Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Personal Process

A few months ago a writer on a kid-lit chat board asked how others approach revising a novel. She’s written many picture book texts, but this was her first novel. After completing the first draft, she was stymied as to the next step. “What do you do?” she asked.

Some responded with links to sites that gave directions, while others made specific suggestions. I realized that I could only speak of the way I work. After all, practice helps, and by now I have some. I haven’t published a lot, but I have written and revised a few middle grade novels, and am now working on a new story.

I copy my response here, because it says all I have to offer and because, as I said, I’m busy first drafting. A good excuse for taking the easy way on this blog today.

So here is my process, which may be of some interest, even as every person must forge their own.

It is personal, and it takes some experience to find how you work best. If you are experienced in Picture Book writing and revising, you might take some of what you have learned about your process to a novel. The only difference is the time invested in each draft and thus, proportionally, the time between revisions.

Speaking for myself, the first draft is a plow forward. I'm a combination planner and a bit of a panster, too. (This means I have a very thin outline before I even start, but the fleshing out is done by the seat of my pants, as the saying goes.) First drafting is the reason I am a writer, and for me the rest is the necessary work to make it better. As others said, some love one part and not the other. It's a somewhat different set of problem solving.

I don't even go near a novel for a minimum of two weeks between drafts. Two months is better. By "drafts” I am not referring to tweaks and repairing an inconsistency here and there. I mean substantial changes and meeting the phrasing with fresh eyes, more like a reader than a writer.

The first two real drafts are done with me alone. No one even hears what it's about. I have a lot to work out before I feel "I've got something there." 

Third draft comes after my first beta reader reads and gives developmental comments, points out inconsistencies, (thank you, you know who you are!) and catches typos. I go over the feedback carefully. Sometimes other matters arise for me while doing this.

When done, a full re-read after another break, and then a second beta reader. I look for a reader who might be different from the first in many ways, (mostly in their taste in books and their sensitivities) and when their feedback returns I mull over it in a similar way.

Another break, another read-through, and then I have my own checklist to make sure I have asked myself  if I am clear about the theme, foreshadowing, character development/change, Main Character solving the problem (or coming to terms with it) and so on.
Another read-through, mysteriously catching *even more* typos...

...and then it goes  on submission. When I had an agent, this was the point where I shared it with her, and her feedback made me revise again.  Another revision, sometimes two, before it went out. Subsequent editor's interest means more revising, and the happiest of all are revisions after contract.

As to the mechanics of "how," you really only have your reading ways and your reading eyes. It will not be different from the way you have worked on shorter picture book texts. One writer mentioned she makes a hard copy printed like a book. This is a good technique for many. Not what I use, but I know it helps. Another mentioned reading the text aloud, or having someone else read it back to you. There are some techniques for line editing, also. 

But never feel you must write many drafts, (Stephen King does only three, but to say he's experienced is an understatement) or that what someone else says is a must really is for your way of working. Some writers are very clean grammatically and phasing-wise, and some (like me) can never get rid of all the typos no matter how many times we go over the words.

While first drafting, I refuse to think of all the work to come. I suppose that if I did I might not have the strength to start. I’m glad I wrote this^ months ago, before I put my writing vehicle back in gear.

What's your way?


  1. Good post Mirka. I'm discovering that each story needs something different. It's like having more than one kid. You discover what worked for one kid doesn't do a thing for the other. lol

  2. Good insights, Mirka. As you know, I don't write novels, so I'll just leave it at that. I have great respect for all of you who do.

  3. I have a rough outline, which I add to as I write and get new ideas. I try to fast draft as much as possible because I find the more I write, the more the words and ideas flow. Once I finish a draft, I do one of two things. Either put it aside for months, or do a quick revision right away. Sometimes I know I have to change things once I've finished the draft, and then I dive immediately into my first revision so I don't forget those specific things I need to change. But then I always put it away for a while (preferably months). I have several rounds of revisions before it goes to my editor. And then I do about three reads after my editor. My final proofread is always having my Kindle read the book to my while I follow along in the paperback proof. I find I catch little things that can slip through that way. And that's basically my process.

  4. You are brave to wait two weeks or two months before you return to your writing. I can't wait two seconds.


  5. Thanks for sharing your process. Not sure what will happen to mine at this point. Still waiting...

  6. I'm a revise as I go person. Though once I reach the end, I revise some more similarly to what you do.