Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Revision Checklist

I got more done over the holiday weekend than I'd expected.  Three chapters fell prey to my revising eyes, and that leaves four to go.  The end is in sight.  I'm surprised at how many people are badgering for me to get it done.  Granted, they're all friends and family, but I've not really promoted it with those people a whole lot.  In truth, I get a bit embarrassed talking to that group of people about my books.  I guess I just find it hard to explain that, yeah, I wrote a fantasy novel, and yes, it will get published.  There's just no guarantee of success here.  You're not going to see my book on shelves.  I'm doing it independently.  Not everyone really understands what that means yet. 

Still, it's a risk I'm embracing.  The process has been liberating and fun.  It's a shared project for my wife and I, and something we can both feel proud of when it is eventually finished.  She's busy putting the final touches on the cover (which I hope to share sometime this week as well, because I think it's really turned out well).  I'm face deep in revising, when I'm able to set life aside for several hours.

One of the lessons learned through my process so far has been the value of what I'll call a Personal Revision Checklist.  I've seen other authors talk a bit about these.  Basically, as you write more, you'll revise more, and as you revise more, you'll start to notice the things you repeatedly fall victim to.  For my first book, since it is in first person, I've noticed a few unsavory trends.  I use "I mean" a lot.  And "I think."  These are weak words.  Of course the narrator thinks or means things... he wouldn't be telling us otherwise.  It's also a little more conversational than I should be in prose.  It's one thing if it's in dialog (even there, maybe iffy), but those are crutches I lean on in my narration, and they can easily be axed. 

The key to the revision checklist, though, is that it is personal.  Unless you're a super-awesome ghostwriter, chances are the mistakes you make are figments of your own style, process, and voice.  Sure you can take another writer's list to start, but eventually you'll need to make any revision list your own.  Put all the things on there that you see yourself doing more than once.  Chances are they'll pop up again.  It's great to be able to use the "find" feature in a word processor to winnow the errors up front.  I use it to help me get in the revision mood too. 

And don't throw that checklist away when you're done, either.  Not all the issues may translate from one story to the next, but chances are that I'll be seeing "I mean" and "I think" crop up in my writing again.  They're the weeds of my creative lawn.  A Personal Revision Checklist is my weed and feed.  The stronger I make it, the greener my grass will be.  Not that the occasional dandelion is horrific, mind you.  I'm sure I'll still have plenty of those.  I am, after all, still learning.


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