stopped counting.