Revising Novels: Cleaning Up My Garbage Draft

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Revision…

I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time last November and actually reached the 50,000 word goal. I was very proud of myself for “winning” NaNo, but I was well aware that what I had written was a giant piece of trash-hole. I’m fine with that and actually count it as part of my process. My very first draft of anything, whether it be a script or a manuscript or an e-mail, is my .5 draft, or (more affectionately) my Garbage Draft. This draft does not see the light of day. I don’t show it to anyone for notes. I don’t even like to talk about it while it’s in this stage. I use my Garbage Draft as a way to write all the bad ideas out of my head and start to form a path to the right ones.

My NaNo manuscript was a Garbage Draft. I just wrote all the way through without getting hung up on consistency in plot or character and without backtracking to revise. I just vomited it out. I had an outline, but it only took me so far. I let the story take me the rest of the way, which is something I enjoy about writing a novel as opposed to a script — there is a lot more flexibility.

If you are someone who has never written a manuscript of over 100 pages (like myself), the idea of revising something so long and dense is incredibly overwhelming. But luckily for me, I found YA author Susan Dennard’s blog and clicked with her revision method. She really breaks it down into small manageable steps that actually make you excited to get started! The only thing is that it will be of better use to me after I rewrite my Garbage Draft and am officially on my First Draft. But her ideas are amazing, so I have been using a hybrid of her method and my own while working on my Garbage Draft.

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Taking Breaks

I am such a huge proponent of taking breaks that sometimes it gets in my way. Sometimes a weekend break turns into a week break, and then expands into a whole month. I think it’s worth mentioning that I have been working on developing a strict routine and being more disciplined when it comes to writing, but that does not diminish my love and enthusiasm for breaks!

When people talk about developing routines, working in breaks is always a really important part of that. You need to let your brain disengaged so new ideas can flow in uninhibited. It’s similar to the rest periods you would take when lifting or training for a marathon. But they talk about breaks in smaller terms, like an hour or two in your day. I’m talking about whole days or weeks!

After I finished a draft of something, I put it in a drawer and forget about it for about a month, usually. During that time I like to take a full week off from writing and catch up on reading and TV shows I love. Then I’ll work on new or other projects I have going on. Throughout all of this I will always have ideas come to me for the draft I have on the back burner. Many new thoughts pop into my head — new plot ideas, changes to characters, solutions to annoying problems, etc. I write those all down, but I keep my eyes off that locked away draft. Then, after the draft has cooked for a while in my mind, I will go back to it and dive into another round of revisions. I cannot stress enough how helpful this is for me.

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NaNoWriMo 2013: Week 3

2013-Winner-Facebook-CoverWell, I’m done! I reached my 50,000 words and validated my novel yesterday. It got pretty rough at the end of last week, and the stuff that was coming out of me was not the greatest (both in terms of words and mucus). I think it was a combination of being sick of my story in general and actually running out of story to write. It was the definition of pain. I was writing well over 2,000 words a day, usually hitting 3,000, and then it became difficult for me to get to 1,000. I started focusing on just making the NaNo minimum of 1,667 each day and that helped me to inch forward in this last week. I ended up adding in a few scenes here and there just to make the word count, but I’m not entirely sure they will be scenes that stand the test of time.

I’ll be taking a significant break from the manuscript before starting revisions. I need to rethink my ending, as well as add a few/handful/lot of new scenes. Barely squeaking past 50,000 words of story probably means it could stand to be expanded a pinch. From poking around on various websites and friends’ blogs, I found an incredible revision course or guide or whatever you want to call it on author Susan Dennard‘s website. She has a section with advice specifically for writers, and I’ve found it all very helpful. I enjoy working very methodically and having steps to cross off a list, so her approach to revision is exactly what I need. It looks time-consuming, but thorough. And I usually enjoy revising much more than I do writing the original draft (it’s easier to work from something that already exists), so I’m excited to give her method a try! I won’t be touching my MS for at least a month, however.

Ultimately, this was a great experience. I’m happy I did it, happy I finished, and happy I enjoyed the process. It helped me to write every day and stick with a project through to the end. I encourage anyone who is considering doing NaNo, or is a writer of any sort, to participate next year. Just do it. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and your writing, and writing in general!