"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What is a Revision?

Yes, this has nothing to do with the post, but I love this site.

One of the most interesting things to me in author interviews is how many drafts or revisions an author has done for their book. Some fess up to 50 or more revisions. Others 3 or 4.
Which, let's face it, is a huge discrepancy.
Not to mention it makes me wonder.

My thoughts are this (and please correct me if I'm wrong):
There is no strict way to define a revision or a draft. I plunk out the first draft of something, and that's pretty straightforward.
One draft.
But then revisions start. My writing process goes something like this:

1) First draft - no editing allowed.
2) Revisions straight through to eliminate general inconsistencies, add in new scenes of import.
3) Go through again to clarify in places I may have slacked on.
3) Generally, at this point, I'll read through (while making changes) one more time, and fix things as I go.
4) Couple beta readers read for me, because I'm so excited to share.
5) With this feedback, I go through steps (2), (3), and (4) again.
6) Read through MS at least 2 more times after that.

All the while, I'll submit to my critique group and incorporate feedback I get on my partial submissions. And all this time, I have yet to send it to my agent. But when I do, I know (or hope) there will be even more revisions.

So how many drafts is it at this point?

My question is this?
Does a revision (or draft) consist of multiple readings by myself? Is it defined by a period of time during which the manuscript is in flux and which no one else sees it?
And even still, if someone has only done 3 revisions, does this mean they
  • wrote a first draft
  • revised it
  • sent to agent
  • revised it again
  • sent it to editor
  • revised it a final time
And that was that?

I always amaze kids when I tell them I've probably read The Emerald Tablet 100 times. Actually, I amaze myself. But I've been over that book so many times, I could probably quote entire chapters. Thankfully, I refrain from doing this.

My questions for you:
1) How do you define a revision or a draft?
2) How many do you normally do (for a published book), and if the book is yet to be published, how many have you done thus far?

Hope everyone is having a great week!


Christine M said...

My answers to your questions.
1) I don't know
2) too many to count.

Isn't that horrible? :)

Actually, for myself I don't count something as a "revision" unless I change something integral to the action. Word changes, phrase changes, smoothing things up - that's just editing.

But even that said - There were three major revisions (as in substantial changes to the plot) of When Mike Kissed Emma between the time I started submitting and the time it was published. Before that there were at least two major revisions and the whole fact that it was originally a sub plot of another story which has gone through so many versions I can't even count anymore.

I must like revising. :)

T. Anne said...

I do up wards of twenty sometimes. Other times it's been fewer but I cherry pick at the trouble spots.

Casey said...

I'm always intrigued to read about revisions, too. I tend to view revisions as large changes to the plot or storyline and everything else as general edits and read-throughs.

I think the story I'm writing now will need a least a couple large revisions.

Angela said...

I don't even want to think about how many times I've revised my manuscripts. The double digits, to be sure.

I don't know I believe the 'three sets of revisions'. To me, that just seems impossible.

Windsong said...

Very nice thoughts. :)

1) I'm not sure. Maybe each time I pass through it.
2) It depends. Some stories come out cleaner than others. My problem is making sure I've filled things in enough. Beta readers are awesome!

PJ Hoover said...

Nice, Chris! A perfect answer! And I think the right answer, too :)
So, if it's only major changed to the plot, then do minor revisions count also?

Yay, T. Anne! I don't feel so alone with my huge numbers of revisions!

Interesting, Casey, so all smaller changes are only editing, and the large, large stuff is revision.

Ditto, Angela. The word impossible slipped into my mind also :)

Agree, Windsong! Some mss I've written have needed less revising, but I've still never even come close to that 3 or 4 number.

Thanks, everyone!

beth said...

1) How do you define a revision or a draft?
-Something major has changed: a new chapter, a significant word count cut, a new character, etc. This is opposed to read-throughs, grammar checks, and continuity checks, which are, IMO "tweaks."

2) How many do you normally do (for a published book), and if the book is yet to be published, how many have you done thus far?
-With TAD:
1-Wrote it.
2-Several revisions on chapters (but not the whole thing), especially Chapter 1 and the last Chapter.
3-After a conference and an agent's advice, I added in an entirely new character and new character motivation--my biggest revision.
4-Put manuscript into a new program, Scrivener, and worked a TON on structure and flow.
5-New revisions based on beta-reading.
6-Read-through with tweaks, then submissions...

Because I don't outline, I often go back to earlier chapters and revise them if the characters evolve to something new/different from my original vision.

Because this current WIP is being critiqued by my crit group as I write it, I have actually rewritten a few chapters immediately after their suggestions, which it was all still fresh.

Jeannie Campbell said...

i don't follow the rules, i guess. i edit quite a bit as i write. i've heard not to do this, but i usually reread the scene before where i'm starting...just to get myself back in the story. usually, i find little inconsistencies or maybe a grammar/type word didn't pick up on b/c it was spelled right (but wrong). wonder if anyone else does this?

Solvang Sherrie said...

Interesting question, because my process is very similar to yours so I wouldn't count it as a revision every time I read through and change a few words here and there.

