Tuesday, May 31, 2011
The ADD Challenged Writer, part two
I've found in my own work that it's helpful to do a quick revision as soon as I finish the first draft. The reason for this is that I have most of the details of the story fresh in mind, but I can easily find glaring offenses. Typos and such start to jump out and I begin to see consistency problems. Usually these are in the form of scenes that overlap time periods. For example, Character A in Chapter 12 just finished a hard day of fighting crime and is ready for the weekend because it's now Friday night. Chapter 13 brings us back to character B who's plotting his next crime. He decides he'll need to go shopping tomorrow so he'll be ready for the weekend... Oops. It's still Thursday night in Chapter 13. I've got to change something.
Errors of consistency don't jump off the page and announce themselves. Instead, I find myself halting at the end of a page, thinking something's wrong. What did I just read? What didn't fit? I go back and re-read, analyzing the problem. Then I can refer back to my notes, possibly write out a new timeline, and get things rolling again. In this manner I get through the book in a day or three and fix most of the major issues. That way, when I come back I should be able to focus more on the details.
The other thing about my writing method is that I write my first draft bare-bones. I set the scene with very little description. Sometimes I skip character description altogether. This allows me to plow through the draft and have the entire story on paper while it's all fresh and exciting. Many of my books have been written in a period of about six weeks. That's a comfortable time frame for me, but that doesn't mean the book is done. Far from it. It just means I finished quickly and should have a fairly consistent, well-flowing draft. I now have the foundation upon which my novel will be constructed.
It also means that I won't have to delete 30,000 words on my first revision because I had to replace a chapter or two and move stuff around. I know that many writers finish their first draft at over 100,000 words and have to pare that down by at least ten percent. I haven't ever had this experience, and I hope I never do. I've always loathed books with an excess of descriptive prose, so I certainly don't see myself ever writing one.
Now, when I come back and do my revisions, I have a much clearer identification of the characters and scenes, and a better feel for the story. Now is the time to begin fleshing things out. I expand on dialogue and description. I often replace exposition with dialogue. I flesh out the details of setting: the weather, the smell of the air, the sounds...
After the first revision I like to set my story aside for a month or two. The longer, the better. I give myself time to forget, so that when I come back to the story, the words won't be so familiar. It's not quite like being a first-time reader, but it's a lot closer, and this method allows you to find issues with sentence and paragraph structure that you would not have noticed before. I guarantee it. However, some writers argue that this much revision will rob your book of character; that it will steal your voice and bury it in highly refined and uninteresting prose. I admit that this can be a problem, but much less so if you're aware of it and you use your editorial cursor sparingly. In fact, sometimes I find certain characters developing in such a way as I revise that I end up adding to their unique voice. I realize that they wouldn't have said something, or that they would have said it differently. In my opinion, this process is definitely worth it. Your mileage may vary.
And finally, never take Beta readers for granted. Good Beta readers are RARE. Did I mention they're RARE? Yeah, and they're also HARD TO FIND. Don't give them a draft. Don't even think about it. Revise your book. Weed out all of the above mentioned problems. Get it to the point that you wouldn't be afraid to show it to a New York editor, and then let them read it. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest is this: They only read it for the first time once. After that, they might as well be you. Once a reader is familiar with the work, they can't offer unbiased help. They can only do that once (if that, and if they can, you'd better appreciate the heck out of what they've done for you!).
I've found a couple other links dealing with this theme that present some unique ideas on the topic. When you're done here, you might want to take a look at:
The ADD Writer: Making Distraction Work for You
Confessions of an ADD Writer
Posted by Jamie Sedgwick - Jeramy Gates at May 31, 2011