Tag Archives: revision

From coniferous forest to….

Currently pausing forward progress on my novel rough draft by going back and readjusting/revising generic mountainous forest setting description to…this.

Aka I did my research wrong in the beginning and I need to go back and adjust several chapters to be more awesome.

(Current wordcount: 245k)

Anti-Discouragement Pill

Last year I got really discouraged with my rough-draft writing.  I wanted whatever I was writing to come out exactly the way I wanted it to go on the first try.  In other words, I didn’t want writing to be a process, I wanted it to be the equivalent of spilling a perfect story out onto the page.   Granted, some of my frustration was illness-based.  I have a lot less control over my process now than I used to.

However, one day as I was musing over my frustrations, I realized something that has become quite a useful observation for me.  I realized that any form of art never spills perfectly onto the page on the first go. In fact, the process of drawing, painting, or other art forms is just that–a process.  Why should I expect my writing to be any different?  When I draw, first I do a thumbnail sketch, then a preliminary pencil sketch with various amounts of erasing and redrawing. Then I wait a few days or draw something different so I can have a fresh view.  Then I ink, then I apply markers, and so on.  Nothing skips magically from my head onto the sketchbook page.

Writing is the same.  Whether you’re an “outliner” or a “discovery writer”, no rough draft is ever the final draft. Ever.  There is always something to tweak or make better. Sometimes you have to completely erase and “redraw” a section so that it comes closer to how you want it to go, and so on.

As soon as I realized that writing is a cousin to drawing, I instantly felt better. However, I’ve found some difficulty trying to explain my epiphany to others. So, in April when I was working on a watercolor experiment with the help of a friend, I took progress shots, and now I’m sharing them with you.

Here we go!

Step Zero- Initial Idea.

This is all in your mind. Some of it is vague, some of it is crystal clear and longing to be captured “just so”.   You hope, just like every other time, that what you’re able to put on paper will match what’s in your head.

Step One – Thumbnail sketch.

Thumbnails, because they’re vague in parts, detailed in others, tend to capture your Initial Idea better than the steps following it. This can be a subject of frustration.

Step Two – Pencil sketch.

I didn’t take a photo of just the pencils, but you can see them here, lightly drawn, getting the basic shapes of what I want.  Even just this first step took some erasing and redrawing to get the shapes closer to how I wanted them. Already there was some disappointment in how the sketch differed from thumbnail and my Initial Idea, but I kept going.

Thumbnail + Pencil Sketch

Step Three – Basic background.

Sketching with paint, is more like it. Trying to get a feel for how the background should function behind the foreground.

Basic Background

Step Four – More depth.

More Depth

Hesitating, Considering

Step Five – Going All Out & Taking Risks.

I really didn’t know how to go from Step 4 to Step 5. How do you fill in a background with color and shapes so that it will function as a sort of hazy background and not detract from the foreground when it’s a finished piece? Yeah, I didn’t know. I badgered a friend (who knows a lot more than I do) with questions. I hesitated and considered for a long time. Then, gathering all my newly-acquired instructions, I made the plunge with crossed fingers and bated breath. Sometimes, we really don’t know what we’re doing or how to achieve the effects we want. But we try anyway and tell ourselves that if we break it, we can still fix it. The point is not to give up but to keep moving forward–and ask for help.

Fleshed-out Background

Step Six – Color correction.

The background turned out too blue for my liking. I have a huge dislike for blue and pink wildflower fields that certain impressionists have done. So I sought help again and tried a wash of yellow over it. Lines blurred more than I liked, but at least the grass is green again. I also tried my hand at some underpainting on the fairy. I didn’t do it quite right, but there was no harm to my attempt, and now I know better.

A Greener Spring

Step Seven – The Faerie & The Poppy.

More painting, and then I brought out my watercolor pencils  for the foreground, which I enjoy working with.   I ended up spilling orange paint on the wing, however, and was unsuccessful at blotting it all up, so it became an accidental feature of the piece. I freaked out at the time, but besides drifting further away from my Initial Idea, there was no lasting harm or foul, and I adapted the mistake to make it work with the rest of the picture.  (Remember how this can apply to writing?)

The Faerie & The Poppy

Step Eight – Flattening, Inks, Details.

Next, my watercolor paper was curling, so I learned the technique to straighten the paper and did that overnight.  Then I inked the foreground to make it pop more from the background, and added the finer details.  I inked with a migraine at the time, so since I could barely see, my hand strayed many times from where I wanted it to go. Each time I made a mistake, I tried to adapt it so it appeared like something I did on purpose.

