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What Are You Looking At?

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While reading through my first draft, one thing has become abundantly clear: What I have here isn’t a draft at all. What I have is a really, really detailed outline.

Part of the reason for this is that my main goal while I was writing was to just finish. I really wanted to get from point A to point B and wrap things up. While I was working I just kept pushing forward, trying to think of events that could occur to keep the story moving and grow these characters, until they reach closure at the end. Because my focus was just finishing, the writing and the story sort of suffered.

I realize that was a really pessimistic way to start this post, but I’m not feeling down about it at all! I knew when I finished that I wasn’t sitting on something brilliant or even very good. I was proud of myself for finishing my first draft of my first book, and when people ask me about it that’s what I say – it’s just a draft, and it needs some work, but I finished something, and that feels pretty cool. The fact that the writing suffered is something I can be okay with, because what I really needed was to get to the end. That’s the great thing about computers. I can just go in and fix the writing after the fact.

Me, crazed.

This is all worth thinking about because I think the first thing to figure out when you read through a draft of something is this: What are you looking at? When I read, I’m looking at an outline. When I go through I find myself writing “MORE” in the margins with exclamation points, or putting huge brackets around things and writing notes to myself about how people should be reacting, and how I could be infusing more action and character development. This is important for me, because if I were reading this draft expecting a finished book, I’d probably be having a meltdown.

In the end, I’m grateful for the outline. Revising something as long as a novel is hard. There are a lot of moving pieces that can feel overwhelming. The outline is nice because I can see where I need to plug things in. Having written all the way to the end worked well, too – now I know where I’ve been and where I’m going, so all I have to do is fill in the middle. It was stressful to me to be thinking about what should be fixed when I didn’t have an end to the story. Even if the end isn’t quite what I want it to be in the final draft, I have something sitting there holding its place.

As always, I’m new to all of this, so I have a question for all of you: How do you go about your revising process when it comes to the narrative? Do you prefer to revise very carefully as you go along, or to write to the end as I did and go back to make changes later? Let me know in the comments below!

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2 responses »

  1. Hi Cait!

    I am primarily a food and features writer for print and online publications. I write the skeletons of my column or projects, often with a note like, “quote here, Dr. Smith said BLAH BLAH BLAH”. The first few times I write through until the end. Then I edit. Then I let it rest awhile, and then edit some more, trying to make each word earn its space on the page. The last thing I do is proofread, which is just looking for typos, checking that I spelled everyone’s name correctly, etc.

    The most important part of the process for me is walking away and letting it rest. I often find that when I come back to a particularly vexing problem (usually a lack of flow between topics), the solutions are immediately evident. Hope that helps!

    Elaine

    Reply

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