Writing revision techniques

Revision has always been a rather terrifying concept for me. People will tell you: "Writing is hard." No, writing should be the best and easiest part, you should be excited to get those first words down on paper. Writing is easy. Revising is hard. And it is important to note that there is a huge difference between revision and editing: and up until recently, I rolled the two together. Now that I know there is a clear and distinct line between the two, it feels a lot more comfortable to think about. During my Creative Writing class my teacher started to discuss revision. I'll be honest, it's a concept that paralyzes me with fear. Mostly because I don't understand it. But I can admit, happily, that he described it in such a way that some of the fear has ebbed.

The first thing my teacher did was ask us a riddle:

"What is the difference between a great writer and a good one? What is the difference between a beginning writer and a good one? It's the same difference between a beginning writer and a great one."

Stop me if you've heard this one before...

The answer is...


The second thing my teacher did was introduce a book, and I hope you've heard of it: The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E.B. White. As of April 14th, 2016 the book is available free through Amazon for their Kindle edition (or any Android phone with the Kindle Reader app on it). [Below is not an affiliate link, just a preview from Amazon]

I've owned the book in the past but pretty much have to pretend like I didn't: I don't remember reading it in the last five to ten years. My Creative Writing teacher swears that everyone needs to own this book. I took Amazon up on the offer and snatched it up for free.



Revision Techniques and Advice

"Be willing to change each word, each punctuation mark." - Creative Writing teacher, Mr. Jonathan Frey

Other techniques for revision that were suggested:

  • To literally re-write your manuscript: re-type each and every word (or hand write). This will give you the opportunity to reacquaint yourself with your story. Every. Single. Word. Again.
  • Always read your story out loud.
  • Move or change your writing location. If you wrote Draft 1 in your office, work on Draft 2 at your favorite coffee shop or public library. This will help you disassociate from any environmental influences or baggage.
  • Read your manuscript in a different format than you wrote it in: if you typed it, print it off and read it on plain white paper. If you hand-wrote it, type it up and read it on the computer. It will help give you a different and new perspective by forcing you to physically see the work differently.
  • Have outside readers read it (preferably someone who doesn't like you or your work. Don't have your mother (or boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend) read it, because they will not be able to give you an honest opinion. Choose someone impartial. Someone who hates you is best because they won't be worried about hurting your feelings.
    • Author's note: Do as I say, not as I do. I have my boyfriend and my best friend read my work all the time because A: I trust them, and B: they're accessible to me. C: they may not be able to give me an unbiased opinion but I have to work with the resources available to me. So if you fall into that same category of "I only feel comfortable with X, Y, Z - then use X, Y, Z and just remember you'll have to learn to be more critical of your own work to make up for what they, and yourself, cannot see.
  • Use different fonts for different drafts of the story. My Creative Writing teacher has a writer friend who does his first draft in a "super secret font," and his second and follow up drafts in something else. This helps get the author into the correct mode, just by looking at the fonts.
  • Research responsibly. Yes, a certain amount of research is going to be required--you certainly need to make sure if you're including birds or trees in your story that they are the correct ones. Just make sure that you're actually researching and not just procrastinating by looking things up on Wikipedia for six hours.
    • "As a writer, you have a unique responsibility to know everything." J. Frey
  • Read the work of others. Only through reading the work of others and catching their mistakes (on a line-by-line level or the "big picture") will you begin to understand how to critically look at your own work.
    • "We workshop [read and critique] in order to read the work of others. We are terrible readers of our own work." - J. Frey
    • During workshop--we hone our own critical reading skills through the process of critiquing our peers. The purpose is not for writer's benefit--but for us as a reader.

Just like writing -- no revision process is the same! What works for me (if you figure that out, let me know!), may not work for you, and vice versa. Do you have something not listed on this list? Something you'd like to share about what works for you after a first draft? Or even a 20th? Help your fellow writers out! Share it in the comments, or write your own blog about what works for you!

Or do you have a success story about revision? Someone who really helped you revise critically? Or a revision horror story..? An over zealous editor, perhaps? Tell me a story!

I wrote another blog about revision earlier this year: Revising a manuscript: share your first step. Although now that I look back, that may be focused more on the editing side of revision (more on that later).

Running Outline and Draft #1.5 for The Burning City

Part of the writing process doesn't always mean writing story content. Sometimes it means editing (excuse me while I go and claw my eyes out), sometimes it means stopping and reading, re-reading, and sometimes it means changing. I just finished reading through 62,000 words and 10 chapters of The Burning City. After a few panic attacks, a few moments of extreme weakness, and some time spent alone with my story: I realized it wasn't in as bad a shape as I thought. I'm working on a new outline, and I'll be making some minor and major changes to my existing manuscript. I'm going to keep sharing the story as I write it because that's all part of the process. You know I'm not afraid to share hideous first, tenth or twentieth drafts with you. I can only hope that someday, when someone sits down with a copy of The Trials of Blood, maybe they'll know that it can be done and it's not a simple process. Maybe they'll know someone else failed before they succeeded. A lot. And didn't give up, and neither should they.

I can dream, right?

Dreaming has got me through one draft, and half of a second, and a handful of short stories and half-started stories. Dreaming has connected me with people, made friends out of strangers, and elevated characters from the page to my heart. So dream, damn it, and never stop.

Never stop writing, either. Advice I need to take a bit more often. I'm thankful for the friends in my life that take ten seconds out of their lives to say, "Keep writing." Because that means: "Keep dreaming." "Keep going." "I believe in you." "I love Malisyn as much as you do." "I want to see the end of the story."

