Revision Techniques and Gus the Skeleton

I've written at length on this blog about my process of bringing a story to life. Every writer approaches a story differently, depending on his or her day job, sleeping habits, length of manuscript, genre, gravitational pull of Jupiter, affinity for single-malt and/or political party affiliation.

There's a hell of a lot of variation out there and no set path to writing something that's guaranteed (a loaded word if there ever was one) to be any good. I read a great post by Cherie Priest the other day in which she halted work on a piece that had progressed to 30,000 words. That's a sizable chunk, folks, and I admire her courage to pull the plug and start anew. I think she does a fine job of illustrating the "why" and "how" of her decision there.

For me, it's a pretty simple formula: hang a rubber skeleton on the bathroom door.

A couple years back, Jeanne and I bought a bunch of Halloween supplies. I dork out big time for that particular holiday, so come September 28 or thereabouts, the house is filled with plastic bats and spiders and rats and little skull shaped candle holders. There's also a skeleton, we'll call him Gus, that I'd hung on the bathroom door from a little loop of elastic popping out of the top of his rubber skull. The closer I came to finishing the first draft of my first novel (86,000 words), the more he became an inspiration to me. When I got up to pace my way through a plot snag, he was there with that idiot grin. When I had to hit the can for a break...well, there was no missing him then.

That dude became my mascot.

I told myself that if I could lay out the skeleton, I'd come through and supply flesh in the second pass-through. It became my mantra, and when I saw that little sucker I was happy to get back to the word processor.

I never put him in the Halloween box, by the way. I moved him to the back bathroom where polite company doesn't have to see him. He prefers it that way.

And I've been paying a lot of attention to him lately. We're pert near done with the skeleton around these parts, ladies and gentlemen. I hope to be quaffing a celebratory cold'un come Saturday with the missus (been writing a lot of ranch lingo lately, don't you know it...) and then get geared up to start revisions next week.

My strategy will be the same. I look at three chapters at a time. I mark on the hard copy with a pen. I read my work someplace where I can be loud without drawing the attention of Low Men in Yellow Raincoats. I put the pages on an old clipboard I use and I mark the changes. I put 'em in the next morning, save three copies and hit another three chapters. I do this until I'm done, then let it sit and go back and read the whole damned book. Then, it's off to the agent. After I get her views on it, we do the whole danged dance all over again.

Yep, it takes some time. But at least that skeleton's there...

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