A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 14

by syaffolee

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9. Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13

The panel “Mastering the Revision Process” was presented by J.A. Pitts, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Andrea Howe, and Vicki Mitchell. (AQ is an audience question.)

JAP: There are several schools of thought about revision. One, there’s just spellchecking it and sending it out. Letting your heirs publish it. Or what most other authors do. Three to six month revisions.

DPF: How do you know when the revision is done?

JAP: I have a deadline.

DPF: But what if you don’t have a deadline? You’re never done.

JAP: Make sure the story is told adequately. It’s inevitable that the editor will ask for changes. Put it away for a while and then read it with fresh eyes.

DPF: I don’t look at it again until I get it back from the editor.

AQ: So you stop revising if you can’t look at it anymore?

DPF: Just put it away.

JAP: My opinion is that a mistake for beginning writers is to revise while writing and to rewrite too much.

DPF: But what if you have to fix fundamental problems?

JAP: Then it’s architectural.

DPF: It depends on the nature of the change. I print out every chapter as I go and put post-it notes for the problems. Then I don’t revise until I’m done with the first draft.

JAP: I only revise what I’ve written from the day before.

DPF: I find that it bogs me down. I need to get the draft done and I can’t fix it until it ends.

VM: After a few pages, I do spell check but I don’t edit heavily. I always overwrite the first draft.

DPF: What’s overwriting?

VM: I put in too much description, weak words, and so on.

AH: There are too many adjectives and too many words like “and then”, characters that don’t need to be there, characters that repeat themselves. I find that with a lot of teachers. They like to repeat things because they think that’s how people will learn.

DPF: Or characters getting from one place to another.

JAP: You should show but don’t tell. If you find yourself telling but not showing, cut the telling.

DPF: I have a friend who tells and shows.

VM: It could include strings of prepositional phrases like “in the”, “with the.”

JAP: There are people who are “putter inners” or “taker outers.” If you make your descriptions too thin, put in more description. If you need to cut stuff, then take out.

DPF: Figure out what kind of writer you are. Don’t use purple prose and grandiose language–the best, the grandest, etc.

JAP: But you can have that if you have a character who speaks that way.

DPF: In Bleak House, there’s a character who talks a lot. But it’s done for effect.

AH: Make sure it still makes sense. Don’t cut too much.

AQ: So how do you fix it?

JAP: Add more words. Read aloud. Set it aside and read it later. Add what feels right to make it more robust. Find a writer that you like to get how it feels. Share it with other people.

DPF: Imagine it taking place on a stage and you’re the audience. Does it make sense? Is there enough detail? Or is there a lot of flabby prose where the verbs and nouns are not working hard enough?

JAP: I like to highlight all the -ly words so I can go back later.

DPF: So you’ve just finished a novel and you need to edit. What do you do first? How do you approach it?

AH: I generally look at the style if the story is there and give you an estimate on my editing services or tell you to get a critique group. If the person likes the estimate, then we move forward and look at story, character, continuity, and punctuation. If you’re not working well with the editor, then it’s time to find a new editor.

JAP: I do a lot of writers’ workshops. I read it first to see if I can tell what you’re doing there and get first reader impressions. Then I do a critique read to see what needs to be fixed with continuity. Then I talk to the person to see if I’ve actually gotten it. If there’s more than one person who doesn’t get your story, then you’re not clear. It’s also called witch doctoring.

VM: I go through the manuscript, juggle things, and mark things up until it looks okay. Unless there something seriously structurally wrong. Then I may do something as drastic as cutting a character.

JAP: Always save your revisions in a separate file.

DPF: I call it my “jug file”.

JAP: Know what your book is about.

DPF: I’m a linear writer. Others piece together scenes like a quilt. I do a read through and then linear revision. Anything that changes in the beginning will go through the rest of the book. I look for global things like character, plot, consistency, tone, dialogue, voice. You need to list out the elements you want to look at. Revision is not just changing and reshuffling words. It’s about cutting and adding pages. The revisor is different from the drafter. That’s why you don’t revise as you write. Be brutal with revisions.

