Climbing the Next Hill

Pixar: For the birds
Pixar: For the birds (Photo credit: Colin ZHU) Maybe they are scared of their next revision.

My revision of Shadow of the Archon finished, I updated my progress bar to show 100% this morning. I even left it there for a whole 30 minutes while I started on the next revision. Now, it’s back to 1%.

As I set out on another revision, I’m reminded of Nila’s post on Pixar Rule #18: “You have to know yourself: the Difference between doing your best and fussing. Story is testing, not refining.” Of all the rules so far, I think that one has had the widest range of interpretations in the comments section. I don’t think anyone really gets the ‘testing’ part but clearly there’s a worry about spending too much time on a project. Sometimes you have to move on.

I’m trying to be better with this project. After the first draft, as planned, I did a major revision and polish, then had some readers look at it as an ‘alpha stage’. Post that feedback (and some soak time while I worked on other things), the next part of the plan was to mark up a printed copy, revise it, do one more pass on-screen to ‘polish it’, before having another set of eyes on it. After that, we’ll see. I like the story but we’ll see what the feedback looks like.

As I reset my progress bar this morning, I was reminded of my school days: my fellow students and I worked up from 1st grade to 6th grade in elementary, from 7th to 8th in Junior high, from freshman to senior in High School and so on into college. It was bottom rung to top rung, with the reward being getting to start at the bottom again. I actually loved school so I don’t mean that in a negative way but it was funny going from high to low at each major step. Sort of like finishing a revision only to start another one (or a new first draft).

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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?