I know from your comments on facebook and your postings on the blog that you’re busy revising. What’s more, that you’ve been doing it for months. What I’m wondering is what, exactly, you do when you’re revising that it takes you so long to do it? Please don’t get me wrong. This isn’t another bitchy mewling e-mails from people complaining about waiting for WMF. I’m genuinely curious. You see, I’m not a writer or anything. The most I’ve ever written is papers for classes, and those I pretty much write, spellcheck, print, and then hand them in.
Consequently, this whole revision process is a big mystery to me. I know writers do it. And I know some writers (like you) seem to spend a lot more time on it than others. Back when I was a kid, I read about Piers Anthony’s revision process in his author’s notes. Where he would write the first draft of his books longhand, then revise them as he typed them into the computer. Then he was pretty much done. I know your books are much more complex than his, and a buttload longer. But still, I’m curious. Is there anything you can do to explain to us non-writers out here what exactly happens in the revision process? Can you show us how it’s done?
A big fan,
When you ask about *the* revision process, James, I get nervous. Every writer has their own way of doing things. I can only talk about *my* revision process, because that’s the only one I know.
Still, you aren’t the first person to ask about this. So I decided to take some notes on what exactly I did over the course of a night’s revision.
Here’s what I wrote down: (And don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers below. I don’t go in for that sort of thing:)
1. Changed a curse to be more culturally appropriate for the person using it.
2. Looked at all instances of the word “bustle” in the book to see if I’m overusing the word.
3. Considered modifying the POV in a particular scene. Decided against it.
4. Added paragraph about the Mews.
5. Changed the name of a mythic figure in the world to something that sounds better.
6. Spent some time figuring out the particular mechanisms of sygaldry to prevent consistency problems.
7. Reconsidered changing POV in same scene as before. Decided to just tweak it a little instead.
8. Trimmed two excess paragraphs.
9. Looked at my use of the word “vague” to see if I’ve been using it too much.
10. Removed about 20 instances of the word “vague” from the book.
11. Spoke with beta reader on the phone, getting their general impression of the book. Asked questions about several issues/concerns I have about the book. Took some notes.
12. Added two paragraphs to a chapter in order to adjust reader’s expectations for the following chapter.
13. Tightened dialogue in two key scenes, making them move a little more quickly.
14. Went through a manuscript copy of the book returned by one of my beta-readers. Fixed the typos they noticed, read their comments, and made a few minor adjustments to fix areas of the book where they were slightly confused.
15. Expanded scene to improve pacing and dramatic tension.
16. Considered moving a chapter to earlier in the book.
17. Moved chapter.
18. Read section of the book with new chapter order.
19. Moved chapter back to where it was before.
20. Re read several new-ish scenes to check their clarity and make sure they’re properly integrated into the book. Made small adjustments to smooth things out.
21. Invented several new religious terms.
22. Added paragraph to clarify character motivation.
23. Developed several new elements of the Commonwealth legal system.
24. Resisted the urge to add a 4000 word chapter so WMF would be longer than Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings.
25. Changed chapter ending to add slight foreshadowing.
26. Read the book for about two hours, making many small changes to tighten, clarify, and generally improve the language used.
That’s how I spent my Friday night, James. Altogether it took me about 11 hours. (10:30 PM to 9:30 AM the following morning.)
Some of these pieces of revision take more time than others. Something like #8 is relatively quick and easy once I’ve decided to do it. But something like 6 or 16-19 might take me an hour, and result in nothing at all in the book being different when I’m finished.
While most of these are in no particular order, the last one, # 26, is how I normally finish out my night, re-reading the book on the computer and tweaking the language it in a thousand small ways. When I do this, I also try to trim some of my excess wordage a bit. My first drafts are fairly verbose, and stories are better when the language is lean.
I know that sounds strange coming from someone whose novel is almost 400,000 words long, but brevity is something I really strive for. Everything in the book is there for a purpose. Every scene has to pay for itself. Every piece of description really needs to be worth reading.
During the two hours I tweaked the book, I trimmed out about 300 words, removing little bits of sentences and superfluous bits of description. I’d say over the last year, I’ve removed over 100,000 words from the book. Some of that was whole scenes and chapters, some of it just little bits and pieces.
I realize a lot of this is kinda vague. I apologize for that, but I don’t want to spoil any of book two by saying things like, “Added two sentences so it would be more of a surprise when Bast and Chronicler kiss.”
But since you asked me to “show you how it’s done,” I will. Since you admitted your letter that you only tend to write a first draft, I hope you won’t be offended if I revise your letter.
(Editor’s note: I felt weird doing this, so I e-mailed James to ask for permission. He said it was cool.)
Here’s how your letter looks after I gave it the same treatment that I give the book. I read through it twice, fiddled, tweaked, and tightened up the language.
I know from facebook and your blog that you’re in the midst of revisions. I’m curious. What do you do when you revise, and why does it take so long?
Please don’t get me wrong. This isn’t another bitchy, mewling e-mail complaining about the wait for WMF. I’m genuinely curious. The only things I’ve ever written are papers for school. I just write, spellcheck, print, and hand them in.
Consequently, the revision process is a big mystery to me. Back when I was a kid, I read about Piers Anthony’s revision process in his author’s notes. He writes the first draft of his books longhand, then revises them while typing them into the computer.
I’m guessing your process is more involved than that. Your books are more complex than his, and a buttload longer. Is there anything you can do to explain the revision process to us non-writers? Can you show us how it’s done?
A big fan,
First off, James, I don’t mean to imply that your letter was in desperate need of revising. There’s a reason I answered yours and not someone else’s. Your e-mail was delightfully polite. It had punctuation and capital letters. It even looks like you spellchecked it. It was a lovely letter.
I just did this to show you what exactly I’m talking about when I say I tweak things around. I like shorter sentences and paragraphs because they’re bite-sized and easier for the reader to digest. Also, now each paragraph centers around a separate idea. That makes it easier for the reader to follow your points.
Also, my revised version is about 30% shorter. I clipped out a few phrases and some repetition. I removed prepositions when I could and combined some sentences. It says pretty much the same thing, but it’s about 160 words long instead of 225.
That’s what I’ve been doing all these months. Except instead of doing it once to a tiny letter, I’m doing it a billion times to a huge, bugfuckeringly complex metafictional narrative.
Hope this clears things up a bit,