Six Steps to Saving Your Self-Edits for Later – Plus, a New Worksheet and Another Excerpt from The Keeper’s Curse
“Chronicling The Craft” is an article series where I share my experience with working on my YA fantasy novel THE KEEPER’S CURSE, starting with the first draft and now into revisions. Each article contains a progress update as well as writing / revising tips and excerpts from the updated draft. Today’s installment celebrates 30-percent completion of Draft #2 of THE KEEPER’S CURSE.
Huh? It’s been 2 months since the last Chronicle?? *blinks* I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. Summer tends to be my slowest writing season, since I’m more motivated to get out and enjoy the nice weather. But that’s OK. It prevents me from becoming a hermit, right? 🙂
Originally I was going to post updates for every 20-percent milestone (20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, and 100%). However, since gaps between those updates might be lengthy, I’m changing the frequency to every 10-percent milestone. Here’s what I’ve done since mid-June:
The 30-Percent Progress Report
I passed the 30-percent mark last Wednesday, at the end of my vacation for Writer’s Digest Conference. And as of Sunday (the last time I worked on TKC), I finished Page 137, which comes in the middle of Chapter 13. Statistically speaking, things look like this:
Total Word Count: 127,477 (452 since the last update, 4234 since revisions began)
Total Page Count: 424 (4 since the last update, 17 since revisions began)
Yeah. It’s been an… interesting chunk of chapters. The word count would rise as I added content that was missing from Draft #1, and then fall as I slashed, shaved, and deleted. More cutting may have to come in Draft #3 if I want to bring the story closer to the “acceptable YA fantasy” word count range. That said, the revisions are definitely bringing more focus and clarity to the story, which was my top priority for Draft #2. So, I feel pretty good about that.
At the same time, TKC is undergoing some hefty changes. Resolving logistical issues, absorbing two supporting characters into one – it’s been rather messy. None of these changes affect the plot or Eva’s character arc in major ways, but they’ll require additional revisions I hadn’t planned on before. So, sometimes I feel like this when I’m working on the manuscript…
… and other times, I feel like this.
I’m doing my best to not let the surprises overwhelm me. And as discouraging as the thought of unplanned revisions might be, I also recognize that resolving these issues might help with the word count and make the story more manageable. So, for now, I’ll keep pushing through Draft #2 and incorporate the new changes as necessary, then finish said changes as part of Draft #3.
Today’s Tip: Cut Down on Self-Editing During Your First Draft by Saving Revisions for Your Second Draft
Talking about saving revisions for later is a great transition into today’s tip. If you tend to go back and revise during your first draft, this section is for you. 😉
Most writers are familiar with the term “self-editing.” It’s another name for editing your own work. In a way, you’re self-editing when you’re revising – and that’s the good kind of self-editing. Then there’s the “ugly side” of self-editing, one that emerges during the drafting process.
Maybe you already know what “ugliness” I’m talking about. It’s an itch that your conscience wants to scratch, a new and better idea for a scene that you’ve already written. You might love that idea so much that you go back to that previous scene and revise it to match your improved vision. But, was that self-editing during Draft #1 worth the time? You might think so at first… But it’s often the seed for a bad habit. If you self-edit once during a first draft, you’ll be tempted to fall into that trap over and over again, until you realize how long it’s drawn out your process.
Self-editing is one of the reasons why it took me 2 years to complete Draft #1 of TKC. I’d hate the way I wrote a certain scene, so I’d rewind and revise when I should have concentrated on forward progress. Maybe the perfectionist in me forgot this important point: First drafts are supposed to be crappy. They’re meant to have mistakes, inconsistencies, and other flaws. That’s why second and third drafts and so on exist. Once the initial ideas are down, we can go back to cut, change, and improve to our heart’s content, until the story is ready for the next phase.
Once I came to this conclusion (about 1 1/2 years into Draft #1, of course *lol*), I resolved to cut down on self-editing during the drafting process – and it worked. The last 6 months of Draft #1 were more efficient than any other time in that stage, and doing so helped me create a clear, focused plan for tackling Draft #2.
How did I do this? By creating what I call the Six Steps to Saving Your Self-Edits for Later:
- Be Open to New Ideas. Our subconscious has a funny way of processing our stories when we’re not working them, even when we’ve moved on from a particular scene or chapter. If you randomly think of edits that could improve the story, that’s great! The question is, how quickly should you address that change?
- Resist the Urge with a Spoken Mantra. Instead of heeding that temptation to incorporate the new idea now, stop and speak this mantra (or any that works for you) out loud: “I recognize that [insert your idea here] might improve the WIP. But I’ve already finished that scene, and this is only the first draft. First drafts aren’t meant to be perfect. So, I’ll wait until the next draft and make the change then.”
