but the demons thing i only figured out just now
I'm nearing the end of today's writing tasks, and it's not even 8:30 PM. What the crud am I gonna do with myself for the rest of the night? Answer: Probably replay PixelJunk Eden until either my eyes fall out or my thumbs fall off, whichever comes first. Then go to bed early. LUXURY.
During today's short story revision session, I finally moved out of the babble stage and into the drafting process. This shift got me thinking about how I revise stuff. Like I said before, some stories are more fun to revise than others (which isn't the same as being easier or taking less time) and some revision strategies seem more appropriate to some stories than others. But I'm starting to realize that every story I revise requires all my revision strategies, though not all in the same proportion. Which is to say, each time I produce a new version of any given story, the process moves through (loosely speaking) three phases, remaining in each phase for whatever period of time is required and revisiting those phases as necessary.
And I'm gonna blog about those phases, because 1. someone reading this might find such a blog post useful or at least interesting, and 2. blogging about this sort of stuff forces me to think about it closely and concretely terms, and that usually helps to refine and improve my process.
So. Here are the three (loosely speaking) phases of revision I wind up spending time in:
Identifying problems. I wouldn't be revising the story in the first place if it didn't have problems. So the first step of any revision is to identify those problems. This may involve my printing out the existing draft and scribbling on it a bunch, then translating those scribbles into a neat and orderly list. Sometimes the list isn't so neat and orderly. Usually neatness and order break down several items as I discover that the problems are fractal--every problem contains a multitude of sub-problems, each of which contain sub-sub-problems, and so forth down through the layers of the onion whose core is made up of DESPAIR.
I'm finding the DESPAIR quotient non-negotiable. There is always at least one hot second, usually more, during which I just know the story is worthless, nothing will make it better, there is no justifying the time and effort I've spent on it thus far, and shame on me for even thinking I might submit it in any form to professional paying markets. Lately I've been dealing with DESPAIR by simply writing that down on my list: "Problem #92: Story is garbage and should be buried in the compost under the used tea bags and moldy zucchini peelings." And then I just keep going.
It's sort of like rock climbing that way. Several years' practice at the climbing gym didn't "cure" my gut-level fear of heights; instead, it taught me how to keep climbing through an attack of acrophobia rather than freezing up and hanging there trembling until I came off the wall. It's also sort of like the meditation ideal of acknowledging the negative thought in a neutral way. Yep, that's a thought I'm having. Next?
Finding Solutions. This is where I spent the first week I had the current story on the metaphorical workbench. It was fun! Basically, for each listed problem, I opened up a new document and babbled to myself about it, restating the problem, brainstorming possible solutions, and pouncing on new ideas as they arose.This process spawned new documents and more enthusiastic babbling as other facets of worldbuilding or character creation or backstory came to light.
And just as the problem-identification phase has its demon DESPAIR, the problem-solving phase has its own demon: DEPRECATION. "Yeah, you're having fun babbling, sure, but are all these hundreds of words actually getting you closer to a new draft? No. They are not. Basically you are wasting your time. You are pretending to get work done when you actually aren't working at all. That's why you're having fun. If you were actually doing anything worthwhile, it would not be fun." That's what the demon says. I'm working on responding to the demon with "Yep, you're totally right" in my most neutral and boring interior voice while I continue babbling away uninterrupted.
That demon actually means well, but it's laboring under a big misconception. It thinks that finding a solution and implementing it should happen simultaneously. And, well, maybe another writer can go right from "here is the problem" to perfectly polished final draft words all in one go; I, at this time, cannot. I need to give myself room to just talk out a problem with myself in a process- rather than results-oriented way. Once I realized this, life at the metaphorical workbench got a lot more liveable.
Implementing the solutions. This is the phase where I start drafting the new version of the story. I decide to begin doing that today not because I thought I'd successfully addressed every single problem I'd identified thus far, but rather because I'd addressed those problems relevant to the first couple pages of the story. Also I suspected that I'd gotten to the point where the solutions I'd come up with so far would obviate some of the problems still waiting to be addressed. And so they have.
The demon hiding in this phase is PERFECTIONISM, and I have to ignore it. I'm still not trying for perfectly polished prose at this stage. I'm just writing a new draft that implements the solutions to the previous draft's problems. If the protagonist has new and better reasons for their actions, if I've chosen to include a more appropriate memory from their backstory than the one I had before, if the facts of the case are now altered to close the previous draft's plot holes, if each paragraph of the new draft serves a valid story purpose, then the draft is a success.
After all the problems are solved and a new draft is in front of me, then I can worry about polishing the prose to a fine shine. But that's line edits, which I don't really consider part of the revision/rewriting process. Until the revision is complete and every line on the page can justify its existence in the story, there's no point editing those lines for style, spelling, grammar, and flow. They might still get replaced, after all.
I expect I won't make it out of revision and into line edits without having to revisit every phase a couple times. I'll hit a place in the draft where I can't continue without brainstorming some more. I'll probably identify more problems whose solutions will require rewriting bits of story I already rewrote. The three phases are very fluid and lead into each other in unpredictable ways. But if I can tell myself which of the three phases I'm currently working in at any given moment, that helps keep me from trying to do all of it at once, and that in turn keeps things possible.
All the above requires the usual caveat, which is: Different writers do things differently. The above strategies are mine (all mine!). They may not be yours nor that of another favorite author. All strategies are valid to the extent that some writer somewhere finds them effective. And which strategies a writer finds effective will change over time--one's best process is an evolving rather than static thing.
Main thing is, it's not wrong if it works.