For me a revision entails making a lot of changes. Like I had a chapter that wasn't descriptive enough and I ended up adding two more pages.

Word changes and tweaks I would call polishing.

Miriam S.Forster said...

HAHAHAHAHA.... I'm sorry I can't answer your revision question right now. I'm laughing too hard from the Star Trek site.

Also, I can't hear you over how awesome I am. :-)

Miriam S.Forster said...

Ahhh! FIERCE! Hahahaha...

lotusgirl said...

All I have to say today is how much I love that poster of Captain Kirk! LOL!

Keri Mikulski said...

1. Hmm.. Good question because I change things and move things constantly during and after drafting.

2. I swear my revision numbers rise with each book I write. :) Sometimes, I think about changing something, boot up my computer and realize I already changed it.. Then, I know it's time to let the ms sit or I send it to my agent. :)

Tabitha said...

Hmm, I guess I define a draft as each time I go through the ms from beginning to end, no matter what gets changed. I see a revision as something major, but not as major as a rewrite.

For the YA I just finished, I went through four drafts. Though, I think, those numbers are skewed slightly.

When I start a new project, I write a really, really rough mess of scenes and plot points. But it's all telling, because I'm telling myself the story. Then, I write from my MC's perspective and have her tell me the story in diary format. Again, all telling and no actual writing. BUT, you could argue that I've just done two drafts, because each of those exercises makes progress on the story.

Then, I write the first chapter about twenty times, because I can't move forward unless I know that my starting point is correct - because everything flows downhill. :) When I'm happy with that, I write the rest of the first draft. But, by that time, I feel like I've already written twenty drafts. :)

Anonymous said...

I define a draft (for me) as any process (?) in which I at least EXAMINE, if not revise/rewrite the entire book. By the end, yes, this is more a matter of jumping back & forth and saying, "Oh, if I'm doing that here, I have to follow it through here & here..." than reading through/editing from start to finish. I don't count the final read-through, which (as a former editor) I do on everything--that's more of a proofread.

Each time I start one of these stages/processes, I open a new folder on my computer, label it with the new draft # and copy all the most recent files into it. I then do any revision work for that draft on that "new" set of files.

On my MG mystery, I did six drafts--the first being the speed-through book-in-a-week that let me spit out Draft 1. You don't WANT to see the changes from that to Draft 6.

On the critique-group book, I wrote the thing, sent it for critique, revised based on that, and delivered it to my editor. He's commenting, and I'll revise again. So...three?

But yes, each draft has me reading many, if not all, scenes multiple times.

Does this make ANY sense?

And great question/post, btw!

PJ Hoover said...

Beth, critiquing as I write is something I have yet to try. Maybe at some point, but doesn't it get frustrating when they comment on something you know you need to change?

Jeannie, I think there are no rules! I am of the first draft is whatever comes out of my head camp, but there are lots in the editing as they write camp, too. And I totally get the spelled right (but wrong) thing :)

So we're kindred revision spirits, Sherrie! And I agree. Word tweaks and small changes are edits.

Doesn't that site rock, Miriam!!!!! I laugh so hard. Love the Chekov one :)

It is perfect, isn't it Lois! Sums up Kirk pretty well!

Oh, I've been there, Keri, as far as thinking I want to change it and finding I already have. Or thinking of a funny thing to write and realizing I've already written it!

Twenty times on the first chapter, Tabitha! Wow! You have the patience of a redwood tree.

I start a new file each night, Becky. That way if I ever need to go back, I always have a file specifically from that day. Obsessive? Maybe.

I agree! Fun question!

Thanks, everyone!

Christina Farley said...

I like to do a first draft where I write without stopping or thinking. Then I do numerous drafts after that through my critique groups.

Can't even imagine how many drafts. Does it ever end?

Lady Glamis said...

As you know, I work in layers. I probably go through about 50-100 different layers for each book. I haven't reached that many for either one of the two I've written yet... but they are not polished yet, so I can't tell you for sure.

How does that translate into drafts? Probably 8-10 drafts total for each one. And that's before publication or even querying. I'm a perfectionist. Every writer is different, so I can imagine a rough draft for one writer would be semi-polished for another. Just depends. That's why, thankfully, we have editors. :D

Lynnette Labelle said...

I'll simply revise my WIP until my critique group and I feel it's ready.

Lynnette Labelle

C.R. Evers said...

I'm still trying to figure it out myself. It's interesting to read the responses though.


PJ Hoover said...

I think drafts only end when it's published, Christina. Which is a relief.

Editors are a blessing, Michelle! And layers is a great way to look at it!

Thanks for visiting, Lynette! I revise to that point and then keep on revising! It is eternal.

When you figure it out, Christy, let me know!

Lauren said...

Hah! I wrote about this for my blog too and will post it tomorrow or Thursday.

My revisions go in spurts. Since I write on the first path very light I have to keep circling back to fill in so that I have an idea of where my word count is. I'm still too far away from finishing to say how much I will have to revise :). Let's just say...a lot....

PJ Hoover said...

I'll look forward to your blog post, Lauren! And I'm a firm believer in lots of revisions! In fact, we should all compete on who can do the most!