Revising your Work with author Amanda Zieba
I'm pleased Amanda Zieba is able to join us again. Amanda is an author, a word nerd, a mom, a wife, a teacher, and so much more. Today she gives us excellent tips on revising your work. (In my opinion, there are never enough tips to get me through this phase of writing!)
I have been fortunate enough to attend three, four-day writing excursions this summer. Since leaving the full-time teaching world, my home office hours are mostly dedicated to paying gigs. But, on these writing retreats, I splurge, allowing myself to dive head first into my fiction work.
This summer my fiction project is revising my YA Fantasy manuscript. As I’ve poured over these words (in some cases for the 3rd, 5th or 8th time!) I’ve learned a few helpful tips. Here they are!
Print out your work.
I don’t know about you, but I struggle to revise on the computer screen. (Honestly, I do most of my work long hand, but looking at the words on the page is especially helpful when revising.) On the page I cross out and add easily, drawing arrows to put the text in the correct place. If it is an early revision, I print the document one sided, leaving the backs of pages open to draft additions to the scenes. Once I’m done with a chapter or section, I go back to my computer and type it all in… inevitably to print it out again and start the process all over, until it is perfect!
Free write to get yourself out of plot holes.
I am not a plotter. I wish I was. Outlining my book would probably save me a lot of time, but my brain just doesn’t work that way. Like Hamilton, I need to write my way out. When I discover a plot hole, or something that isn’t quite working, I pose a question and start free writing. I see where the words and characters take me, and more times that not, it is out of the hole and onto something great.
Know your weakness and seek it out.
I have a bad habit of getting inside everyone’s head… at the same time. I share too many personal thoughts from too many characters… all in the same scene. I want the reader to have the full picture, and because I know these “people” so well, it feels natural to have all of their thoughts bouncing around in my head, rounding out the story in a full and complete way. The problem is, it can be pretty darn confusing for a reader. One scene, one person’s perspective, that’s it. This storytelling flaw has been pointed out to me several times, and even though I try, I often mess it up in my first drafts.
So, in the revision process I keep my eyes peeled for my kryptonite. These portions of my writing are difficult for me to fix. These repairs take lots of think time. It is work that I call “heady” because it takes a lot of brain power. I could ignore this flaw, but then my work would not improve.
Chances are, you know your own weakness too. Don’t shy away from it. Own it, fix it and become a better writer.
Read with a purpose
My friend Jane Kelley is also in revision mode this summer. When I asked her for revision tips, here is what she had to say.
I did this too. Here is the top of my (printed out) manuscript. These added reminders gave me a place to focus my intentions. Revising without a purpose will undoubtedly be less effective, and probably lead to even more rounds of revision. As one of my middle school teachers frequently touted, “work smarter, not harder”.
Ask for help/beta readers/critique.
Very few writers reach the finish line alone. There is no shame or gold star for revising a manuscript (let alone writing one) alone. Use your community of writers to help you improve what you already have on the page. This can be done in a single trade (as I am doing with author Brea Behn this month) or in a writing group. Other opportunities, like manuscript critique services or contests also exist to help with this sort of thing.
Next month I am headed to the SCBWI Fall Conference where opportunities abound for help with revision if you write for the children's market. Not only are several sessions and panels in the schedule dedicated to this topic, but a critique service and contest are also available. If you’ve missed the registration for these, sign up for the SCBWI newsletter so you don’t miss out on future events and opportunities.
I also highly recommend attending a retreat, using Author Accelerator or taking a workshop that includes a critique. I offer a 5,000 word critique on my website too. Feel free to check out any of these options. Struggling alone at home is the only option I wouldn’t recommend.
Best of luck on your revisions! Happy writing (and rewriting)!