Tag Archives: Revision

Kill your darlings (and make sure they stay dead)

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We all know variations of the “kill your darlings” quote, but there’s a companion to the quote I see almost as frequently. It can be boiled down to…

“Save your darlings for later. You never know when you might find a place for them.”

This seems like a hoarder’s mentality to me, an approach toward writing that assumes that everything you’ve ever written has a place somewhere. I believe this is objectively false.

There’s a popular notion that it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert at something. A writing variation that’s a favorite of mine converts that to “write as much as you are tall.” For me that would be a stack of paper 6’4″ tall. Considering that a ream of 500 sheets is about 2 inches and the standard manuscript page is 250 words, I need to write about 4.75 million words before I’m any good. Hopefully, that number is a bit absurd, but I think we can agree that getting good at writing takes time, practice, and well … writing.

I think a lot of ideas are like flowers. From the moment we cut them they have a set amount of freshness before they start to wither, die, and grow mold. I’m not saying that ideas can’t be timeless, but I think most of the things we write have a shelf life. If they make it to the end of a novel drafting process, then there’s a good chance they’ll survive for a long time. But if they’ve been cut out of a book, and stuffed in a drawer for later use, they may never find a place to fit in.

And that’s okay.

I wonder if this advice, to “save things for later,” is given to novice writers as a way to make cutting things out easier. It assumes something that I just don’t think is true for the passionate writer:

“You might run out of ideas.”

I’m more worried that I won’t have time to write all the books I want to write than I am about not knowing what to write next. In fact I’m pretty certain that no matter how many books I finish in a lifetime (I’m shooting for 30-40), I will always wish I had written more. At the very least, it makes sense that I would want to write books using some of my best ideas, and these are usually fundamentally different things than the “darling” moments in books that just make me smile.

What I’m writing now is a product of my life experiences and the writing I’ve done before. Because I’m changing as a writer, it can be hard to look back at something I’ve written ten years ago, five years ago, or even three years ago. The piece you’ve cut out is a time capsule of who you were as a writer when you wrote it. If you’re growing as an author, with time this fragment will seem less and less like your writing.

Share a drink or a last meal with these little bits of personal whimsy, then put them before the executioner’s ax. Revision can be ruthless, and it should be. If a moment doesn’t add to characterization, useful description, or moving the plot forward, then it probably needs to go. Being able to tell what is good and what is not is part of being a better writer, and that means throwing some things out completely.

But I do save every draft, every little thought, in notebooks and drawers for years (as do most authors). Tomorrow, I’ll talk a little about why, and how ideas can still be useful.

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Surreality Update

I’m a couple of weeks into what should be the final round of revisions on Surreality and am nearly half finished. I have a writing retreat scheduled for August 13-17, a rare five full time days of writing, so hopefully I will either be finished after that or very close. I’m really loving my new office, and a last critical piece of it arrived on Monday, my new coffee maker. Between that and the mini-fridge I’m ready for the long haul.

There are still many things to do, including the cover shoot and design, formatting for CreateSpace and KDP, writing acknowledgements, descriptions, metadata, etc, and coming up with some kind of a marketing plan. Yesterday I spent a considerable portion of my day considering page size and gutter margins. Still, I’m very excited and glad to have this book so close to out the door.

As you may have noticed The Sky Below updates have grown less frequent. That’s probably going to continue until Surreality revisions are complete and I have a road map for final release. I’m still enjoying The Sky Below project and want to finish it well. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Like any author, I’m prone to distraction, and a little Googling of my book’s title turned up some interesting results. In addition to Surreality being my forthcoming technological mystery, it also happens to be a very geeky, very naughty, and decidedly NSFW web-comic by Caleb King. It’s also a creative Roleplaying communityHarry Potter fan-fiction, a collection of essays about New York, and a song by STS9.*

*I do not endorse or claim affiliation with any of these projects.

It’s been really nice to spend time working on this again, and to discuss the minutiae of sentence structure, word choice, and scene flow with another writer. Some of our discussions in the comments of my draft have been hilarious. I would reproduce them here, but I suspect the world doesn’t need to know just how geeky the two of us are. I’ve always been blessed with great editors who are willing to take the extra time to really talk something out rather than just hand me a draft and move on to the next author.

How are your WIP going?

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“Perfect is the enemy of the good”

Both professionally and as a writer I am bumping up against this aphorism in my current projects.

