Today’s post comes from WU friend and author Jael McHenry. Jael’s debut novel, The Kitchen Daughter, will be released by Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books in the Spring of 2011 (and you can’t wait, trust me; it’s a delicious read). Jael is, in her own words, an enthusiastic amateur cook, blogging about food and writing at the Simmer blog. She’s also the Editor-in-Chief of Intrepid Media.
And this post is fantastic. Take it away, Jael!
Since I’m turning in the revised manuscript of The Kitchen Daughter to my editor this week, I have revision on the brain. More precisely, on both brains: the left and the right.
You’ve heard of the idea that the right brain is creative, and the left brain is more logical, right? And it seems natural that writers would be heavily right-brained. But for me, the key to unlocking my right-brain creativity is getting all my left-brain infrastructure in order.
If I don’t know where I am in the process, I get overwhelmed instead of inspired. During a first draft I can measure my progress by word count, but in the many, many revisions that come after that, I need another way to keep track. Whether revisions are big or small, practical or inventive, from others (agents, editors, critique partners) or yourself, they can be attacked with left-brain logic. Here’s how I do it:
1. For big jobs, go to hard copy. I get my manuscript printed out and spiral-bound to make it easier to work with. I might use different colors of pen to indicate different things – my editor’s notes in blue, red for the first pass through, green for the next – or just scribble with whatever I’ve got on hand. The particulars aren’t important. What I like is the ability to look at the manuscript and see what I’ve marked up. It may not tell me how far I am from being done, but it tells me I’m making progress. And with hard copy, whatever text you add or subtract, the page numbers don’t change – which is a big plus for me when I’m responding to someone else’s comments that reference page numbers.
2. In soft copy, use a unique, searchable marker. I’ve tried highlighting and typed-in changes, as well as tracked changes in Word, and none of them works as well for me as two little characters: @@. It’s a marker, and not something that would ever occur in the manuscript naturally. @@ means I’m not done yet. @@ is a neon sign that says “DO MORE WORK HERE”. And when I search for @@ and Word tells me “the search item was not found”, that’s a great feeling.
3. Classify, count, and complete. If I have big things and small things to do, the easy thing to do is cross off all the small things first, but that’s not necessarily the right way to go. You might waste time perfecting a sentence in a scene you end up needing to delete. In the hard copy phase, I use different color Post-It notes or tape flags to indicate different things: blue for a page that needs a scene added or subtracted, green for anywhere a minor change is needed, yellow for something requiring research. Then I put all these on a central list and just start checking them off, one by one. (It helps if I include a little bit of information and a page number on the list – “add cake scene, p183” so I can pick something from the list that appeals to me at that moment.)
Of course, one brain is just one brain, whether it’s the left or the right side being used. These strategies work very well for me, and make my revisions more efficient. I look forward to crossing things off the list, instead of dreading sitting down at the keyboard. But I know writers who absolutely hate to work in longhand, or those who use Word’s tracked changes for every single change they make right up until the last moment when they click “Accept All Changes”. However you work best is how you work best.
(And when I described my revision process to my mom, one of my most valued readers, she reminded me that as a child I color-coded my Christmas list. So: the more things change….)
What process do you use to edit your work?
Follow Jael on Twitter @jaelmchenry.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s LindaH