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  1. saydaysago

    saydaysago New Member

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    Endless Revision Woes

    Discussion in 'Novels' started by saydaysago, Jan 3, 2017.

    I've managed to finish an extremely rough draft of my novel, after a year of writing, and have now gone back to start the process of revising and punching up, and I've hit a bit of a despairing moment.

    I had some rough patches in my plot in the middle of the book that I knew would need some ironing out, and as I go back to fix them, I keep noticing more aspects that either could be improved, or will need to change and shift slightly due to other changes I'm making elsewhere. Every improvement I make seems to necessitate changes to every other chapter in order to make everything consistent, or I notice details that are revealed too early, or too late. I keep shifting the order of certain chapters, thinking that the story will be better served but it just creates more and more work.

    Sometimes it feels like every one thing I fix just creates two or three more things I need to fix, and I get this sinking sense that I'll never be able to pull the whole story together, and the process of revising is going to keep creating more work for me than it accomplishes.

    Is this something y'all can relate to? Is this a common experience?

    Anybody here who's been through this and can reassure me that yes, eventually my work will pay off and as I fix the issues with the plot, eventually I will reach a place where I don't just feel like I'm playing catch up, but things are actually coming together?
     
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  2. saydaysago

    saydaysago New Member

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    I guess I'm also wondering -- how can I tell the difference between making real progress and just editing around in circles?
     
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  3. DueNorth

    DueNorth Senior Member

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    Well, I can't assure that it will pay off. I started working on my 3rd draft about a month ago, and I don't have any assurance that my own hard work will pay off. As far as revision complications, shifting things around, keeping details straight, etc., I did construct a plot outline (wrote the 1st draft essentially w/o one which I'd never do again) that I shifted around for the 2nd draft revision, and I kept detailed notes. I made a major plot change draft 1 to 2, deleted entire chapters, added chapters, and increased the role of certain characters.

    My 2nd draft took me about a year, and it was a great improvement over the first effort which, looking back, was only the skeleton. I decided to hire a professional for consult on "developmental editing" (someone I'd taken a class from). I am so glad I did this. It was not only motivating (because I got honest, professional feedback--some of it hard to read/hear, but also some of it quite positive), but pointed out some POV issues I needed to fix and gave me some direction about further enhancing the finished product (pacing, tension, dialogue mostly). This editor also told me that it is not unusual (especially for 1st novels) for there to be 10 revisions/drafts.

    My advice: Slow down, cherish what you've done. Just completing the first draft of a novel is a helluva big deal that not too many people (even writers) are capable of doing. Be careful in making big changes--ask yourself whether it will make the story better? Keep detailed notes. Recognize that this is not your last draft. Give yourself time to think it through and do it the way you want it. Plan to have this draft read by others, maybe edited, plan that you'll be doing a 3rd draft so this doesn't have to be perfect. Enjoy the process.
     
  4. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    Guess I am not really qualified to comment as I am a long way from finished (just passed the 20k mark) but I am one of those who can't write further if the backlog doesn't make sense. Developing the storyline as I go, I find connections I didn't realise in writing the first parts and I *sigh* am incapable of writing as if I had written it as it should have been written. Not necessarily the SPAG stuff, but character development and storyline inconsistencies with the chapter I am currently working on. Because the characters change/get deeper with every issue I discover in the backlog and I can't ignore that. So I go back and fix it. It makes for slow going, but I am convinced it'll pay off down the line. @DueNorth speaks true: give yourself time. There is no rush, and so what? In the end you'll persevere and your manuscript will be read as it should be read :)
     
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  5. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I solved that problem (which I had when I did my second major edit) by simply walking away from my finished story for a LONG time. I had got to the point where every change I made got changed back the next day, or changed again to something else. I was chasing my tail, and it was very discouraging.

    I set it aside, and (due to other circumstances) didn't return to it for nearly 5 years. The result was amazing. By that time I had lost all feeling of possessiveness, and it was like reading something somebody else had written. Flaws (and strengths) leaped out at me. It was incredibly easy to throw stuff away that wasn't working, to build bridges that needed building between sections. I did swap a couple of chapters, completely changed the POV character in two of them as well. I also managed to cut out more than a third of the story, which was hugely over-written. I totally reshaped the story, and was able to focus on what I really wanted to say.

    In short, give yourself some perspective. Walk away for a while. Not just a few days. Take months, even years. Give yourself enough time away so that when you do sit down with it again, you will KNOW what to do.
     
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  6. Dracon

    Dracon Contributor Contributor

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    I feel able to respond to this, as this is what I'm experiencing right now. I'm in the second draft of my novel. And I've experienced that "sinking feeling" too, and experience it often, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's a "phase". A phase that many writers probably have. From my small experience so far, I get the impression that writing the book is the easy bit. Creating juices are running high, and our ideas spill onto the paper with less focus on the issues. This now: re-writing, improving, getting the book to a readable state with no plot holes - that is the most difficult phase of writing.

    Sometimes small changes to the story created an avalanche of changes to be made later on, but I found that was acceptable to me, as now looking back, I realised what I had was weak and I hadn't thought enough about the plot.
    You said it yourself. As long as each change is making the story better, then that's progress. And you'll change and change until you can't change your story any more in a way that you can improve, then your novel is done. It might feel like every hour you pour into this novel is going nowhere, but bit by bit, you'll make it, and so will I, one day. All you have to do is keep writing.
     
