4 Lessons Learned in Writing and Revision

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by Millie Ho

This past weekend, I finished revising the novel I started this April. The New Story has been sent to beta readers, and I’ll do more revision once I get their feedback, but for now, the hardest part is over. Here’s a timeline of my writing progress:

  • April: Ditched the Long-Suffering Manuscript and plotted a new novel, the New Story.
  • May: Finished writing Draft One by turning off my brain. I printed it off and put it away to revise later.
  • May – June: Worked on short stories/poems/art to take my mind off the New Story.
  • July – September: Pulled out Draft One and started revising. I wrote Draft Two, then revised Draft Two, wrote Draft Three, then revised Draft Three…
  • Late September – early October: Followed an instinct and restructured the entire story. This became the final draft I sent to beta readers.

Overall, it took me six months to plot, write, and revise the New Story. Compared to the nearly five years I spent on the Long-Suffering Manuscript, this is a big improvement. Along with my output speed, I like to think that the quality of my writing also improved because I got a lot more practice done in a shorter period of time, which is aligned with my goal to finish more drafts this year.

Here are some challenges I ran into while revising, and how I would do things differently the next time around.

 

Lesson #1: Stop cramming in too many new ideas.  

I took lots of notes while writing Draft One. These notes ranged from solutions to plot holes, to characters I wanted to add in or kill off, and other random details like which person had jowls and how I would describe a police station made of pink granite. I took these notes to stop myself from editing the story whenever I got a new idea and also to sustain my writing momentum.

Then I revised Draft One and tried to cram in all these new ideas, which was a mistake. Sure, some ideas were interesting to explore, but that didn’t mean I had to explore them in this one story. As a result, Draft Two was bloated with stuff that didn’t necessarily enhance the story. I spent a lot of time in later drafts pulling out the weeds. Next time, I will add only the most urgent and relevant ideas and save the rest for stories to write in the future.

 

Lesson #2: Plot loosely for each new draft.

Since Draft Two was so bloated, I needed to re-plot Draft Three to get the narrative back on track. Because I felt the story had gotten out of control, I reverted back to control freak mode and tried to plot every chapter of Draft Three down to the last detail. Looking back, this made the writing difficult in two ways:

  • My characters became more passive because the story was becoming more plot-driven.
  • I was living in my head (plotting, making notes, etc) more than I was writing.

I lost two weeks of writing productivity because I was painstakingly re-plotting everything, and in the end I scraped most of these plans anyway. When I’m writing, I’ll run into situations I can’t predict, so it’s better to place the narrative in the hands of the characters and let them run the show. I now know that it’s better to develop a loose plot for each new draft and to simply readjust the story when it needed readjusting.

 

Lesson #3: Do more exploratory writing instead of deleting things.

If a character wasn’t working out, I would simply cut them out. A few days later, I could be out walking and think, “Hey, why did I cut out Character X? They could’ve been useful in This New Situation.” But by that time, I would’ve gotten too far into the new draft without Character X to even bother with putting them back in again.

I learned that just because something wasn’t getting written smoothly didn’t mean it didn’t have a place in the story. What I should’ve done was open a new Word document and write a scene or two featuring the character that was giving me problems, and let them explain their story to me. This would’ve saved me a lot of headache and allowed the narrative to unfold more naturally.

 

Lesson #4: Get more comfortable with making big changes.

With each new round of revisions, major elements of the New Story changed. Draft One was set in a futuristic environment, but the story in the final draft took place in contemporary Toronto. I also removed four major characters between Draft One and Draft Three, and changed 90% of the story when I restructured everything in the final draft. The word count went from 98,298 (Draft One) to 121,731 words (Draft Three) to 62,635 (the final draft). These were some big changes, and I didn’t always handle it well.

There were days when I moped around, listening to 80s power ballads on repeat and reading John Ajvide Lindqvist under a blanket until my eyes fell out. What I should’ve done was just suck it up. Making big changes is just part of the writing process, dammit! Things got better once I learned to become more patient, so I’ll mope less the next time around (because I WILL MOPE) and get back to the blank screen quicker.

 

Next Steps

I’m switching gears and working on some stories and art to take my mind off the New Story until my beta readers get back to me with their comments. I’m also preparing to do some travelling this winter, so that should take up a good chunk of my time. All in all, I learned a lot about writing in the past six months, the most important lesson being that there’s always room for improvement.

 

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Millie Ho. Millie is a writer and illustrator from Toronto, Canada. She uses her blog and YouTube channel to document what she’s learned about writing from both the writing process and from books, TV shows, and films.


Intent to HoldIntent to Hold

Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Nick Ryan answers a call from his estranged wife in Mexico to help find her kidnapped brother. When he and his partner Meredith Ryan arrive, they find the crime is not as simple as they were told.

Betrayed and caught by the police, they are expelled from Mexico. Returning to Puerto Vallarta by boat at night, Nick and Meredith battle nature, Federales, crime cartels and even Nick’s own family to rescue his brother-in-law.

To complicate their mission, Nick must face the end of his marriage while Meredith hasn t yet put her own nightmares to rest. Thonie Hevron’s 35-year career in law enforcement fueled this action-packed story.


 

 

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “4 Lessons Learned in Writing and Revision”

  1. Thank you so much, Millie Ho for this information (and thanks to you too Ryan). I must try to keep this in mind while writing, because I never really give myself a break and then my writing become slightly sloppy and boring.

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  2. GREAT ADVICE! I don’t often find a writing blog that I enjoy reading so much. I am really pleased I found your site. I usually find myself gravitating towards writing reference books and I find that they always inspire me to “pick up the pen again” and not give up. I recently read an incredibly informative book called “Creative Visualization for Writers.” The author Nina Amir delivers on so many levels with this book, I am blown away!!! Without sounding condescending, but rather quite consultative, she almost provides a handbook on how to tap into one’s creativity and writing innovation. This work is like a literary manual for success and it has boosted my own confidence as a wordsmith. I would adamantly recommend this to anyone with writer’s block. Yet again, she rises to the occasion. Great find! You can check out her website here: http://ninaamir.com/

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  3. Wonderfully described process. I have to say you’re much more organized about it than I am. But then, maybe not, because I’ve never stopped to consider process. I just write, put away for a month or so, then revise and edit to finish. I’m on my 44th novel at the moment.

    Like

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