Flattening, Inks, Details

Here’s a  close-up:


Summary: The whole process took me about a month from start to finish. I worked on it off and on, weighing each step, trying to figure out how to get the piece closer to how I wanted it to go since most of the time I just didn’t know, and seeking help when I needed it.  The process would have gone much faster if I knew more of what I was doing, but the process itself: the thumbnail sketch, sketching and erasing till I had what I wanted, the layering and tweaking of colors, waiting for things to dry before I moved to the next portion, asking for help and a more professional opinion, the final detail work, and adapting to my many mistakes–this doesn’t change.

Revision Plan B

Alright, deep breath, here goes.

The Problem with Revision.

I’ve been thinking about revision and how to handle it ever since I sent a short story to Critters.org and got 20+ critiques.  The results were very confusing–and actually quite overwhelming.  Each piece of advice contradicted the next. What one person loved another person hated. How could I sort through all these different editing opinions (unfortunately most of the comments fell into the “editing” rather than “alpha-reading” category) and find the solution to what I should do to make my story better?  I asked for help in how to sort through the pile of contradictions, and I got some good advice, but still what I should do remained unclear.

So, as I am wont to do, I kept my question in the back of my mind as I browsed authors’ websites the following months.  For example, Beth Revis wrote a fascinating series of posts on her revision process. I recommend the read, if you’re like me and curious about what others do.

The Question.

Gradually, my general, murky confusion about revision refined itself into a particular question:

I have met writers who are too arrogant and self-assured to take criticism, and their writing and their stories suffer for it. I don’t want to be so confident that I can’t listen to much-needed advice. I have also met writers who are tossed about by every wave, applying every passing comment until their story is barely cohesive or coherent and hardly unique. I don’t want to be like that, either.

How can I make my stories better? How do I decide which advice to follow and when? What in the world do I use as a yardstick to measure advice against?

Revision Plan B.

After much thought and consideration, I have come up with a plan–or a rule of thumb.

Assuming that I have a vision of how I want the story to go, then,

  • Any advice that resonates with and adds to my vision of the story, I will take. In other words, I’m only going to make changes that add to my vision of how I want the story to go.
  • Any advice that diminishes my vision, comes into conflict with it or detracts from it, I will ignore.

This plan still necessitates change and taking advice. I refuse to be stuck in my own ways, alone in my ruts.  However, it also means that I am free to say no, and now I have a reason for doing so that makes sense, rather than on the basis of an  arbitrary “I don’t think I should” feeling or simple stubbornness.

As M Williams said when I proposed this plan, “Some people’s advice is going to be motivated by a desire to help, but it’s going to be advice that wants to make the story into the kind of story they would want to tell, instead of the kind of story you want to tell! . . . [This plan] lets you look at advice and figure out which advice is useful and which advice takes your story away from where it’s supposed to go! It’s humble and learning-ready, but it still protects the integrity of the story you’re trying to tell.”

It also means I will carefully consider all advice before I dismiss it, and if there’s anything I’m unsure about, I can hold onto it for later reconsideration.  I’ve actually done this a lot.  Advice that at the time I dismissed because I was too close to the story, I have still held onto and have later adopted as time has gone on.  (There is hope for me yet?)  For example, in my current novel WIP, one of the character’s names was originally different, but I received some really strong advice that her name needed to be changed, and for good reason. There were too many other connotations associated with it. I hesitated, but decided not to change it at that time because I didn’t feel right about the decision. However, I held onto that piece of advice, and just last month I found a solution that would continue my vision of the story and also address the legitimate concern about her name.

A Caveat on Reactions.

During Lettermo last month, I ran my revision plan by Mary Robinette Kowal to see what she thought. She approved the plan then brought up an excellent point.  She wrote,

Generally, I react one of four ways.

  1. Doh! I can’t believe I did that. You are totally right.
  2. I see why you had that reaction. That isn’t how I’d fix it, but I know how to.
  3. I don’t understand. Can you clarify?
  4. Hell, no.

#4 is actually a variant on #3. In that, if a reader’s idea is so wildly different from mine, I might be communicating the wrong thing. It’s worth looking at that one again in case they are pointing at an actual problem but misidentifying it.