Thank you.

2015-06-06 14.52.55b

I have successfully settled in to a new apartment. I have two room mates. I have bills to pay, a job I enjoy(ish) and food in the fridge. I have friends and family who love me, more video games than I have time to play, and any number of cats to cuddle with should the need arise. Five months ago I would never have believed I'd ever be happy again.

I'm happy to be wrong.

I dyed my hair purple; I wasn't happy with dark brown. Too normal. Not me.

At first, I blamed an emotional disruption for The Burning City halting in it's tracks. It was true that my life had spiraled out of control--but even now that I've maintained it, my story hasn't come back to me yet. So I had to reconsider: what stopped my story? What fell short? And after a while, I realized that I had lost sight of where I wanted the story to go, ultimately. My outline had run dry. My plot line became cloudy.

My solution was to begin with a running outline. I can't recall what writing book I picked up the concept from, but it's basically this: as you read through your manuscript, write down the events that happen. Simple, a few lines each. An alternative method is to copy and paste the first and last paragraph of each chapter to try and keep track of what happened. That was too vague for me.

2015-05-15 18.16.41b

I printed off a chapter at a time. As I read it, I wrote in a small notebook. I took some character notes but mostly plot points, so I could reacquaint myself with my characters and story. I needed to see where I stopped loving the story.

Eventually I started typing my  notes in to the computer, and highlighted the parts that were the most relevant.

2015-06-19 11.12.23b

I changed it a little when I re-typed my notes, I color-coded sections to make it easier for me to read. Blue for plot, purple for plot considerations.

I had a cat assistant at some point, but she wasn't overly helpful. (Artemis asleep behind my monitor.)

The Plan for June and July

So now you know what I've been doing: getting reacquainted with the story and finding out that I need to make changes. What's the next step? The obvious answer is: writing. But the not-so-obvious part to non-writers, is that it isn't that simple. It sounds simple. It isn't.

Step 1: Make a new outline for The Burning City with the new information discovered/created during the re-reading phase Step 2: Make a list of scenes and plot points that I want to write about. Step 3: Use July and CampNaNoWriMo to write 25,000 words towards The Burning City to make up for lost time!

Do I think I have 25,000 words on the back burner? Yes. Maybe not all new words (some may come from re-writing scenes) but I believe I have enough of a new story to do it in the month of July.

What Do You Need From Us?

What do I need from you? Understanding. I don't even need support, I know I have it: I just need everyone to be a bit patient as I scrape up my story entrails back in to a jar and shake them up. These things take time, and the story will be better for it. Feel free to re-read the story from my Chapter 1 draft, or hop over to my Facebook page and give me some love. Otherwise, I'll see you next month some time!

But if you want to support me financially, which is always awesome: remember that I make 1 1/2" pin-back buttons for a stupidly cheap amount of money.


Resources for Writing: Text to Speech software (TTS)

As a writer, you're often told that you should read your work aloud. You've either read it somewhere, or been told by another writer, and it's true. What other writers, friends and experts don't always remember: we're human. And as writers, we also run the risk of being extreme introverts, or stricken by anxiety or social stigmas. We write because, just maybe, we communicate best silently.

If you also fit the writer stereotype that is also easily embarrassed, shy or a hermit, that may not be an option for you. Personally, I'm too shy to read aloud when anyone is in the house. Also, when the house is empty. So, never.

Hearing your work read aloud helps you find inconsistencies, missing words, repeated words and other things you can miss by reading quietly.

I had to turn to a Text to Speech program (abbreviated TTS), one that was free and I could adjust the speed. My search led me to find NaturalReader 13.

The free version includes the fully functioning software to read aloud text, free voices and speed control. I find that slowing the reading down to 0 or -2 works best for me.


NaturalReader 13 TTS software for writers


You can also change features like the color that the reading text is highlighted (the default is glaring yellow), and the font of the document. I made mine Liberation Serif, size 12 font to match my manuscript.

NaturalReader 13 TTS software for writers


NaturalReader 13 TTS software for writers


NaturalReader 13 TTS software for writers

The voice options for the free version are, admittedly, lacking. You'll be provided with one female and male US English voice, and one female UK English voice. None of them are overly "natural" sounding, but it gets the job done. You are listening for flow, missing words and repeated words. If your only option is a computer, make the best of it. I would recommend springing for the paid version just for the voices alone.

NaturalReader 13 TTS software for writers

Make it part of your routine; after you've written, listen to it. Make minor changes. You'll be surprised at the words you think you wrote and missed or repeated.

What does it sound like?

The interface and layout is nice, but what does it actually sound like? I've recorded a few samples (poorly) to give you an honest representation.

Hazel, UK English at Speed 0

[audio wma="http://michellebrumley.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/naturalreader-speed0.wma"][/audio]


Zira, US English, speed -2

[audio wma="http://michellebrumley.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/naturalreader-speedneg2.wma"][/audio] David, US English, speed -2

[audio wma="http://michellebrumley.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/naturalreader-speedneg2david.wma"][/audio]

If you're so inclined: the paid version has features such as more natural sounding voices, the ability to export your spoken text to .MP3s as well as being able to create and modify pronunciation. It's on my personal wish list! You can find a full breakdown of the free and paid versions here.

If you'd like to try the features of NaturalReader 13 without having to download software, they have an Online Text to Speech program available here. It will give you an idea of the "premium" voices available for use.

Do you have experience with another Text To Speech software? Tell me about it in the comments! Writers deserve to have your own experience and expertise.

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