Revising Poetry-a Demonstration Part One: Review

A view of fir trees through a second story window.
An Impression of Flight by Maria L. Berg 2021

The First Read

I printed out my poem in larger than regular font (14pt) and 1.5 spacing. Then I read it aloud while walking around the room.

The poem I’m reviewing is the first poem I wrote during NaPoWriMo last month:

Breeding Fruit Flies with Two Different Eyes

An impression arrests the fruit flies in kitchen sinks full of ideas
frozen in mid-irritation, fleeting yet multiplying before your eyes
what indelible marks will topple to the tongue
and adumbrate the growing clutch

Contentment empties the glue of flavor and steals the scissors of artistry
the constant irritation and insatiable hunger
–of those fruit flies, feeding in the sinks–
sketch an impression of furious flight

Refreshment wriggles among the moles under the tent of solitude
having vacated the house with the ideas, but left the kitchen sink to the fruit flies
the dark, fresh-earth tunnels adumbrate new and curious spaces for contemplation
where crawling, not seeing, may nourish new understanding

Close Reading

Though my review process is not the same as close reading, many of the same concepts apply. If you are not experienced with close reading poetry, there are a myriad of examples at ModPo on Coursera.org. Their close readings are so in-depth it’s quite mind boggling, but you will get the idea.

Here are some informative articles on close reading:

How to Read a Poem from Adacemy of American Poets

Poetry: Close Reading from Purdue OWL

Some Hints to Help You with “Close Reading” from UPenn

Review

This poem has been sitting for a month with many poems written since, so it should be well rested. I pretended someone else wrote it and I’m reading it for the first time. I asked myself:

What do I like about it? I like the rich imagery and metaphor

What don’t I like about it? It feels cluttered. There’s too much that isn’t clear. I want to know more of the story, the character, motivations, and conflict.

Now, let’s get really specific. Let’s go step by step through my review checklist:

Identify POV, tense, form, voice

The poem begins with “an impression,” but whose impression? In the second line “before your eyes” would make me think this poem is written in the point of view of the writer addressing the reader. It is written in present tense.

The form of the poem is “Jar and Janus” a form I invented and I am developing as discussed in the Draft section of my last post.

The voice of the poem is somewhat flat, like the monotone of someone trying to hold it together as everything crashes down around her. The third stanza shows that the narrator has left everything behind looking for new contemplative spaces to get away from all the buzzing idea-eaters. The flatness of the voice, however may be because the poem is so compact, it doesn’t leave room for breath.

setting, narrative

There are two settings in this poem:

  1. A kitchen, perhaps an old, somewhat unclean, or impossible to clean kitchen
  2. Dark tunnels under a tent, at a forest campsite perhaps.

The narrative tells the story of a frustrated, disillusioned person (artist, house wife?) who in an instant sees the futility of her situation and leaves it behind to find herself in the unknown and uncomfortable.

themes, moods

Themes:

  • The creative mind can’t be tamed.
  • Some people can’t be domesticated.
  • freezing a moment, may reveal a truth/ an answer

Mood: Stopped, Frozen in time, Longing, Disillusionment

Photograph of highlighted and marked-up poems on a table with vases full of slips of paper and forget-me-nots in small green vase.
The Poet at Work by Maria L. Berg 2021


create a color key

After printing out the poem, I grabbed my highlighter pens and made a color key. For this poem I chose orange for abstract nouns, pink for concrete nouns and yellow for verbs. This colored most of my poem. I think I’ll go ahead and use green for adjectives.

identify sensory details

sight: fruit flies, kitchen sinks, a sketch of an impression, dark
sound: ?
smell: ?
taste: indelible marks on the tongue, glue flavor,
touch: crawling in fresh-earth tunnels

other: arrests/frozen, contentment, refreshment, constant irritation, insatiable hunger, solitude

identify the best lines

For reviewing this poem, I was lucky that April 1st was also open link night at dVerse Poets Pub. The poets from the pub are so generous with their feedback. Thanks to the comments made on my post, I already have some direction as to which lines readers like the best in this draft. And they happen to be my favorite as well.

I like the imagery created by “arrests the fruit flies in kitchen sinks”

The three favorite lines from the comments are:

  1. “ideas frozen in mid-irritation”
  2. “Contentment empties the glue of flavor and steals the scissors of artistry”
  3. “wriggles among the moles under the tent of solitude”

mark weak verbs & nouns

Though “adumbrate” is not a weak verb, it is, sadly, out of place and should be replaced. My other Janus word “left” is also relatively weak compared to the other verbs, and “not seeing” could be stronger.

