Friday, November 13, 2009


If you're a writer, you probably have a work-in-progress (WIP). Heck, if you're a writer, you probably have a dozen WIPs.

After you've completed a first draft, and after putting it aside for a suitable "percolation period," it's time to get busy with the initial round of revisions. (I know many writers edit as they go. If I tried that, I'd never get past the first chapter!)

In other words, it's time to make sausage. sausages

Here's a tiny glimpse into the beginning stage of my sausage-making operation. Sometimes I change the order of the steps or omit a few, but eventually I grind and slice and dice and squish everything together into one tasty hunk of novelwurst.

I begin at the computer, where I...

Spell check. I do this multiple times throughout the process. I don't know about you, but a gremlin lives in my laptop and likes nothing more than to jack with me by adding typos and misspellings when I'm not looking.

Examine/eradicate/change my crutch words. Using WORD's Find and Replace feature, I search for all the words I typically overuse: that, just, maybe, sometimes, pretty, little, smile, nod, exopthalmos (just seeing if you were still with me), etc. I don't get rid of every instance, but I delete a lot of excess verbiage (especially those pesky "that"s that keep cropping up). Sometimes I also search on -ly words (bad adverbs! bad!).

Insert/adjust chapter breaks. Some are "cliff-hangers," some are logical scene endings, and others are based entirely on writer's whim. I re-jigger them so I don't end up with any 2-page chapters or 42-page chapters.

Tidy up transitions. My goal is to get the reader from one scene to the next smoooooothly and (relatively) unconfused.

Pretty-up ugly prose. Tighten, tighten, tighten.

Fill in those ominous XXXs. While writing the draft, I insert an XXX "placeholder" whenever I need a particular name (person, place, thing) but don't know it. Now is when I actually do the research to fill in the blanks.

Work out/refine timeline (see earlier post on A Million Blogging Monkeys). I get a calendar from whatever year/month the story takes place and map out the timeline. This way I can avoid having my characters undertake 36 hours of stuff in a single afternoon--and other embarrassing goofs.


What's next? After I complete all of the above (on the computer), I print out the manuscript and do a hardcopy edit. My eye seems to catch different things when I read on paper. (Plus I like scratching stuff out with a big 'ol red pen.)

Then it's on to read for story flow and character development (I'll leave those details for a future post).


How about you? For those who don't edit as you go, is your process anything like mine, or is it something totally different?

How do you make your sausage?




Cricket McRae said...

Novel as sausage -- I like it! My process is similar, Alan. However I read for story flow and character development before I pretty up the manuscript, so I don't have to do it all over again after the rewrites. Can't help but fix some things along the way, though.

G.M. Malliet said...

On the subject of chapter breaks: I will look at the layout of the entire manuscript in something like 15% or 20% view size in MWord. Even though the text is illegible at that resolution, I can see the chapter headings, and I can see where a chapter is too long and needs to be broken up. Then I zoom in and find a logical place for a break.

Alan Orloff said...

Cricket - Whenever I try to read "big picture" before tidying things up a bit, I get too distracted by all the typos and ugly prose to see the big picture!

Gin - That's a great idea! I usually end up scrolling back and forth, counting pages. Cumbersome.

Keith Raffel said...

Here's a difference between us, Alan. My reminder to go back isn't xxx like yours. It's xx which takes 33% less typing!

jbstanley said...

I edit after each chapter, then by first half of the book followed by the second. Afterward, one more complete tweak before passing it over to my trusty reader. Then, one more round and off to the publisher it goes. I have to edit today and thus, I am posting blogs instead. :)

Alan Orloff said...

Keith - You are much more efficient than I am. I may have to go to the XX method. Maybe I'll test it out for a while.

JB - I find it fascinating to see how other people work. I've also spent a lot of time today cybersurfing, er, I mean editing.

Janine said...

My process is similar to yours, but I use the AutoCrit Editing Wizard to makes things easier (and faster!).

The AutoCrit Wizard automatically finds things like overused words and repeated words. It also checks for slow pacing and a bunch of other handy things. I love it :-)

Alan Orloff said...

Janine - I like easier! I like faster! Does it come up with humorous subplots, too?

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I do rolling edits. I like to write a couple of chapters, then go back and edit them. Another few chapters, then edit those chapters. After about 150-200 pages, I'll go back and edit from the top with an eye also on flow. Then I proceed to write second half of book in the rolling edit method. When I finish the book it's pretty clean and ready for one more top to bottom edit.

And Alan, I also have to comb through for those over used words. "Just" seems to be my favorite.