Friday, April 21, 2017

Two Truths About Revising: Lessons From My Crooked Blinds

There are vertical blinds on my bedroom window—the kind with a ball chain hooked to the bottom of each slat so they don’t swing maniacally from the headrail every time you open or close the blinds. The other day I noticed one of the slats wasn’t hanging in line with the others. Now, those who know me well know this is a serious problem…How am I supposed to fall asleep while my blinds are CROOKED?! You may as well just leave the closet door open while you’re at it. Sheesh! But I digress…

Obviously, the slat needed to be tended to. The ball chain appeared uneven—as if it had come unattached from the slat, and someone had re-attached it so that it was pulling tightly to the left, and hanging too loosely to the right. I set out to repair this atrocity and promptly broke the chain. *sigh*

Only then did I step back, look up, and fully take in the crooked-slat problem. The top of the slat had simply gotten caught somehow, so that it was lying in front of its neighbor instead of behind it. The chain had been innocent. It wouldn't have been pulling to one side if it weren't for the real problem of the slat being caught.

I straightened things out, and the blinds once again hang perfectly. But alas, there’s now a broken chain to keep me up at night!

Isn’t this all so fascinating? Ha! The thing is, my adventure in fixing (and breaking) the blinds brought to mind two truths about revising. (There’s a writing analogy in everything if you look hard enough, lol.) So, with credit to my crooked blinds, I offer two principles to guide your revision process:

  1. Step Back: Before you start revising, step back from the manuscript. Take time away to gain some perspective and hopefully a hint of objectivity before starting to compile revision notes. Personally, I like a minimum of two weeks not working on a project (and hopefully not thinking about it). IMO, longer is better, so unless deadlines are looming, throw that wip in a proverbial drawer and focus on other things. Then, after time away, read through the whole manuscript to see the big picture. Finish the read-through and ponder for a bit before diving into revisions.

  2. Big Before Little: Fix the big-picture things before tackling the smaller details. The little things that jump out at you may not really be the problem! They may not be perfect, either, but fine-tuning sentences and paragraphs may turn out to be a big waste of time if you end up cutting those same bits when you fix big-picture things. So start with plot issues and character arcs—big things before little…there will be time for tweaking later.
Really, these are super-basic tips, but after all these years, I still fall into tweaking as I write, and I still get tempted to roll up my sleeves and “fix things” without taking time to gain perspective on what really needs fixing. So maybe I’m writing this blog post only for myself, but if it helps you too? Yay!

Now, go close that closet door…it’s driving me crazy! ;-)


Carol Garvin said...

I can't stand open closet doors! Or cupboard drawers. Or crooked picture frames. ::sigh:: But you're right; it's good to find out where the problems originate before trying to repair them. Great analogy, Shari. :)

Shari Green said...

I come by it honestly, then. ;-)