The abstract nouns that begin each stanza need grounding in the narrative.

words to mind map

Here’s a printable for mind-mapping I created:

For this poem I’ll do some quick mind maps of some of my abstract nouns: “impression,” “contentment,” and “refreshment” are the first ones that stand out. Then

mark areas to expand

There may be areas to expand, create some breath throughout the poem, but the main area to look at will be between the second and third stanza. The jump from the kitchen to under the tent of solitude could want some connection.

highlight cliche language

The end of the second line, “multiplying before your eyes,” feels cliche.

make easy cuts

I found two easy cuts, both in the second line. I think “ideas frozen mid-irritation” works better than “in mid-irritation. And an easy fix to the cliche language is to cut it, leaving the second line as “frozen mid-irritation, fleeting yet multiplying.”

choose what to edit to (theme, idea)

I want to edit to character and narrative. I want the reader to see a person recognizing a personal crisis, and finding a solution.

brainstorm alternate titles

Maybe I want to use the title to orient the reader:

  • She stares out the kitchen window
  • Staring through the cracked pane
  • She stares through the cracked pane

Or use phrases from the poem as a title:

  • Curious Spaces for Contemplation
  • An Impression of Furious Flight
  • Indelible Marks

Or a combination of both:

  • She Dreams a Tent of Solitude
  • A Tiny Frozen Idea Changes Everything
  • A Fruit Fly-Sized Thought Changes Everything
  • The Arrested Impression
  • In Need of Refreshment

Or something completely different:

  • The Kitchen Sink is Backed Up Again

make notes to guide re-write

The main notes I have for the re-write are:

  • make the narrative clearer
  • create more space and breath
  • find the turn in the poem
  • use all the senses

So there we have it. I have a lot to work with and think about for redrafting this poem. In my morning pages, I will free-write around my three best lines, explore the character, her motives, the conflict, the stakes, the narrative and more sensory detail, especially sounds, smells, and tastes.

Revising Poetry: Creating a process

A photograph of seed packets and loose seeds on a poetry notebook.

A Seed of Hope

The seed yet planted
has potential
it may be the one
to burst into sprout
the tiny green hope
watched by the discerning eye
not ignored as the yellow
flowers in the garden,
the kale gone to seed
soon composted
to clear the way

That quadrille (a poem of 44 words) in response to today’s dVerse Poets Pub prompt, feels like a great way to start this week’s adventure in revision. Merril’s prompt “seed” is also a fun tie-in, because it’s a Janus word.

Now that the April challenges have ended and I have over thirty new poems drafted, it’s time to think about revision. Last year in May, I had the same idea. I read a lot of posts and books and started charting my revision process in my poetry notebook. I’m going to attempt to approach each draft as a seed, full of potential.

The Process

Here’s what I have come up with thus far:

Review

After letting a poem rest a while, come back to it as if reading someone else’s poem for the first time. What do I like about it? What don’t I like about it?

Here is my review checklist:

  • Identify POV, tense, form, voice
  • setting, narrative
  • themes, moods
  • words to mind map
  • alternate titles
  • highlight the best lines
  • mark weak verbs & nouns
  • mark areas to expand
  • highlight cliche language
  • choose what to edit to (theme, idea)
  • make notes to guide re-write

Redraft

Here are some ideas to try while redrafting a poem:

  • Choose the best lines and freewrite. Dig down, find the deeper meaning.
  • Use the best line as the beginning of a new poem.
  • For each line, write its opposite. Search for the turn in the poem.
  • Cut each line in half. Write a new beginning and/or ending for each line.
  • Write the poem in different POVs and tenses to find the strongest telling.
  • Expand, write past the ending. Tighten, to it’s most succinct telling.
  • Force into a form, or change from formal form to free verse.

Revise

Read the poem aloud. Feel the words in your mouth. Sing it to your favorite songs. Walk to it. Dance to it. Feel the rhythm. Have the computer read it aloud. Highlight anything that doesn’t flow, that doesn’t sound right, anything that feels forced or doesn’t fit.

Feedback

When you feel ready for some feedback, you might want to try Poetry Free-For-All, an online poetry workshop for poets to exchange critiques. There is a lot of useful information in the forums including A Workshop for One. 

I like that poets giving critiques are called critters. It makes me think of the campy horror movies. It’s fun to imagine getting poetry feedback from balls of fur with sharp teeth.

Learn from other poets

The forums of Poetry Free-For-All also include an extensive Recommended Reading list.

You may want to check out the videos at Sounds of Poetry with Bill Moyers.

Revise Again

Take the useful feedback and things you’ve liked from reading and listening to other poets talking about their work and come to your poem again with a fresh, critical eye. Read it aloud until it feels good in your mouth and body while clearly expressing your intended meaning.

A Demonstration

I thought it would be fun and useful to take the first poem I wrote this April, since it has had a good rest, and demonstrate each step through the entire process as a series of posts this week.

The poem I wrote on April First was:

Breeding Fruit Flies with Two Different Eyes

An impression arrests the fruit flies in kitchen sinks full of ideas
frozen in mid-irritation, fleeting yet multiplying before your eyes
what indelible marks will topple to the tongue
and adumbrate the growing clutch

Contentment empties the glue of flavor and steals the scissors of artistry
the constant irritation and insatiable hunger
–of those fruit flies, feeding in the sinks–
sketch an impression of furious flight

Refreshment wriggles among the moles under the tent of solitude
having vacated the house with the ideas, but left the kitchen sink to the fruit flies
the dark, fresh-earth tunnels adumbrate new and curious spaces for contemplation
where crawling, not seeing, may nourish new understanding

The Draft

This poem draft follows a form I created myself that for now I call the Jar and Janus form. I started collecting words in vases last year when I enjoyed the Coursera course Sharpened Visions: A Poetry Workshop with Douglas Kearney for the second time. While working with abstract and concrete nouns, I decided to create vases full of each, to make random connections to spark ideas.

