Zen and the Art of Revising

Whew. It has been a flurry of activity on my novel front. Revising/editing has consumed me, and the work is showing it. I have revised/edited four chapters in the last two days.  This is a long process, but the outcome is well worth it. I am seeing characters find their voices and scenes gaining levels.

As I responded to J.P’s blog the other day, when I teach my students the writing process, the two stages that should take the most time for a writer are prewriting and revising. These are the idea stages and the realization stages. Drafting is just getting it from head to paper. It really is as Arthur Polotnik said in one of my favorite quotes, “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you.  And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”

When I see how much I change from drafting to revising, it astounds me. The blood bath the pages go through is something of a birth by fire. One chapter lost over a thousand words, but gained two new levels of meaning and a nice foreshadowing I hadn’t even planned.

Each writer has their own process for revising/editing. Mine is still growing as I learn, but so far it has many stages.

1)      I print out the chapter or chapters I plan on working on. Printing them out lets me see more than the computer screen does. I take my trusty red pen (it’s not just for students anymore) and go to work. I look for the biggest things. Attacking it as a writer. Last time I was at this spot, it was not a completed work. I may have had a plan, but the ending probably wandered down a different course at some point. Characters did not end up how I had thought. So now I need to match character voice, goals, emotions as well as story and tone with what will finally happen.

2)     Next read I look for continuity. I have made changes, time to see if they all line up with the finished product. Since I am doing paranormal and sci-fi, do I follow all rules for race, technology, world, station and magic that I established? Continuity errors are my pet peeve, so this is a big step for me.

3)     Now it’s time for the dreaded grammar check. No, not the one on the computer. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have yelled at the computer “You are wrong” over its grammar “suggestions”. I look for my own personal patterns of errors. Questions marks are my nemesis. Run-ons challenge everyone. Have I backloaded the right sentences? Everyone has their personal quirks, I just concentrate on mine.

4)     Filler words. CTRL-F is my friend here. I look for all those words that make writing weaker. Those dratted words that fill space not meaning. Searching for overusing “that”, “really” (and most other adverbs, thank you, Steven King). Sensory words that break the story flow are something else to go “thought,” “felt,” “sensed,” etc. By using the find function, I can shorten my time in this area and ensure I don’t miss any. A small cheat, but it works.

5)     Time for my secret weapon: my husband. I get to have the advantage of him as my first reader and editor. He will take my work and mark it up with any suggestions or errors he find. (Don’t worry; I do the same for him). The most important part here is we are honest with each other and don’t get upset at each other for suggestions. But he gives me those first pair of fresh eyes to see what my creating eyes can’t. Useful beyond words.

After, I decide what suggestions to take and finish that chapter with a clean copy. Then I move to the next chapter, repeating the entire process. So far, this method has cleaned up my work to a decent point.

Once I finish the entire work, I will do it once more from beginning to end, just an overall read. Making sure all the changes work, and I don’t see anything new. Then it’s time for Beta Readers. Speaking of which, thank you to S.B. for agreeing to be one of my Beta Readers when the time comes. That point, however, is a month or so off.

So that’s my process at the moment. I’m doing some of it every day, getting through it slowly but surely. When I get frustrated with the process and the time it takes, I simply remember, “When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.”  ~Enrique Jardiel Poncela.

A few changes

A few changes


About Courtney Sloan

A New Orleans native, Courtney Sloan relocated to the hills of Central Maryland after Hurricane Katrina. There she lives with her husband and fellow author, J.P. Sloan, their son and their crazy German Shepherd pup. Adding to her writing life, Courtney is also a professor at the local college and enjoys learning a world of new ideas from her students as she teaches them about writing and communicating. Courtney’s New Orleans upbringing has left her with a love for the macabre and a flare for the next to normal. She writes speculative fiction with a variety of horror and sass mixed in for flavor. She loves taking the world of politics that haunts us now, and adding the supernatural to create a gumbo of thrills to keep you up at night. A self-proclaimed lover of way too many fandoms, Courtney also loves crafting. From blankets to jams to stories, it’s always better homemade. View all posts by Courtney Sloan

One response to “Zen and the Art of Revising

  • R & J

    What hard work goes into not just creating a world in your Book,but to put it together in a way that keeps the reader facinated. Can’t wait to read the first chapter.
    Ich bin so stolz auf Dich!

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