Heavy Engineering 2: The Sequel

Or ‘Things I’ve learned and mistakes I have made whilst revising’

I’m still in the thick of my revisions, but I can see light at the end of the tunnel. Not that this story will be anywhere near completion when this stage is over – still have loads to do – but (hopefully) the industrial heavy lifting will be done relatively soon, leaving me with a halfway coherent tale. Maybe. If I’m lucky.

Most of it has been by trial and error (mainly error), so I’ve decided to blog a list of things I have learned during this stage.

1) You can’t afford to be precious. I murdered a darling the other day that actually, physically hurt. It was only a small scene, but I liked it. But, at the end of the day, it added nothing to the story. So it had to go. Along with most of the first draft. Because first drafts are shit.

2) Be prepared to re-write most of your draft. I’ve mentioned this before, but I am still staggered by how much I have had to re-write. Not one chapter has escaped, and most of them have been almost totally re-written. I was worried that I was re-writing too much, but according to far more experienced writers than me, this is totally normal.

3) Don’t sweat the small stuff. I have a big note on the first page of my folder which reads ” STOP WORRYING ABOUT THE PROSE AND GET THE REWRITE DONE”. Because when you’re hoofing chapters around, the last thing you need to be worrying about is how many adverbs you’re using. Leave that for a later edit.

4) Keep meticulous tabs on your changes. I didn’t and had to spend over an hour yesterday renaming all my files because the chapter order had changed and I hadn’t kept up to date with renumbering my files. Learn by my mistake!

5) Print out and keep an up to date hard copy. I know lots of people do everything digitally, but for me, having a hard copy to physically write on and move around has been a godsend. Even when my computer files were names wrong, I could sort them out because I had the physical hard copy in from of me. Without that, I would have been well and truly screwed.

6) Remember to concentrate on what you have done, not what you haven’t. Just for your sanity’s sake. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed at the sheer amount of stuff you still have to do, so take a moment to remember how far you’ve already come.

7) Don’t be afraid to experiment. Not all your revisions will work, but it’s not time wasted.  Even if the scene doesn’t make the cut, or ends up being just a flight of whimsy, I’ve found these still count towards learning about your characters and the world they inhabit.

8) Save often, and in multiple places. Five minutes ago, my 3 year old daughter decided to play on mummy’s laptop whilst I was cleaning her potty and managed to delete this entire blog. Yes, that actually happened. Thankfully, I had saved it. In the past, this wasn’t the case, and I’ve lost entire chapters due to either my own incompetence (saving over files I shouldn’t have saved over) or my kids mucking around with my computer.

9) Try to revise / re-write in order. Again, this is just my experience, but jumping around all over the place has just meant I now have double the mess to clear up. Now I note down my ideas and save them for when that scene would naturally come up in sequence. That way, I know the build up and how to approach them properly, rather than guessing and then having to re-write most of the re-write so it fits in my the previous chapter’s re-write.  (Boy, that’s a lot of re-writes!)

I was going to add in a ten, something along the lines of ‘try to enjoy what you’re doing’, but that’s so lame I’m almost ashamed to admit to it. So I’ll sign off with a simple ‘you’re not alone’ and then go and stare, half in despair, half in happiness at my half finished second draft.


4 thoughts on “Heavy Engineering 2: The Sequel

  1. Gerry Fenge says:

    Re No8, Saving: Have you discovered Dropbox? You can save to the ether and retrieve on any machine. I used to save to memory stick – still do – but Dropbox provides a great huge memory stick in the sky. (Very handy for shunting files between computers.)

    Oh, and number 10 has got to be ‘Enjoy what you are doing.’ (Or more precisely ‘admit you enjoy it’)

    • I have yet to discover Dropbox – sounds like a good idea (and far more practical than Googledocs, which seems to hate Open Office with a vengeance). I shall go and investigate – thanks, Gerry!

      I find that whilst I am enjoying re-crafting the story into something far more satisfying, the mess that comes with it – the ripped apart scenes, chapters that do not have proper beginnings or endings because they’ve been swapped around so much, the plot threads that still need tying up because they only came to be halfway through and need to be backfilled – is almost intolerable. I say almost, because whilst it is hideous, I’m still here… 😉

  2. Skylark says:

    Really interesting, useful blog. For saving different version, I use CVS – can’t remember what it stands for as it’s my clever computer husband who set it up for me but it’s something to do with version control. Basically, it allows me to save in layers – every time I make big changes and I want to save that version, I ‘commit’ to the changes and it become version 1.1, then next time I’ll have version 1.2 etc. The great thing about it is that at any point in the future, I can review the history of my changes and go back to a previous version if I want to retrieve something that I deleted but now need or whatever. And you can write handy notes alongside each version so that you know which one it is and what date you committed that version. It’s great 🙂

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