Saturday, May 31, 2014

How to Revise Your Novel - Without Burning Out

Last week I started my Tornado C revisions in earnest.  I set a personal goal to revise one chapter every two days—and so far I've stuck to it.  Today I'm on Chapter 5 out of 24.  Even though Chapters 1-5 are some of the shortest in the book, I'm still surprised at how quickly I'm moving.

And what's even more surprising is how I'm not getting tired of my revisions, in what's known as "burning out".

There are different stages of burning out.  The first stage is just getting tired of what you're doing.  The second stage is where the quality starts getting affected—you start slogging through the revisions, and rather than examining your work, you're glossing over your work.

And finally, you just get so sick and tired of looking at your novel all day long that you quit, sometimes for weeks on end.  I've had these symptoms before; we all have.

But what's remarkable about my Tornado C revisions is that, up to this point, I haven't even hit the first stage of burn-out.  Sure, sometimes I feel like Facebook is more fun than revisions, but I'm not tired of it, not yet.

So what's so different about THESE revisions?

I've noticed a few different things that help keep me from burning out—and I feel a list coming on.  Here we go!

1. Be well-rested.

Besides my Will Vullerman revisions last month, and a few small projects here and there, I have not done any heavy writing since NaNoWriMo last year.

And that makes a big difference.  I'm ready to get working on a new project, and I have all of that pent-up creative energy to spend.

2. Set a modest and achievable goal.

The reason I put "modest" in there is that "achievable" needs to be modified.  NaNoWriMo is achievable.  Yet few writing bonanzas have more burn-outs than that infamous contest in November.

Setting a modest goal makes you feel like you're getting stuff done—and you are.  Just keep going at it, steadily, but don't make your goals so high that you have to crunch to meet your deadlines.  That'll keep you from burning out.

This worked really well in my own revisions.  I set a goal of revising one chapter every two days—so far it's required one or two hours a day to get it done, which isn't bad at all.

3. Be prepared.

This is, by far, the most important of the three tips, and the one I've seen make the most difference in my own novel.

My personal preparations were a little elaborate.  I started out by refining my world-building and composing several long works on culture and politics, in addition to drawing supplementary maps.  (What can I say?  I'm one of those world-building geeks.  I love it.)

Then I wrote down all of the writing tips I've found most helpful in my own life, and ones that people have recommended to me.  After that, I reread my novel, making notes as I went.  I identified all of the weakest points—the characters that didn't make sense, the rockiest parts of my prose, the plot holes, the pacing problems.

After that (I see your eyes growing wider; don't worry, I'll be finished soon) I put my writing tips and weak points together and wrote myself a revision plan.  I found all of the questions I would need to ask to revise each chapter, and I put them into my plan.  It ended up being twenty-one steps, in order from the most general to the most specific—my beginning questions had to do with plot and character, and my ending questions had to do with passive voice and adverbs and telling.

For instance, my first question was this: 1. "Reimagine the scene.  What could go differently?  What could go wrong?"  It was followed by, "Determine the goal of the scene: add setbacks and tension."

One of my last questions was, "Examine adverbs and adjectives and eliminate where necessary."  That let me deal with the big picture first, and let me end on the nuts and bolts of sentence structure.

Obviously, to be prepared, you don't have to write yourself an elaborate revision plan.  But knowing just what's wrong with your novel, and brainstorming how you could fix it, helps your revisions go smoothly and quickly.  I found that "mapping out" my plots on paper was especially helpful, since I could see the plot holes visually and try to brainstorm ways to fill those holes—through setbacks and disasters.

Remember, good stories are not written—they are rewritten.  And good concepts, too.  Look at your novel with a critical eye and try to pick apart what's wrong before you actually start revising.

If you're prepared, well-rested, and you have a set goal—well, I can't imagine a better way to keep from burning out!

What about you?  Have you found any tricks that are especially helpful in avoiding burn-out?


Anne-girl said...

I find the whole "small bites thing" is extremely helpful. I used to try and edit at the same speed I did nano and it just. doesn't. work. I'm finding I love editing though now that I actually take the time for it. Firming up the story and really exploring things I just dashed through before. It's so nice.

Keturah Lamb said...

More than getting burned out I have little time to write because of just life in general, and having ten younger siblings..;) but still a good post...and I could make more time for writing..