Sunday, December 20, 2009


I just finished the second draft of my time travel YA (young adult) novel, which I'm tentatively calling Killing Kessler. I started the rough draft last May, and it took me three months to finish. Mind you, when I say rough, I mean rough. The characters go through the motions and say their lines, but with minimal props, settings, inner dialogue, or even much emotion.

Then I began the second draft. For me, the purpose of the second draft is to flesh the story out. This is when I add the sounds, smells, tastes, and textures. This is when the characters share their feelings, think about their situations, and really come to life. This step takes at least as much time and effort as the rough draft. I used to dread revision, but I've grown to love it. During this draft, I concentrate on who my characters are, what they're thinking and feeling, and the richness of the world around them.

The next step: I read the manuscript out loud. My family thinks I'm insane, but my ear catches all sorts of problems my eye has missed. In particular, I find words that repeat too often, action sequences that don't make sense, and awkward phrasing.

After the read-aloud, I ask a few trusted friends to read the manuscript. By now I'm so close to it, I don't notice things that will jump out at someone reading it cold. When I had a critique partner review a chapter of my previous novel, she noticed that I had a character clinging to her husband's dead body in the paragraph after his corpse had disappeared. This is just one example, but obviously the feedback from these readers is invaluable. If you're one of these people, you have my eternal gratitude.

After that, I repeat the previous two steps as many times as it takes to make the manuscript the best I feel I can make it. Then, and only then, is it ready for submission.

Lately, I've been thinking about my revision process. I once spoke with a successful author who said she doesn't use an outline, and she makes only minimal revisions. She thinks about the book for a long time before she begins writing, but once she does, it comes out in nearly final form. While I would love to write like that, I know my mind doesn't work that way. I have to get my thoughts on paper first, no matter how poorly expressed, before I can put on the polish. So now I'm wondering, what do the rest of you do? What is your revision process like? Do you enjoy revision, or it is a necessary (or unnecessary) evil?

I'll be taking a break over the holidays, so...until January, happy writing, and may your coffee pot never run dry.


Tess said...

I agree with you about reading it outloud -- very helpful.

and, happy happy holidays, Susan :D

waytenmom said...

Oh my goodness, the "reading out loud" thing brought back my professional proofreading days!! No, you're not crazy (and hanging onto that non existent corpse would have presented quite the challenge when your book made it to the big screen!!). I also read out loud and BACKWARDS, so if your family things you're nuts doing it forward, trying going backwards for a few pages. Maybe one of them will get you coffee at least since you'll sound like you've definitely gone off the deep end. Happy holidays to you!!!!

Susan Fields said...

Happy, happy holidays to you, too - Tess! I absolutely loved the video on your blog - what a beautiful family.

Susan Fields said...

Oh no, Paula - backwards! I've never tried that, I'm not sure my tongue/brain could handle it. I can see where it would help you find those little mistakes, like missing words that your brain automatically supplies. And it might be worth it, if it got me some coffee. :) Happy holidays to you and all the Kiger clan!

Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

I do a lot of revising while I write, which means the beginning chapters are pretty polished and the end chapters--not so much. After I finish the first draft, I put it aside, then read through the whole thing for flow. Then I send it out to critiquers.

This latest ms, though, I've also worked through two different plot workbooks. I don't know if it's helped or not. Sometimes, I don't think I know what I'm doing and if it weren't for my reviewers, I'd never get a book to submission form. :)

Velva said...

I am far from writing a book but, for work articles and food blogging, I find that writing and reading aloud are quite helpful. As a precaution, I almost always have someone else read anything that I will be providing to someone else.

Happy holidays to you and your family.

Susan Fields said...

Thanks for your input, Amy. It's amazing how different people's work styles are. I can't stand to revise as I go along. My first draft is like a race to the finish line. Of course, that makes the second draft take a lot longer, but whatever works, I guess. That's interesting about the plot workbooks - I've never tried one. Did you find them worthwhile?

Susan Fields said...

Velva, I always have someone read over my stuff first, too. Usually it's my husband. I tell him that's what he gets for marrying a writer - he should have known better. He now knows he's going to have to review my blog each Sunday before I post.

Happy holidays to you, too - and thanks so much for the wonderful recipes you post on your blog! They all look so delicious.

Sharon Mayhew said...


Congratulations on getting your second draft completed. I wonder when your critiquing buddies are goin to get a glimpse???

If you'll recall, the author you are talking about was a journalist for years before she began writing novels...and she does now have four novels in bookstores and three more about to come out next year (so far).

Your writing is wonderful and full of beautiful details. Not everyone has that ability.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Susan Fields said...

Sharon, you'll definitely be getting a glimpse soon. Thanks so much for always being willing to read what I send you! I didn't realize that Laura was a journalist before writing novels, or that she has three more books due out next year - that's awesome!