For each stanza of this poem, the form (followed loosely) is:

  1. Abstract noun+verb+concrete noun+concrete noun+abstract noun
  2. response to that phrase/idea
  3. expand on the response in line two including a Janus word
  4. Use the Janus word to say the opposite, or create a second thought, or point of view
  5. Repeat for as many stanzas as you like

Now that the draft is created, the form isn’t particularly important, except to remember the Janus words and think about their opposite meanings.

Motivations

Before we dive into revision, it’s a good idea to focus intention. Why do I want to revise this poem? I want to improve it, of course, but why? And why this poem?

I want to revise this poem because:

  • It’s one of the first examples of a form I invented and I want to continue to explore the form.
  • I want to take one of April’s poems through revision to work through my revision process. This poem has had the most time to rest.
  • I think it’s a good example of my unique poetic voice that I want to continue to develop.
  • Though I will be publishing the revised poem here, so it won’t be eligible for journal publication, if I love the results, I may want to include it in a collection.
  • Since I plan on developing this form further, what I learn from this revision could be very useful for future poems.
  • My main motivation is to learn by doing and share the experience to inform others.

Next Steps

I hope you will join me this week taking a poem through all of the steps of my revision process. In my next post we’ll go through the Review and plan some re-writes.

Revising a short story: the penultimate pass

Now that I have revised at the story level and the scene level, it is time to dig into those paragraphs, sentences and words. A fun and useful tool to use at this point is the word cloud. I put my text into Word It Out and created this:

The program has some great tools. After pasting the text into the text box, I clicked on Settings at the bottom right and added the character names at the end of the filter words. Then, once I created my word cloud, I clicked on Wordlist and can click on any of the words to see how many times I used them. I definitely want to look at the instances of “like” and “back” and explore why I used them so much.

After working on some of the issues that my word cloud revealed, I continued using the “Find” function. I found some lists of words to looks for in some of my old posts. Revision: Overused Words helped me find some problems with “very” and “really.” And Part Two The Worrying Wave of Weak Verbs: a cautionary tale of the murderous search for to be, to have, to do, to get, to go and to make got me on the right path to finding all my weak verbs. A search for “ly” also helped me strengthen my verbs by revealing the adverbs I used to modify them. My “ly” search also showed that I overused “only” which in most cases, I deleted.

This time, when I listened to the computer read my story, it was helpful. I noticed a couple typos, some words and phrases that were clunky, and a couple unnecessary sentences. It helped me fix the timing of the ending so it had the punch I wanted. And the most exciting part? I liked it.

I will print it out and read it aloud a few times, and then send it to a few beta-readers for feedback.

Revising at the Scene Level

Fixing It – photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

In my last post on revising a short story, I mentioned the many things a scene needs to do:

  • have a goal
  • have a conflict
  • have an action that leads to a new goal
  • character development
  • world building
  • reveal new information
  • provide sensory information
  • have a grabber or payoff

For my revision, I assigned each of these scene needs a letter, and starting with the final scene, worked backward through my story, evaluating each scene. Here’s an example:

Scene 14: Maria’s POV after feeding in the town [one of my MCs is a Mexican-American named Maria (not me 😉 )].

G – To leave town
C – a farmer tries to help her, grabs her wrist
A – She uses aspects of the chupacabra to get away
D – She feels / wields the chupacabra’s power, misses old life
W – describes the nearest town to the river
N – Maria can bring out the chupacabra for defense when scared
S – sounds: door slams, whistling; texture: grimy
P – She hurt the farmer to get away

This quick analysis of each scene did wonders. I completely deleted one scene and combined two others. I discovered areas that needed more description and sensory detail and a section of exposition that I was able to show in a scene. I had printed out a more detailed “Deconstructing a Scene” worksheet I created a couple years ago, but I didn’t use it because this system worked. I plan to use it as part of my revision process in the future.

After analyzing each scene, I typed in all my changes, saved the draft and let it rest.

But the Distractions – photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

I found joy in editing a different, shorter story while letting this one rest. In that story, the main issues were filter words. It really helped the piece to remove sensory filters: saw, heard, and felt. I also added specific details like “mahogany” instead of wood. By the time I finished revising the story, I enjoyed reading it aloud. The words felt good in my mouth.

Doin’ the Work – photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

I brought the feeling of accomplishment and the specific issues I found in the shorter story to the next phase of revision: paragraphs, sentences, and word choice which I will talk about in my next post.

How is your revision is going? Have any tips or tricks?

Any questions?

Please share in the comments.

Revising a short story: Pacing and Structure

A couple years ago, my nephew became fascinated by my sewing machine. Emulating his grandfather (my father is always fixing something), he decided he needed to fix it. He would shove the little screw drivers into every opening. One time, while I was sewing, I found one of the extra feet inside the gears. So when my neighbor was giving away a sewing machine, I brought it home just for my nephew. For two years of visits, we have gotten out our sewing machines and I sew while he “fixes” his machine.

