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Beyond the First Draft–The Four Secrets

Thursday, August 2, 2007

I’m sure you have all heard about the book entitled The Secret. I haven’t read it myself, but I understand the premise of the book’s philosophy is that if you believe in something enough, if you think positively enough, whatever you desire will come to pass.

Well, this doesn’t really have anything to do with that Secret.

Secret number one: It doesn’t matter if you’re a Reviser or a Readjuster—if you revise as you go or if you just readjust and continue writing—when you write The End, you still only have a first draft. Yes, that’s correct. Even those people who scrupulously outline and then make revisions as they go still just have a first draft when they finish writing. They probably won’t have nearly as much revision to do in a second draft as we SOTP/Readjusters will (because for us, our story/characters may have undergone a major change halfway through), but they still need to revise.

Secret number two: If at all possible, set the first draft aside for a while—a few weeks to a few months—before you start the revision process. Move on to something else—prepping a new story, a different non-writing project—so that you clear your mind of what you just did. That way, when you sit down to begin your revisions, the story will seem fresher to you—you’ll have a new perspective on it. And you may find that in the intervening time, you’ve come up with a great idea of how to improve it—whether whole or in part.

Secret number three: Set a daily goal of what you want to accomplish. Thinking about “revising my first draft” can sabotage you into never doing it because it seems like too daunting a task. Remember the old adage, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” You have to look at revisions the same way, whether it’s one page at a time or one chapter at a time. I’m currently working on the second draft of Ransome’s Honor. I have written the dreaded synopsis that is now my roadmap for the changes I need to make. But if I sit down when I get home from work thinking, I have to revise Ransome’s Honor tonight, it’ll never get done. So I set a goal: Tonight I’m going to finish revisions on Chapter Six and get through Chapter Seven. This is a defined amount of pages I know I’ll be able to accomplish during the time I set aside for writing in the evening. And you know what? I usually end up doing more than the amount I’ve predetermined . . . which feels even better than just achieving the original goal.

Secret number four: Get organized before you start revising—both overall and daily. Before you start the revision process, make sure you have all of your original research materials, any notes you’ve made (character style sheets, notes about your setting, notes you’ve made of things you want to change), all of your critiques/contest feedback, your original first draft, and anything you’ve either written and not used or anything you’ve already edited out. (Which reminds me to say: when you cut long passages—paragraphs or longer—save them in another file. You never know when you might be able to use them.) Nothing will frustrate you more or make the revision process harder than not having all of your important information readily at hand. Then, once you start revisions and you set your daily goal, you can pull out just what you might need for that day’s section before you start so you don’t have to search for it.

How do you prepare to enter the revision process? What are some of your secrets for how you plan and organize your materials?

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