I mulled over this off and on for about a month, and here’s what I’ve come up with in how it relates to my revision plan.

When looking at writing advice, it’s important to try to piece together why the reader had the reaction they did.  If they’re a good alpha-reader, they should be articulating their reading experiences and giving just their reactions to the text without any advice. But the majority of the time, people tend to act as an editor when they give feedback, so it’s useful to try to dissect why they are saying what they are.  Perhaps what they are really communicating is that what you tried to get across was actually unclear, they didn’t understand a passage, or one or two sentences at the beginning of the chapter wasn’t enough to anchor an important idea they will need to understand xyz, and so on and so forth.


I’m about to do a revision stint on a few stories, so here goes nothing! I also wish everyone best of luck in their revisions.

SF prompt draft 1.5

So, since I feel kind of bad that I’ve only ever shared rough drafts, I thought I would revise the rapid-fire prompt I slapped up in my last post. Granted, this isn’t a priority, so I only took about 20 minutes to go through and revise, but I thought I would share so you can see how drafts can improve.

Everything highlighted in red are sentences that I’ve either changed or moved around. Most of what bothered me about the first draft was the lack of internal logic. The draft was a series of sentences that had no reason to run together, only haphazardly forming images and telling a story.  This is okay for a first draft, especially one written with the idea of getting as much out as I could, but it is not appropriate for a second draft. So I moved a lot of things around, reworked and reworded. I added some more emotional impact. I took out bits that seemed unnecessary. Though the ending needs more work, I left it as is for now, mostly because the prompt ends on a cliffhanger, and so the details of what’s next don’t matter as much.  I probably should have been just as careful at the end as at the beginning, but this isn’t something I’m going to be submitting–I would have to finish the story in order to do that.


Ryan had never seen her like this before, and he never wanted to see her like this again. She lay on the bed, eyes blank and sightless, short hair matted with sweat and plastered to her forehead and face. Her brow, normally creased in thought, was smooth and empty, slick with the shine. He reached out and carefully drew back her hair away from the implant at her temple above her ear. He knew better than to touch it, though a part of him yearned to slip in his drive, to link up with her hardware, get some idea of what had happened to her, maybe pull her free of whatever had her. He knew better than to try, of course, but it did not stop the wanting nor the feeling of helplessness as he sat uselessly by her bedside. But what had her? It’d been just a normal gig, a casual run through of data, schematics, public forums: information gathering. Nothing should have gone wrong–but now here they were, surrounded by sterile white walls and professionals.

 “Katja!” he called again, the one thing he could do, but there was no response.

“We’re losing her,” the doctor said, but that was obvious by the slowing blip-blip of the heart monitor, the jagged lines on the screen built into her headboard losing their pitch and crests. “Damn it.” The doctor left her side, reaching up to tap his implant as he began a rapid fire of instructions to the nurse link.

Ryan squeezed Katja’s hand, hoping that she would feel it, but her hand was loose in his. Clammy, too. Old sweat turned to a chilly coldness. Terror seized him. “Let me link with her!” he bellowed, fear making his voice louder than he’d intended.  Professionals never responded well to panic.

“That is the last thing we want you to do,” the doctor said, reaching for some wires, sorting through them quickly. “You were right in bringing her here immediately. This isn’t something you can do, kid. Now let us do our job.” The doctor chose a probe and hooked it to her implant.

The moment the drive connected and the connection light began to pulse and flicker, movement swelled within her. Katja’s eyes fluttered and her chest rose, her back arched as she heaved in air. Her lips moved over unspoken words. Her fingers jolted in Ryan’s, clenched instinctively. Ryan rose from his chair, ignoring the doctor who was now typing hastily at his station, to lean over her and come into her line of sight. “Katja? Look at me. Stay with me,” he pleaded.

“Ryan,” her lips formed his name and she reached up a hand to him. He lowered his head to meet her halfway, coming down to hear the breath leave her lips, ragged. “Surfa–She hissed out the word only half-formed on her lips. “Surface!” It had always been her word for coming out of that other world like a diver coming up from an ocean, breaking the waves of cyberspace, the Internet: that networked world of alternate realities so numerous as to be impossible to count. Fiction and reality all melded into one. The sweet seduction of creation and possibility. The danger of self and loss, the skirting of distance and intimacy.

Katja reached for him, her palm bumping clumsily into his cheek. He grabbed her hand as her finger reached his temple implantbut too late.

She tapped the button, and he connected.