One of the things they tell you as a writer is to keep revising, keep changing, keep editing, keep making the book better. The same is true of software, though unlike writing often the process is keeping up with changes other people are making that affect your work (I’m looking at you Microsoft).

The first thing I learned as a professional programmer was the difference between the ideal perfect solution, and the practical, applicable, “quick and dirty” solution. On deadline you don’t have time to make flawless code. And truthfully flawless computer code is a lot like haiku’s: not very long and can only express a few things.

Writing is much the same way, especially if you want people to actually read your stuff. Eventually you have to reach the point where it is okay to put something out the door. If you’re constantly rewriting based on your evolving standards (changing user requirements) you will never deliver a product. This is not to say you should send something out that is half finished and buggy. Even though ebooks are becoming more like software in that you can push updates out to everyone who purchased them, you still have to deal with initial market impressions of you. If you become known for making crappy software, or writing crappy books, no amount of post-release revision is going to fix that. Then your only solution is re-branding (maybe a pen name).

So how do you know when something is done? Maybe it’s a fixed number of revisions, or even more practically a release deadline. Maybe it’s finding that fresh beta reader who hasn’t read a lick of the draft and hasn’t already formed impressions of it telling you they love your work. Whatever the case, sometimes you have to accept something is good, and will never be perfect.

How do you decide when something is done, and when it needs a few bug-fixes?

As a side note apparently the above phrase is commonly attributed to Voltaire though it has its origins in ideas from Aristotle and Confucious. Thank you Wikipedia.

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My (Current) Revision Process

It’s week three of revisions on Surreality, and so far the week has been off to a slow start. I’m planning a “makeup” writing session at 5:30am at Starbucks (and hour in the past by the time you read this) so I’m writing this post while the wife watches Bones.

Fellow revisionist Monsignor Buckley wrote yesterday about his revision process, so I thought today wouldn’t be a bad opportunity to talk (again) about mine.

It’s different with every book.

Heck, it’s different with every draft.

The fractal book followed a similar pattern to the revision process Brian was describing, though never with another blank canvas. This was in part due to the fact I was passing chapters back and forth with the little red haired girl. I’d finish a chapter, cut it out into a separate document, and merge in her changes, while making adjustments between the two drafts.

Much the same way congress drafts bills. *shudder*

Surreality’s official revision number is 3, though a more accurate term would be version. Like software Surreality has been through countless “builds”, not including the ones that created actual eBook files.

Believe it or not revision 1 was done entirely by hand, twice. Once by myself, and then again by my wife. Before the fractal book took me away from revisions of DM I revised about 150 pages of that draft as well, again by hand. I had this idea in my head that revising by hand made me see every word better, but it may have been more true that I was just killing trees.

This draft I have an eBook version of Surreality on both my Kindle and my Nook (so I don’t have to remember which one to use). I’m back to using the netbook fairly exclusively on the road. I’m copying nothing directly, so I’m retyping the entire draft which has roughly the same affect as making changes by hand (except it’s a little faster). Inevitably I make changes along the way, but they tend to be more organic, and hopefully fit the flow of the narrative better than trying to insert those sentences into fully formed existing paragraphs.

For some chapters it’s probably best to say this draft is “inspired by” the original text. Between changes of scenery, adjustments to characters and motivations, and just general patch work this draft will be a very different read from the previous draft. So far I think significantly better. Each writing session I read all or most of the previous day’s writing, fixing mistakes as I find them and often getting 50-100 words of my word count done before I’ve really gotten going (though other days I’ve cut almost as much).

I’ve also done a few test eBook versions of revision 3 as a little reward to myself, though Word 2003 is not as good of a source editor as 2007 so results have been a little inconsistent. I’ll probably have to try the “nuclear option” before final formatting. I’m intrigued by programs like Sigil so even though this book is just text, you may see a couple more formatting guides come out of me yet.

I think the 800-1000 word pace is working, though I expect for some sections I will go faster. Conversely, some of the new material has taken me hours to work on due to research and trying to create the best dialog possible. But I’m trying to keep the little progress bar moving most days, and even that little gold star of getting to update my progress makes me feel good about the day’s work.

I expect things will get even more interesting as the little red haired girl hands me back the first few chapters. That’s when we’ll know if this draft is better or not 🙂

What’s your current revision process? How have you changed it between books or even between weeks?

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