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

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Write your own Editorial Letter

One of my biggest summer writing goals is to get my WIP in good enough shape to send to critique partners. At this point I have a solid first draft, so now it's time to move on to revisions.
Here's the thing: I write my first drafts fast. As fast as I possibly can. This is great for me as it gives me that wonderful sense of accomplishment, but it also means the drafts need plenty of revisions.


Sometimes Always revisions can seem a bit daunting. So this time around, I'm trying something different. Rather than a bunch of little notes of everything I want need to change, I'm collecting all those thoughts and writing myself my own editorial letter. In the letter, I'm addressing each character, each setting, etc, and making sure they are all at least noted as needing revisions. I'm listing all those unanswered questions I try to sweep under the carpet and making sure they have answers. Getting these questions answered ahead of time hugely helps in revisions.

In my experience, these questions are the ones that make the biggest difference in the manuscript. Really digging deep and asking what character's motivations are. Questioning the believability of plot twists or revelations. Making sure key plot points are enough.
Try to find ahead of time what a critique partner will point out to you and call you on. This saves time on both your part and your critique partner's part.

So how do you go about that very first revision? Any tips I can use?

And have a great week!

*and thanks to Christine Marciniak for the very cool picture!

19 comments:

Deva Fagan said...

"In my experience, these questions are the ones that make the biggest difference in the manuscript. Really digging deep and asking what character's motivations are. Questioning the believability of plot twists or revelations. Making sure key plot points are enough."


Fantastic point! I need to print that out and stick it on my desk for when I get to my own revision in a month or so. Thank you!

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Deva! It's these kind of questions that I always call BS when I'm reading someone else's ms or novel. So I'm trying to be more diligent about catching my own :)

Christine Marciniak said...

Great points! I love the idea of answering those tricky questions ahead of time to make sure you know where you are going!

And I thought I recognized that picture. :)

PJ Hoover said...

Yes, I want to save you time, Chris :)
And thanks for the pic! I love it all over again!

Andrew Smith said...

Well, I don't have a critique partner because I live like a hermit in total isolation. It would be nice, though. When I write, I do put Post-It notes on my computer screen reminding me of things I need to go back to, and I always try to channel the spirit of my editor -- the incredible Liz Szabla. I think anticipating what she would say helps me work smarter along the way, but I revise and write, revise and write, as an ongoing process -- so when I'm finished with a manuscript, that's it, and I send it in. It's just what works for me, but I suppose it's the only way you can do things when you live like the Donner Party.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Good tips, PJ. I like your line about sweeping under the carpet. Sometimes I think we read our work and notice a bump but keep going, wishing it could go unnoticed. But it won't. Might as well flag it and deal.

PJ Hoover said...

I left one of my crit groups, Andrew, and now I need to keep myself from slipping into that hermit mentality on getting my stuff critiqued. But I do think I'm able to see more and more what I need to work on before I send it off to others. Laura would pull her hair out at my first drafts.

PJ Hoover said...

I see those bumps in books I read and they drive me nuts, Tricia. I know I've been guilty of the carpet sweeping in the past but need to change.

laurapauling said...

That's a good idea. Kind of like writing a synopsis. Good luck!

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, Laura. I did also write a synopsis which also helped me get my mind around what was going on.

Heather said...

That's a great idea! Right now I just have a bunch of random lists around the house of things that need to be changed, but an organized letter seems like a much better idea.

PJ Hoover said...

It's actually getting me inspired, Heather. And congrats on your upcoming MFA program at Vermont!

Lydia Kang said...

Your points are great ones. Honestly, a little time away from my WIP give me the best ability to be a good editor. It's hard that way but it works!

Anna said...

I love the idea of writing yourself an editorial letter. And I know exactly what you mean about unanswered questions you'd like to sweep under the carpet! If I don't address them in revisions, someone else will point them out!

Tess said...

It's a good idea you have here. I use a lot of post its with scribbled notes, but never anything this organized.

let us know how it goes!

Natalie Aguirre said...

I usually rely on my critique partners to help me along the way and revise each chapter as I go several times. I admire that you can write your own editorial letter. I can't seem to get enough perspective on my work to do a helpful one. I have one really good critique partner I recently found who is really helpful in seeing the big picture issues you discuss. I'm grateful for her.

I'll have to see what I do this time once I finish my manuscript. Last time I was learning as I worked so revised it--no lie--probably 10 times. This one should be quicker.

PJ Hoover said...

Time away from my WIP if huge for me, Lydia! I love it! but only after I have a solid draft (like not a first draft). Otherwise it feels so unsettled.

Isn't that the truth, Anna. And if people don't point them out, they should!

So far it's going great, Tess! I'll update with my progress as it happens.

Ten times is nothing to worry about, Natalie. I've been there and still am. Not all my revisions are built the same, though, and each time I get through a ms, it's different.

Miriam S. Forster said...

My last two first-revisions have all been about getting it readable, scenes in proper order, pacing where I want it, transitions written up. It's kind of like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Then after I can see what I have, I start focusing on specifics.

I like your strategy, an editorial letter would be cool.

PJ Hoover said...

It is a lot like a jigsaw puzzle, Miriam. You're so right. I feel very organized in my thoughts now. The letter has really helped.