During his last visit, however, he decided his sewing machine was all fixed and he wanted to sew. I wasn’t sure what would happen after all that “fixing,” but I went ahead and showed him how to thread the machine and taught him about the bobbin. Then we attached the foot pedal and plugged it in. To my amazement, it worked. It even had perfect tension and an even stitch. Since he was too small to reach the pedal and hold the fabric at the same time on the table, he chose to work the pedal while I guided the fabric. At first, he pushed the pedal all the way down and the needle had one speed: fast. After we made a few straight lines, he said he wanted to sew a circle. I told him to accomplish that, we would have to sew more slowly. So we practiced sewing different speeds by carefully pressing the pedal to different depths. Watching him practice sewing more slowly made me think of the next pass in my short story revision, pacing.

I enjoyed this video from Reedsy with Editor Anna Bierhaus to get me thinking about pacing.

Pacing

Pacing is the movement and momentum in a story. In today’s world of short attention spans with billions of options for entertainment, you might think all stories, especially short stories should go, go, go! But like all good songs, a short story also needs changes in tempo and rests. Often the moments of silence are the most exciting moments in music. So how do I use those ideas in my short story?

  • First I need to explore my characters’ three main conflicts: Internal, External (story specific) and Societal.
  • Then I need to see where I can raise the stakes (my poor characters already have it so hard).
  • I need to make sure that each scene is working as hard as it can: Goal, Conflict, Action that leads to a new goal, Character development, World building, and Reveals new information.

From Cat Rambo’s class, I focused on a couple of questions I want to apply to my story:

Is there a payoff for the reader every few pages: a grabber in the prose?

Where am I moving too quickly? Are pieces missing? This is something I often find in my writing. I expect the reader to see what I see in my head. I need to look for places where I jump over things the reader needs for continuity, believably, and understanding.

Where am I moving too slowly? Where can I cut out unnecessary details and words? Are there whole sections that don’t add to the story being told?

I read some other posts on pacing and found How to Master Narrative Pacing: 7 Tips to Help Pace Your Writing from MasterClass helpful.

Sometimes the story needs to slow down, so the reader doesn’t burn out.

Applying these ideas to my story

Since my last post, I have typed a new draft of the story. The process was slow and difficult. My inner perfectionist was on high alert and nothing was good enough. Each sentence took forever. However, I think this draft has potential which is exciting.

My story starts in medias res (in the middle of the action). My character is stunned and confused. The longest sentence in my first paragraph has eight words. The second paragraph has longer sentences full of action, keeping the quick pace until he escapes. The story slows for two paragraphs while he takes in his new situation then the next action begins.

Mapping out the story like this was insightful, but wasn’t giving me the overall feel of the story. I had another idea.

Listening: Last month I saw a #ProTip on Twitter from Kelli Russell Agodon that inspired me to explore another revision tool: the computer’s “read aloud” functions. I learned how to use Microsoft’s Narrator and added the Read Text Extension for Open Office. I thought listening to the computer read my story would help me hear and feel the pacing of my story, so I gave it a listen.

That works great for typos! The computerized voice makes the errors completely apparent. For pacing, however, it did not work for me. Even when I changed the voice to the woman speaking at a more natural speed, it was stilted and didn’t flow which was part of what I was listening for. I’ll be using this tool later when I’m working on line edits.

Scenes: After the listening experiment didn’t work, I went through my story and marked the beginning and end of each scene. I highly recommend doing this right after you’ve typed up and read your second draft. What I found is my story has a natural progression of scene and sequel, action and response. I also found a pattern of exposition setting up a scene. These short paragraphs of exposition may need to be tightened up if essential to the flow of the story, or may not be needed at all and can be cut. The exciting part is how obvious they became when I broke the story into scenes.

Everything builds toward the climax: This story, in general, moves well. To improve the pacing, I want to build more toward the climax. To do that I need to introduce a couple of ideas earlier, brainstorm some ways to raise the stakes and increase the tension and pacing going into the climax of the story. As it is, I think the climax occurs too abruptly after a reflective scene.

Structure

Another thing to think about at the big picture level of revision is structure. What other ways could I tell this story? The short story is often the format authors use to experiment with story form. Before diving any further into editing your story, ask yourself, Is there a better, more interesting way to present this story?

Applying these ideas to my story

I spent some time with this question and came up with some interesting ideas:

  • I could switch back and forth between my two character’s POVs more often. This could make it feel like their stories are more intertwined from the very beginning.
  • I could write the whole story from only my first character’s POV. This would make my second character have to tell her story to him and could make it more emotional and put her spin on it.
  • I could tell the story non-linearly, starting with my main character coming to acceptance of his situation and then telling what got him there.
  • That idea led me to telling the story like a reality show. In this type of telling, I could bring in interviews with people who knew my characters: family, friends, co-workers, before they changed. I think this could make a fun sequel or additional story.

I think the structure I chose in the first draft is the best for the telling of this story, however I do like some of these other ideas and might try them as well as separate pieces.

Next Steps

After making these changes, I will have finished the story level or developmental revisions. Next, I will look at each scene and make sure that every one is necessary and doing as much as it can.