JAP: And compassionate since you have to live with yourself. If you’re conflicted about a change, put a post-it note on it and come back to it later.

DPF: Don’t revise your original draft. Save different versions.

AH: And backup.

VM: Keep it in current form on a current operating system and program.

JAP: That’s not necessary. George R. R. Martin writes in WordStar. It’s only in DOS, not Windows. But do backups.

DPF: Multiple backups.

JAP: I don’t trust the cloud because it’s not secure and Apple’s cloud has crashed before. Have copies on disk and hard drive. Have copies in different places.

DPF: And put it in the refrigerator.

JAP: But you have to wait for it to cool.

DPF: There are levels of paranoia. I do Gmail, Dropbox, backups on my laptops and desktop, flashdrives, and hard drive.

AQ: I know someone who lost all his copies when his office burned down. So you need an off-site backup.

DPF: Since I work at a college, I also have backups on my campus computer. I also backup the most current version. I use Dropbox as a carrier.

AQ: Before you sent your work to a professional editor, did you pay an editor?

Panel (all): No!

JAP: Start with people who will do it for free, like a writer’s group. Learn by doing, like editing the work of others. If you’re self-publishing, you might pay an editor. Cultivate alpha and beta readers.

AH: I send people to critique groups.

DPF: You can benefit a lot from that.

VM: You can also teach yourself.

JAP: There are two levels of writer’s groups. There’s the apprentice level which will just do line edits and spell check. Then there’s the journeyman level where they will look at character consistency and actually work on the story.

VM: Watch out for the group that will only say that your story is wonderful. That won’t help you.

JAP: Or your mom, spouse or best friend. If someone says that it’s not bad but you just need to be more clear–fix it.

AQ: How do you deal with the editorial process and about being told to change and cut things?

VM: I had a story where the editor gave me a list of suggested things. Half of those things missed the boat. So I wrote back telling him why it shouldn’t change–and he ended up buying the story. Only argue if you have a good reason because they would know the market.

JAP: Ask yourself what you want in your career. Give justification and establish clear communication. If it gets rejected, remember that it will not be the only thing that you will write. Be able to walk away even if you’re sacrificing that first sale. For example, I had a friend who was told to cut out the section that mentioned that a character was gay. But that detail informed who the character was. The editor argued that he had to take it out because then libraries wouldn’t buy his book. But he stuck to his guns and was willing to lose money to keep the story. But make sure you’re polite and don’t throw it in their face.

DPF: Remember that the editor likes your writing already. They’re smart. So after some private screaming, you’ll realize that most of their suggestions are right. For the things you don’t want changed, call the editor about it. But always talk in the context of the story. For example, I was told to cut a long scene because the rising tension had dipped. But I managed to fix it by adding more tension. Talking matters. The editors can sense the problems but it’s up to you to think about why they made the suggestion.

VM: Media tie-ins have their own bag of horrors. I had a copy editor who rewrote my book.

DPF: That’s copy editor hell.

VM: So I called up the editor and told him what happened. And the copy editor never worked for that company again.

DPF: Copy editors should be looking for continuity and grammar. It depends on the house. Your manuscript will come back with marks from the copy editor. You can implement the changes or mark it with STET.

JAP: Also use change tracking.

DPF: Then it goes to the printing stage. Some copy editors act like editors so you have to cry foul. You may call the editor and request not to work with that copy editor. Copy editing is the last possible place to edit before type setting and the proof stage.

AQ: So going back to editing, what percentage goes through construction, punctuation, etc.?

JAP: It depends on how good you are at each thing. Some do one pass with everything, like S. M. Stirling.

DPF: I do one pass since I’m an English professor, but every writer is different.

AH: I do one pass with everything.

VM: I also do one pass.

JAP: I was a C student, so…

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Stay tuned for Part 15 which includes a panel on writer’s block.