Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Revise, Rewrite, or Start Over? by Marie Wells Coutu

How many drafts does it take to finish a book? And what, exactly, constitutes a “draft,” anyway?
Marie Wells Coutu
 

When I hear of someone writing six drafts—or twenty—of a novel, I’ve wondered what that entails. Does it mean she started fresh each time? Or is it simply how many times she went through the book making revisions?

An article in the July/August issue of Poets & Writers tells of an author working through several drafts of his debut novel with his agent and still having her reject it. He then “began the laborious process of retyping the entire novel all over again.” On that go-round, he changed his approach to telling the story, and the book was published two years later, but it sounds like he started over.


I’m on the ?? draft of my current work-in-progress. I’ve revised the beginning numerous times, based on comments from contest judges. (I’m grateful to say it has been a finalist in five different ones!) I’ve outlined and LINDYHOPped the story, rewritten the synopsis, waffled over whether the book is historical romance or historical with a romance thread. My critique partner and three professionals have weighed in with suggestions, and I’ve wordsmithed the first quarter of the book. Now I’m revising the plot yet again.


I’m at the point where I just want to get it DONE.


But here’s what I’ve come to realize: I need a writing and revision process.
Every successful author has his or her own process. James Scott Bell provides suggestions and checklists in Revision & Self-Editing. In Stein on Writing, Sol Stein calls it “triage,” meaning you tackle the most important fixes first.


Every writer will have his or her own method, but I’m beginning to figure out what mine needs to be. To produce a finished manuscript in less time, I need to make sure I have a solid plot early in the process. (I’m definitely not a “pantser.”) Then I should write a complete first draft before beginning revisions. When I’m satisfied the overall story works, my final step would be the wordsmithing—eliminating weasel words, fine-tuning the dialogue, ensuring all five senses are incorporated, making sure I’m showing and not telling, etc.


It won’t be easy. Tweaking the words and sentence structure is one of the first things I want to do. But I’m going to try putting that off until last, in hopes I can revise instead of having to completely rewrite the book over and over.


How about you? Do you have a set process for revising and editing your work? Or is it different with every book? Share in the comments.


About the Author
Marie Wells Coutu began making up stories soon after she learned to talk. At age seven, she convinced neighborhood kids to perform a play she had written. After a career writing for newspapers, magazines, state and local governments, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, she returned to her first love—writing fiction—at the age of fifty-five. 
The Secret Heart
by Marie Wells Coutu

Her newest novel, The Secret Heart, released in February from Write Integrity Press. Loosely based on the lives of Bathsheba and David, The Secret Heart is the third book in the Mended Vessels series. A prequel novelette of the heroine’s journal called The Divided Heart is available for the Kindle. 

Books in the series are contemporary re-imaginings of the stories of biblical women, including Queen Esther and the woman at the well. 

Her debut novel, For Such a Moment, won the Books of Hope Contest. Thirsting for More, the second book in the series was a finalist in the 2016 Selah Awards Contest and a semi-finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards sponsored by Florida Writers Association. 

An unpublished historical novel has also placed in five contests. She and her husband divide their time between Florida and Iowa. You can find more about Marie and her novels on her Facebook page (Author Marie Wells Coutu), at her website (MarieWellsCoutu.com), or follow her on Twitter (@mwcoutu)or on  Amazon.comhttp://www.amazon.com/

8 comments:

  1. Marie I'm there with you. Several rewrites (before finishing) and since I like paper copies it's easy to get confused what is the latest version when I start moving chapters around. With practice I'll figure what system works for me.

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    1. I know what you mean, Daphne! For my first novel, I had so many printed versions...and it took me years before I was willing to toss them. But I wrote that one on Microsoft Word. Once I started using Scrivener, I found it much easier to keep only the latest version, although I still have a couple versions on paper hanging around. 8-)
      Thanks for sharing!

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    2. I'm glad I'm not alone in this. 😊

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  2. I do what i call the "Fetch and Forward" process - i violate the "never read what you've got" rule and go back to the beginning of a chapter (or 2 o 3 chapters back) and read forward to get my brain back in the flow of the story - "Fetch" - and then my characters and i pick up where we left off - "Forward"

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    1. Robin, I love "Fetch and Forward"! That is such a cool name for it. Sounds like it really works for you. Rules are made to be broken if breaking them is better. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I outline, then write the entire story. That's followed by adding in additional scenes and tweaking others. I go through it again and fine-tune sentences before handing it off to an editor. But having said that, at any given time, I may add in another "something" that has popped into my head. So, in reality, I'm continually tweaking because after a new idea comes to mind or I go slightly off my outline, other things in the story need to be tweaked so everything fits together.

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    1. It works for you, Dawn. That's great! In fiction, just because you have an outline doesn't mean anything is set on stone. 😎

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