I look forward to hearing how your revisions are going and reading any editing and revision tips you would like to share in the comments.

Revising a short story: working through discouragement

Levi says, “Walk away. Don’t force it. Give it some time.”

Because I’m focusing on revision this year, I want to bring you along as I attempt to revise my work and improve my revision process. Hopefully, we can all improve together.

I found a call for submissions that I think one of my stories will fit perfectly, so I’m starting with it. For once, I have plenty of time; the deadline isn’t until May. This is one of my longer short stories and I worked on it for a long time. I have edited and submitted it in the past, but after rejections set it aside. Now, with this anthology call as a goal, I thought it would be a great piece to put through Cat Rambo’s revision class and use as an example for my own revision process.

  • First, I printed it out (double spaced, Times New Roman, double sided pages to not waste paper).
  • Then I read it aloud, trying not to stop for notes, but making some notes.
  • Then I stopped. I hated it. It wasn’t the great story I remembered. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be.
  • I came back and finished reading it aloud, but had to walk away.
  • I was disappointed and had no intention of figuring out how to fix it.
  • I searched the internet for what to do when you hate your story.

You Hate Your Writing? That’s a good sign from Jane Friedman at Writer Unboxed led me to Ira Glass on Storytelling

and Why You Don’t Need To Worry Hating Your Own Work by Robert Wood at Standout Books also talks about Ira Glass’s videos.

Why It’s Okay to Hate Your Writing by Sarah Gribble at The Write Practice

It helped to know that most writers go through this. And happily, I think I’m getting to the other side of the I hate everything phase. What was the magic fix? As usual, there wasn’t one. The answer was time and work. I kept going back to Cat Rambo’s class and trying to get myself to do each revision pass on my story. Finally something clicked, and since then things have kept clicking. Here’s what has worked so far:

My Short Story Revision

1.Major cuts: The first thing that had to change is I went into a flashback way too soon. Though the backstory in that flashback is important to the story, I plan to only use the most important parts and pepper them in later, so for now, I cut the flashback completely.

2. The Character and Dialogue focus: After cutting the flashback, it became clear that one of my two characters was less developed and it was the character I introduced first. To fix this, I journaled about his life before the story, his wants and needs and rather quickly got to know him and his story arc. Then I went through the story and found places where I could add character development.

My characters are opposites in every way, so I want each character to have a distinct voice. I journaled for a while about what would influence their style and word choice, exploring such things as education, socialization, family life, etc. I also decided that both of my characters needed new names, so I did a little research.

3. Setting focus: While exploring my character, I decided that he has a biology degree and works in a Garden center. He would have knowledge of the local flora that would impact the story. This made the specific setting more important. In the first draft, the setting could have been any river in any forest in North America, but after doing some research, I have now set my story in Northwestern California and have specific plants and trees for my characters to interact with.

At this point my draft is so marked up, I can’t read it. I’m going to sit down with all my notes and write a brand new draft from scratch. Hopefully my next read through won’t lead to me saying, “I hate this,” but something closer to, “this has potential.”

The Rabbit Hole of Revisions: guest post by Ferrell Hornsby

Alice and the white rabbit.

So, you’ve finished the first draft of your current work in progress. The hard work is done now, right? Not quite. Just because you’ve typed “The End” doesn’t mean your work is ready for the world to see. There are sure to be typos, missed punctuation, and (gasp) even plot holes that need to be found and fixed.

If that sounds daunting, it can be. Too many potential authors get stuck down the “rabbit hole of revisions” and never find their way out. It’s tempting to read our work and rewrite and revise. Then, we go back and read it again, rewriting and revising as we go. The cycle continues over and over. Somehow, we never feel our work is quite ready for anyone else to see. It’s not perfect. That’s the rabbit hole. Like Alice in Wonderland, we get lost in our own words, constantly finding that one last mistake, one misplaced word. Eventually, we may decide that it will never be perfect and thus does not deserve to enter the esteemed world of literature.

My advice: don’t go there. It’s a trap!

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t correct and improve our work. We definitely should. But we should have a plan (a map, so to speak) so we don’t get lost along the way.

Here’s the revision map I use. Perhaps it will help you as you devise a plan that works for you.

Alice at the center of a circle of characters: the queen of hearts is to her left and the white rabbit is at the bottom right.

Take a break

Let your story rest. Don’t jump right into revisions. Your original ideas are still too fresh and will cloud your objectivity as you look for problems that should be fixed. The amount of rest time will depend on you. Some authors need only a day or two. Others need a few weeks to let the original ideas fade a bit so they can look at it with fresh eyes. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Read as a Reader

When you’re ready, think about your target audience and read it as they would. You’re not looking for every mistake. In this round, you want to see if the story engages you. Does the plot flow? Do your characters develop through the story? Do they stay “in character” or do some of their actions and words feel out of place? If any of those things need fixing, rewrite as needed.

Let Your Baby Crawl

When you like what you’ve written, let a few people read it. Often, these are called beta readers. Family and friends may be your first go-to for this, but many times, they are like the Cheshire Cat. They will grin and tell you what they think you want to hear, sometimes in gibberish that doesn’t make any sense to your story. That’s great for the ego, but it isn’t as helpful as constructive feedback would be.