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  7. saydaysago

    saydaysago New Member

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    Thank you all for the words and your experiences. It's very helpful to me.
     
  8. O'ree Williams

    O'ree Williams Member

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    My two cents, I myself tend to be a pack rat when it comes to editing things out. Rather than throw things away, I keep them on a separate document and go back over them at a later time. Sometimes I find the perfect interludes in those saved pages. Besides, there was a reason that you wrote what you did initially. Also, allow yourself to be ok with the evolution of your work. I am sure that many people who start down one path in their works, end up some place completely different. You learn about your writing style this way, as well as learn about yourself. Finally, as Due North points out, take a break from it, and hit it with new eyes. I myself use times like this to investigate other writing projects. The trick there is, not to split your focus between multiple projects as that can lead to haphazard writing.
     
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  9. Integer

    Integer Member

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    All I can say is I sympathise. I am on about the fifth version of my "final" draft of my WIP. At the moment it feels like putting up wallpaper where you press down one air pocket and three more appear.

    I purged 20,000 words from the first draft which was fine, except I lost the introduction to incidental information that was then referred to again later on, buried in the minutiae of the plot thousands of words on, which now makes no sense. So I now need to take that out too, or go back and put it in again. After I have found it.

    I have one scene I have been back to about 4 times which involves 15 bad guys (or is it 14 or 13, or 16 - it seems to change each time I read it back) being bumped off by my MC. But, trying to get the continuity right is an utter nightmare. It shouldn't be that hard, why is it that hard?

    The typos, word echos and other errors are enormous too and seem to multiply every time I look away. I don't even want to think about the other continuity problems with dates and peoples' ages and wotnot.

    I will say though that while the learning curve is very steep its been very useful for the 1st draft of WIP #2. It's been so painful fixing #1 that I am making far less of the mistakes that I know will lead to an editing nightmare.
     
  10. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    That's the real question, isn't it?
    Just try to edit everything as best as you can. (Yes, it's a very common experience. Writing takes work.) Then put it away for a month or more before editing again.
    Be prepared to repeat as many times necessary.
     
  11. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    I'm doing a polish edit right now, and I definitely feel your pain. I'm nowhere near perfect and I'm stuck on a few things I need to re-write, but a few thoughts.

    1) If you haven't put the full, complete draft through a (good, experienced) reader yet, do so. It's really hard to judge the quality of your own work. I thought my first draft was a train wreck, to the point where I wasn't sure how to even edit it, so I handed it off to a reader I trusted for about eight weeks because I couldn't look at it critically anymore. The report came back a lot more positive than I expected and gave me a lot of new perspectives on it, so now instead of thinking about massive re-writes, I'm polishing up in hopes of pitching soon.

    2) Don't shoot for perfect, shoot for good. I've been debating ripping out an entire subplot in my manuscript and re-writing it, but I've settled on editing and punching up the existing one instead. Re-writing that piece would wreck the whole draft, so I've decided to commit to keeping what's already there and making it as good as I can make it. Is it the best choice for the manuscript? Well, it might be less perfect, but if it means actually HAVING a pitchable manuscript rather than being stuck in endless rewrites, then yes, it's better.

    3) I was dreading editing, but now that I'm in it, it's actually more therapeutic than actually writing. I love being in the creative phase, but the polishing stage for me is a lot less stressful, and I'm really happy watching this thing tighten.
     
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  12. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    I agree. If we allow ourselves to get caught in the endless cycle of re-writing we'll be re-writing the same manuscript... well, forever. There's no end to improvement!


    It's the opposite for me. I don't find the creative phase stressful at all.
    Editing is not just "stressful", it's a nightmare! But a necessary one.
     
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  13. psychotick

    psychotick Contributor Contributor

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    Hi,

    Yes this is a common problem. But first and foremost your plot problem is a major. There's nothing worse than plot holes. Here's how I address it.

    First, before you begin keep the original. Give it a name like TextVersion 1 etc. Never lose an old version. Next open a new file called StoryTitlePlot. Now with this file open and the version you're editing at the same time open, go through the story and write down every plot point. Number them. Include details. Who says / does what. Date them as in day four of adventure.

    Now go through the story and make your changes. Each time you make a change in your text file make a note in the plot file of the changes, right beside the original plot, then run through the plot file looking at all the future plot points from the change and seeing which might be affected by the change you made. Go back to the revision text file, go to each one of those plot changes you flagged in your plot file, and change them accordingly. Then go back to your plot file and leave a note by each change you made in the text file to say this was changed.

    Personally I've only suffered this problem a couple of times. Then I learned to always keep a data file open while I write the story, and advance both files as I write. (Note my data files contain everything from characters, dates, worldbuild pieces and plot points so as I write I can constantly refer to it.) That way the problem doesn't come up until beta reading!

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  14. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributor Contributor

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    I went through this with my last novel, so yes, I relate.

    My approach was to read through the story and create an outline of what was there... not what I wanted to be there, but what I already had.

    Next, I added the fixes to the outline. That way I wasn't struggling because it's far easier to keep track of all those fixes when they're in point form.

    Then I created a new Word file and, starting from the beginning:
    • I copy/pasted the first chunk/chapter/whatever into the new file,
    • revised it based on the outline,
    • brought in the next chunk,
    • etc.
    • etc.
    until I hit the end.

    Then I went back and did a polish.

    Hope this helps.
     

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