Monday, June 11, 2012

Is a One-Pass Revision Possible?

A few weeks ago, an awesome writing buddy sent me this link:

I laughed, and thought there's no way (before I read it). My previous editing sessions went something like this:

Finish first draft of my manuscript. Dance. Sing. (Of course, I do these alone for fear of being committed to an offshore institution.) Then I call up or e-mail my writing buddies and share the glee.

After which, I come back to earth and start the months or year-long process of revision that goes something like this:

First edit, focus on plot. Look for a theme.

Second edit, strengthen the characters and setting. Strengthen theme as needed.

Edit number three, work on pacing and smoothness. Take out unnecessary scenes and make sure everything works. 

Edit four, do the fine, picky line-editing stuff.

Edit five, do a final go-over.

So, yes, when I saw that the link said ONE pass revision, I laughed. No way.

But I read the article anyway.



I can see the possibilities. Yeah. Really. And this is timely, because I have a freshly baked first draft sitting right here. The thought of having it done in two weeks or even a month is rather tantalizing.

Soooo, a question or two (okay, three): 

Do you think it’s humanly possible to revise an entire manuscript, or am I dreaming?

How do you revise?

And what do you think of Holly Lisle’s article?


  1. Thanks for sharing that article, Jonene! What I really liked was the additional article it linked to, "Finding Your Themes."

    I would say that for an experienced author, with an established career, this method should work great. Brandon Sanderson told us at WIFYR 2008 that he does two revisions, one to get the story right, then one to make the prose nice. Donna Jo Napoli does two revisions, one to get EVERYTHING right, but then she finds some readers and gets feedback and does a third draft based on their suggestions.

    I've read one of Holly Lisle's books, and honestly, I thought it needed more revision. But what do I know? She sold the thing.

    Me, I don't know what I'm doing yet, so if it takes thirteen drafts to figure it out, so be it.

    1. I'm with you, Rebecca. I don't think this would have worked for me on my very first book. I'm not sure if it will work for me now, but since I'm ready, I'm going to give it a go. But I'm still thinking it will take another round or two . . .

  2. I think if it works for Holly, great. If you've written dozens of books, you probably do have a tighter hold on your process and can trim it down. Then again, you have to be careful not to let your writing get stale or formulaic, either.

    I think it's bit silly to think that everyone should follow her process - especially the whole notebook-and-paper thing. Everyone's process is different - and also (hopefully) evolving, because you should be constantly seeking ways to improve upon your work, including the process itself.

    Here's mine:
    1) Outline like crazy
    2) Rough draft - lean and mean
    3) Story/Cohesiveness draft - make it all make sense, then send to critique partners
    4) Revise major story elements, add in craft elements, send to another round of critique partners
    5) Last minute revisions to everything from craft, to senses, to theme, to emotional arc of the character

    Things I don't see in Holly's process: critique partners/editors/agents feedback? Holly's process sounds like about where I am halfway between my 2nd and 3rd drafts, but I don't consider my stories fit for publication until (usually) the fourth draft (or later).


  3. Susan, I love seeing how other serious writers do things. Thanks for sharing your process! You hit it right on the nose: everyone has to find what works for them - and boy, are you right about the critique partners and getting feedback along the way. For me, it's been a priceless resource, and a real eye-opener in finding out how the story and the characters comes across.

  4. Thanks for the link. Not sure how that process would work for me, I'm figuring out the revision process and what works for me as I go so it is cool to see how other writers work. I think some parts of her process are really helpful like the part about scenes and making the scenes be stories.

    1. Carrie, that is an interesting part of her article. I just downloaded Randy Ingermanson's e-book, THE FIFTH MAN, that has appendices at the end on how to do just that, make each scene a story. I'm excited to read it. (Randy Ingermanson created the Snowflake Pro outlining program, and also did an excellent job co-authoring WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES.) Anyway, like you, I enjoy finding out new ways and seeing if they work for me. Always an education!

  5. I know I'm not ready for a one pass revision. But maybe some day when I feel like I really know what I'm doing. Who knows, stranger things have happened. ;)

  6. I'm not sure I'm ready, either, but there's one way to find out if it works for me. This will be interesting . . .

  7. I'm definitely going to try this thorough, scene-by-scene method when I do my next revision, but will it really be my LAST draft? No way!

  8. I doubt very much that mine will be my last draft either. But I do like her lists of things to look for. Every little bit helps - and I LOVE lists, especially from someone who has been around a while. That's why I love WIFYR. My classes have given me lots of lovely lists for every aspect of writing. I'm excited to go and learn oodles again!

    By the way, about how many revisions do you normally go through, and what's your process? I've been impressed by your writing.

  9. Hmm, interesting. A lot of tips are similar to Don Maass' books (which are amazing btw!). I can see where she's coming from, and with some books it may be possible, but often during a thorough 2nd draft is when my best ideas come, which means another draft is in order!

  10. I'm with you on Don Maass's books! I bought both of them (Writing the Breakout Novel, and his workbook) in the last year and used the exercises while writing my current story - which was a huge boost. I'm thinking after I do my 'one-draft' revision, I'll cheat and go back to his workbook for refining. But I'm just hoping to cut back on the number of revisions I've done previously. If anything, it will be an education of possibilities.


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