You don’t want overly critical beta readers, either. They may seem like the Red Queen. If it’s not written her way, it’s wrong.

The roses must be red. This is rubbish. Off with her head!”

I recommend finding a group of authors and/or readers in your genre who are not connected with you emotionally. There are many groups on Facebook and other online venues. You might find a local book club or author group, as well.

When considering anyone’s feedback, remember that they are only making suggestions, not issuing commands. Read them carefully, apply those that feel right, and let the rest go. Generally, if I have several people commenting on the same thing, I’m more likely to make changes than if there’s only one passing comment. When that’s finished, let it rest again.

Tackle the Typos

Do a proofread for correct punctuation, typos, etc. This time around, focus on the technical aspects of your writing. Do all your dialogues have matching quotation marks? Are there words that should be capitalized, or not? Are your teacups placed just so for your perpetual unbirthday tea party? (Hm. Maybe I carried that analogy a bit too far.) Time to let it rest again.

Alice at the Mad Hatter's tea party.

Turn It Upside Down

At this point, I recommend an inverse read. There are several ways to do this.

Change the colors (white type on black background, for example). The change in appearance can really draw your attention to the mistakes.

Read it backwards, the last paragraph first. That way you don’t get so caught up in the story that you overlook the errors.

Read it aloud, or have the computer read it to you. Hearing the words can bring weak word choices and other overlooked defects to your attention.

Personally, I like to combine two or all three of these methods. It’s amazing how many tiny mistakes would have slipped by if I didn’t stand on my head at this point. (Not physically, mind you.)

Let a Professional Take a Look

Now it’s time to send it to your editor.

What? Why do I need an editor if I’ve done all this revision work?”

Basically, for the same reason you use beta readers. More eyes on your work can bring flaws to light. I put a lot of stock in my editor’s suggestions, but at the end of the day, they are only suggestions. If they feel right, I incorporate them, if they don’t, I won’t.

Almost Finished

Many authors skip this step. I find it important for me to do a final read-through. I will generally do this one away from my computer. That keeps me from rewriting what doesn’t really need to be rewritten. I download the digital manuscript to my tablet and read with a paper and pencil by my side. If I find a really bad spot, I’ll jot it down, but this last time through is for my own peace of mind. When this is done, I’m confident that we’ve rooted out most of the errors.

Let your baby fly!

That’s it. Once I implemented this revision plan, I didn’t feel so overwhelmed with the amount of work still to be done on my first drafts. Step by step, I was able to rewrite, revise, improve, and prepare my books for the world.

This isn’t to say it’s the only way to revise your work. Each author must find their own path to publication. Keep in mind, I have yet to find a published work that has zero flaws, so don’t let that stop you from moving forward. If you have a plan, a map, you’re less likely to join so many others who never publish because they got lost down the rabbit hole of revisions.

Books by Ferrell Hornsby https://www.facebook.com/authorferrellhornsby

Cover of If We're Breathing, We're Serving by Ferrell Hornsby

If We’re Breathing, We’re Serving, Lifting the World series, Book 1

An inspirational story about a man’s journey through multiple sclerosis, and how he learns to serve others again. (Based on my husband’s real-life experiences.)

Ferrell Hornsby’s Amazon author page

Books by Emily Daniels (aka Ferrell Hornsby) https://www.facebook.com/EmilyDanielsBooks

Lucia’s Lament

Devlin’s Daughter

A Song for a Soldier

Emily Daniels’s Amazon author page

Books by Nana Ferrell (aka Ferrell Hornsby) https://www.facebook.com/hoppityfloppity

To Cry or Not to Cry

C is for Courage

She’s my Friend

Search for Claire’s Talent

Hoppity Floppity Easter

Hoppity Floppity Christmas

Nana Ferrell’s Amazon author page

Ferrell Hornsby has been writing stories and poetry since she could hold a pencil in her chubby little hand. Encouraged by her grandmother, she continued writing, even after receiving her first rejection letter at age twelve. Since then, she’s explored many genres, children’s literature, historical fiction, and most recently, inspirational fiction. Her own life experiences add a depth and emotional connection to her characters that is both rare and fulfilling.

Ferrell married her soul mate in 2011, and her life hasn’t been the same since! Together, they enjoy music, movies, eating out, and ice cream (the more chocolate, the better).

Revision Process: An interview with author Shelly Campbell

Cover for the book Under the Lesser Moon by Shelly Campbell

Last week I really enjoyed the TBRcon21 writing conference. The editing panel was fun and informative and the moderator even asked my question–Did you ever receive a piece of advice that made revision easier or more enjoyable for you?– near the end. If you missed the panel, you can watch it on Youtube.

After the panel, I asked one of the panelists, Shelly Campbell, if she would be interested in sharing more about her revision process here on Experience Writing and she so kindly agreed to answer some more questions I have about revision. So today, we are in for a treat!

My Interview with Shelly Campbell

After you finish your first draft and you are letting it rest, what are you up to? 

