Break your Revision

Original manuscript of a revision of "Spi...
Everyone has to revise: Original manuscript of a revision of “Spirits of the Dead” in Poe’s handwriting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t ruin your revision, of course. Just be sure to take a break at some point in the revision process: set the manuscript aside for as along as you can manage and look at it with fresh eyes. It’s standard but powerful advice.

So what do you work on in the meantime because the other standard advice says write, write, write. Well, if you’ve just finished a novel manuscript and a few polishing revisions, screw the sages, you probably deserve a complete respite. But since the longer you let your manuscript sit, the better vantage for the revision, it is probably best to return to writing in the meantime, perhaps a class you’ve always meant to take, or story development for the next project (always good to overlap these things), or work on some short stories or do 20 critiques (nothing like dissecting someone else’s work to find things to copy or things to fix in your own).

For me, I’d always planned on a long break after a 3rd revision on my current project, Shadows of the Archons. I knew it would look very different after setting it aside for a few months. It does, and not in a good way. On the plus side, the basic character and story arc still seem okay to me. On the minus side, it was a very rough draft. The copy errors don’t bother me much at this stage (hardly the time to worry about a missing the) but there’s a lot of awkward prose that’s going to take more than one revision to straighten out. Thankfully, the list of scenes requiring a complete re-write is short and there’s only one turning point that needs some work.

The only thing that really gives me angst about the current state is that I asked two people to read it. Both knew it was “alpha” stage. And their feedback was useful in getting confidence on the basic “bones” of the story. But even though I warned them it was rough, it was worse than I thought. I’m torn on whether to send something out for readers at a similar stage in the future. You only get one first impression and one of the readers is my regular sounding board for writing (as well as D&D campaigns). At the moment, despite some embarrassment at letting some of this prose out the door I’m inclined to do it again. As we all know, writing a novel is a lot of work and it helps to have some feedback that a project deserves more effort on it. But maybe next time I’ll wait for “first eyes” until after the post-break revision.

During my break from SOTA, I took the Discovering Story Magic course and worked on a possible next project. Plus I set aside the quill for a while and just goofed off 🙂 But now it’s time to pick it up again.

In my blog title, I’m stealing a page from Write Tight, by William Brohaugh, where the author suggests you strive for concision, even, at times, at the expense of grammar. In this case, Write Tightly would be considered more appropriate but for me it clicks: it’s been fifteen years but I still recall the premise and that snappy title. These days, the contents of the book might be better as a blog post so I don’t suggest rushing out and getting it despite the high reviews. If you are considering it, check out the one-star review first. While I would probably give it more of a 2-3 star, I do remember the book being rather overlong for the advice conveyed and it isn’t a long book.

Do you set aside your manuscript between revisions? For how long? And when do you let someone else have a look at it?

6 thoughts on “Break your Revision

  1. Just saw your post and thought I’d comment. I actually have a system that has worked well on my short stories, though I am still refining it for my novel.

    For me, it all depends on the story. Some stories need less rework. Others need overhauls. Typically, my stories go through four phases (a sketch, a rough draft, a first draft, and a second draft. A third draft is optional). Each phases has certain criteria to be met or characteristics that define the phase. I can wait up to two weeks for revisions depending on the phase.

    I do not send my story out to people until it reads well and I am having difficulty seeing errors in it. This is at the end of the first draft. I do a second draft for revisions based on feedback.

    What I do during that waiting time depends. I found myself often just reading, because when I write, I have little time to read and it gives my mind a good break and absorb new ideas from the book

    1. Thanks for the follow up, Dan! For me, it’s a bit different on a novel versus a short-story. For the latter, the investment to get it pretty ‘polished’ (as polished as it ever is without another set of eyes) isn’t too much. I’d rather have it fairly clean before letting someone else see it. But for a novel where even another revision might take a few months, (for me again), I see value in letting others see it sooner than later. For now though, I tend to do it a little too soon, I think. But on the other hand, if alpha readers see more work than I think the story warrants, I might move on.

  2. I like the six-week rule. That seems to work for me–gives me fresh eyes–though I usually wind up giving it more like 2 months, because by the six-week point I’m typically into shorter stories or revising some other project. (I always have several irons in the fire.)

    I learned the long way that you only get one first impression, and it’s virtually impossible to get second critiques from those, your best readers. So I wait till after the six weeks and then I do some preliminary edits, clean-up and so on. Or, if the manuscript is a mess, I work on it more (or toss it, or let it sit longer–depends). Anyway, not until I think it’s “decent” or “mostly there” do I send it to readers–after that break.

    That’s for a novel. For shorter stories, I don’t wait nearly as long (maybe I should).

    1. Six weeks a good ballpark. There’s probably some sort of threshold: less than a week, no real pause at all, <6 weeks, some benefit but still might be 'fresh' in your head, etc.

      Even at three months, it still amazing how much my brain is interpolating: why did he flag that sentence? Oh, yeah, it's missing a verb :S

      I agree first impressions are precious. I've got a few other readers I respect lined up for later revisions.

      Thanks for comments!

  3. How long I wait between drafts depends on how unhappy I am with it. If I feel happy and confident, I take a week off and celebrate. If I’m unhappy and frustrated, I start the second draft immediately.

    When I’ve completed the second draft, that’s when I show it to my first readers.

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