When I’m letting a manuscript rest—three weeks usually does the trick for me—I tend to take a total break from similar writing. Right now, I’m working on a fiction manuscript and, when I eventually reach the final pages of that first draft, I have a non-fiction project waiting in the wings. 

I also enjoy drawing and painting and find that I am usually inspired to create art when I’m taking a break from authoring. Visual art provides an almost instant gratification compared to the slow-burn fulfillment of novel writing, because I get the satisfaction of a finished project after a few hours, days or week, as opposed to the months or years of effort leading up to a completed book. There’s the added benefit that, if I’m really wound up in a draft I’ve just put down, I can always tackle character art, letting me revisit the story while still giving my brain time to switch gears into a more objective editing mode.

After (or during) your first read, how do you go back in? Do you summarize, outline, scene card? What are your tools?

I was very much a discovery writer when I wrote my first two novels, and I hadn’t done a lot of research into structure and form. While it was fun to just build a world with no restrictions and then play in it, it resulted in some long-winded, slack-paced manuscripts that needed significant developmental edits. I knew the books needed work, but in my inexperience, couldn’t pin down what they needed. 

My first reads for those books consisted of a lot of line-edit polishing, make-every-word-shine sort of thing. I didn’t know any better. But I would learn later that, without the bones of good structure and pacing, eloquent prose that doesn’t go anywhere won’t hold a reader’s interest! Much of those painstaking line edits were wasted when I trashed or changed large chunks of the manuscript later on.

With some resources under my belt, and having learned some of my own fallibility, I now have an editing bullet list that I run through on first reads. I’ve moved from pantsing to more of a three-act screenwriting structure, so the first thing I like to do is compare my manuscript with my initial outline. I chart out my chapters and their word counts and look at the big picture items first. Have I started the book too soon? Do I need to chop initial chapters and dive in closer to the inciting incident? Are all my major beats falling where they should? Is my midpoint a big enough pivot point—and is it actually occurring midway through the manuscript! 

When I’m comfortable that the draft is hanging properly on its structural skeleton, I dive into my first read with nothing on my mind other than, does this hold my attention? Anything that I’m tempted to skip over or skim needs work, because if it doesn’t hold my interest, it certainly can’t be expected to hold anyone else’s, right? After I’ve tweaked my tension, I read through again. My first drafts are skimpy on conveying internal emotion, need trimming when describing physical actions, and benefit greatly from tighter dialogue, so I’ll have a read through focusing on all of those things. Then I’ll go through my list of crutch words (words I overuse) and trim those out. After that, it is off to my beta readers to see what they think of the project! 

How do you approach your characters once you know them? Are they like friends that you talk to and hang out with, or is it more like sculpting, chipping the rock away for the fine details? Or something else?

Initially, it’s very much a chipping away process as I get to know the character. Often, by the time I’m ready to read through a first draft again, I can pick out things early on that I now know is out-of-character for this person, because I know them better. Many times, when I get stuck, I realize it’s because I’m trying to push my character in a direction they just wouldn’t take. Usually a re-examination of their goals, biases, fears and misbeliefs will point me in the right direction. So, yeah, my characters let me explore dead-end roads a lot, while patiently waiting for me to turn around and follow them onto the proper path.

What was the most challenging part of revising your novel? How did you come to a solution?

Honestly, my first novel was a mess. It was discovery writing. It wasn’t even one novel, it was two rambling manuscripts full of dead-end roads, but it had potential. My beta readers enjoyed it. Editors liked parts of it. I was fortunate enough to find a small publisher willing to take a chance on it with the caveat that I needed to do some significant developmental edits. I heartily agreed. My editor there, suggested a new outline for the combined manuscripts, and once I saw it summarized step-by-step, it didn’t seem so overwhelming to cut out a novel’s worth of words because I could see that the same story was still being told, just far more effectively and entertainingly than I had originally written it. I had a road map. And that’s when I realized, I really am a writer that needs a map! I need to outline or I end up exploring all those dead-end roads and lose my destination. 

When you get bogged down with the work, what do you do to get out?

I listen to my characters, or I revisit my outline. If my characters are responding in a believable manner, I have a look at my outline and see if I need to tweak tension. I normally get bogged down when I can’t pin down the intention of a scene. Is this supposed to further character growth? Provide a quiet moment to contrast with coming mayhem? Ratchet up tension by showing our reader something our main character doesn’t know? Ideally, each scene can multitask and, if I’m stuck, I often find I’m at a spot where this particular scene doesn’t need to be here at all, or what I’m trying to accomplish can be done by merging it into another scene. I’ll often enlist the help of my critique group because sometimes you just need a different lens on the problem to see the way out!

To what degree and at what point do you use beta readers or outside feedback during the revision process?

I rely heavily on beta readers because I’m lucky enough to have found a wonderful online group of writers and readers in my genre who offer great constructive advice. It’s hard finding good beta readers. You need someone who reads a lot in the genre you write in because they all do follow certain structures and rules that readers may not be able to list, but they certainly sense when you get them wrong! You need someone who is not your friend or family—in most instances they are just going to tell you your work is great because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. And you need beta readers who you just jive with. If you can’t take harsh criticism, a heavy-handed reader who only leaves you scathing comments is probably not a good fit for you. Unfortunately, this means a lot of trial and error finding the right beta readers for you, the ones who are able to help you lift up your work to a level you could not get it to on your own while still keeping your individual voice in there. I have been exceedingly lucky to find a crew of people who are honest in their comments and who each look at my work from a different angle, giving me the confidence to send my manuscripts out into the world.

I also want to point out that more beta readers is not necessarily better. Every person will have a different opinion and the more people who comment on your work, the more conflicting the advice will be. I use the rule that if multiple people comment on the same issue with the same feelings on it, it is likely something that needs to be fixed. If the correction would go against my character’s grain or cause my work to totally lose my voice, I tend to stand firm in my initial choices.

Where do you find your motivation to finish?

Initially, I didn’t! What eventually became Under the Lesser Moon rattled around in my brain and on my computer for decades. I wasn’t sure if I was good enough, but I had a story in my head that wanted out and, damn it, if I wasn’t going to finish it! So, I suppose, at first, what motivated me to finish—very slowly—was the fact that I’d put so much work into this one story and I felt I owed it to myself to at least finish it. 

Now, since the first book in the series is out, I’m motivated by deadlines (as well as readers who contact me to let me know how much they loved the first book and are looking forward to the second. Readers, have you any idea how very much that boosts a tired author?)

How do you know when you are finished?

I have to stop after I’ve addressed all my beta readers’ comments to the best of my abilities and have run through my own editing list. If I can write a good query letter that sparks interest when it is sent out, then I know I’m finished…for now.

Any other advice for writers new to or struggling with the revision process? 

What works for me may not work for you, but you do have this in you, revising. You learned how to write and revising is a skill you can learn too, one that you can hone with a bit of practice. Find a book on writing craft that resonates with you. Find a writers group. This is a lonely journey, but there are other people who are struggling just like you, and writers are some of the most helpful people I know! Don’t forget to feed your imagination. Often when you can’t write, you just need time to fill that creative well elsewhere. Read, garden. Do you! The well will fill. It always does 🙂


A headshot of Shelly Campbell.

At a young age, Shelly Campbell wanted to be an air show pilot or a pirate, possibly a dragon and definitely a writer and artist. She’s piloted a Cessna 172 through spins and stalls, and sailed up the east coast on a tall ship barque—mostly without projectile vomiting. In the end, Shelly found writing fantasy and drawing dragons to be so much easier on the stomach.

Shelly’s tales are speculative fiction, tending toward literary with dollops of oddity. She enjoys the challenge of exploring new techniques and subject matter, and strives to embed inspiring stories in her writing and art.

Her debut grim dark fantasy novel Under the Lesser Moon released with Mythos and Ink Publishing in November 2020.

https://www.mythosink.com/books/utlm/

She has a horror novel releasing with Silver Shamrock Publishing on April 2021.
You can find her here:

www.shellycampbellauthorandart.com 

https://twitter.com/ShellyCFineArt

https://www.instagram.com/shellycampbellfineart/

https://www.facebook.com/shellycampbellauthorandart

Quick Reminder: Editing panel coming up today #TBRcon21

This free writers conference has been wonderful so far. Great authors talking with each other about writing–What could be better? I’ve had Goodreads open the whole time and keep adding to my Want to Read list.

I hope you get a chance to watch live and ask questions, but if not, they have the sessions you miss available on Youtube.

There are also book give-aways.

Welcome to Experience Writing 2021

Where There Are Tiny Dinosaurs In Trees (2020) bokeh photograph by Maria L. Berg

Attempt at Focus

This year has one main writing focus and that is revision. I will be revising my novels one after the other. I will be revising my short stories and my poems. I will find ways to stay motivated during revision. I will explore revision tools, workbooks and worksheets and find what works and doesn’t work for my process along the way.

There will be events like National Poetry Month in April, OctPoWriMo (October Poetry Writing Month) in October and NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, but other than that, this site is about revision this year.

If you are an author or poet (or both) who would like to share your revision process, or tips and tricks let me know in the comments, or send an email. We can schedule a guest-post or an interview.

The Revision Experience Begins

Planner Pages

I thought I had given up on my planner pages, but then I wanted to start setting up my revision goals. I took a look at the revised pages I made for December 2019 and thought they would work nicely. After some quick revision, I offer what I’ll be using this month. If you are interested in looking back at my planner for writers project, it started back in February of 2019. Just click on the month in the archives (column to the right).

The file is set up to be used in OpenOffice. I decided to leave the deadlines blank this time, so you can focus on the deadlines that most interest you.

Here are the sites I usually look at when I’m researching deadlines:

I liked the prompts and the format of these planner pages. I also like the more achievable goal of three submissions a week. I look forward to your feedback on the pages and hope you find them useful.

To start my short story revisions, I chose twenty-one of my short stories and put them in one PDF without titles. My goal is to attempt to read through them on my tablet as if it is someone else’s collection and choose my ten favorites for revision.

I purchased Cat Rambo’s short story revision class and look forward to taking the ten stories I choose through her paces.

I’ll talk more about organization and preparation tomorrow. I wanted to get the planner pages out today, so you can start using them.