- Start a List of Your Revision Ideas. Whether writing manually or typing in a Word document, it’s important to commit your revision ideas to a list so you don’t forget them. Include the chapter number where the change would occur, and number the first idea as #1, the second as #2, and so on.
- Repeat Steps #1 Through #3 As Necessary. Each time you find potential revisions as you continue through the first draft, recall your mantra and say it out loud, then add the new idea(s) to your “self-edit saver” list.
- Organize Your List After Finishing the First Draft. Chances are your list items will jump back and forth in terms of story chronology. For example, Item #10 might be for Chapter 20, and Item #11 might be for Chapter 15. If that’s the case, take some time after you complete your first draft to type up your list (if you haven’t yet) and prepare your list of revisions in chapter-numeric order (i.e., starting with Chapter 1, etc.).
- Print Your List and Keep It Handy. That way, you can review your checklists before each revising session, then cross or check off each item as they’re incorporated.
BONUS: Repeat the Six Steps During Your Second Draft if You’re Planning on a Third Draft. This will depend on how many drafts you want to work on before giving the WIP to critique partners / beta-readers, querying the novel to agents, etc. I already know I’ll need three drafts before the beta-reader stage, so I’ve started a new list of revisions for Draft #3 as I forge through Draft #2.
Now, how about a template to help you with these Six Steps? 😉 Starting today, you can download this from the Worksheets for Writers page:
The “Self-Edit Saver” Revision Checklist
This checklist encourages writers to list potential revisions for their WIP to eliminate the temptation of self-editing during the drafting process. (Hence the nickname “Self-Edit Saver.” *wink*) It also allows writers to keep track of their revision ideas for the next draft.
The checklist includes instructions that mirror the Six Steps above, and can be used during Step #5. It consists of two parts:
- Checklist A: Universal Revisions, which tracks major and/or repetitive revisions that affect the WIP as a whole. Checklist A is broken down into three sections:
- Did I Remember These?: Major changes regarding backstory, characters, structural improvements, and repetitive elements to delete or revise throughout the WIP
- Consistency Checks: Has a character’s name or age changed? What about the name of a location, object, etc.? What other facts or spelling do you need to check?
- Cosmetic Changes and Edits: Minor / editorial changes such as deleting filler words or eliminating dialogue tags and adverbs
- Checklist B: Chapter-Specific Revisions, which lists individual changes within a chapter, including reminders to shorten scenes and notes about content to add / delete / clarify.
Excerpts To Compare: A Scene from Chapter 11 of The Keeper’s Curse
Like with the previous Chronicle, I’ll share two excerpts from TKC to show how the story has changed during Draft #2, and to give readers a chance to offer early feedback.
Today’s excerpts come from Chapter 11. They’re different versions of a full (and non-spoiler-ish) scene, so each is a little longer than the previous Page 1 excerpts. However, they’re good examples of how heavy revisions can help a scene fit the story better. See what kinds of changes you notice when you compare the two. Also, if it’s possible, please let me know the following:
- What general comments do you have on the Draft #2 excerpt?
- Do you think Draft #2’s excerpt is an improvement over Draft #1’s? Why or why not?
- Does the Draft #2 excerpt make you interested in reading the story?
The next several days of the journey were uneventful, to my relief. By sunrise each day the fourteen of us had broken our fast, dismantled the camp, and begun the day’s ride. We stopped occasionally to rest or drink water; both were necessary under the hot summer sun and the open, grassy plains of the Hartlands. Otherwise, we kept riding until an hour before dusk, or whenever Aurek wished to stop. He never gave his requests directly to me, though. Instead, the Mountain Man would give orders to Gidion, who would then pass them on to me. A seemingly normal chain of command, but it fed the sickening discontent growing within me.
Aurek wasn’t the only one maintaining his distance from me, or from the other Councilors. The other Mountain Men kept to themselves, declining our efforts to build comradery through hunting, dinner, or simple conversation during the day. Doni couldn’t even coax the young Mountain Boy’s name out of him. The other Councilors speculated about our companions at dinner one night, deciding it was either cultural differences or the Mountain Men’s sour mood over losing Match Day to us. I ate my stew in silence as the boys talked in Fae, because I knew the real reason why.
Leading the party every day was already draining me. I spent most of each ride alone, focusing my mind on the northwest route I had planned and watching for landmarks. Immer constantly remarked on my determination when we were together. I’d thank her, stroke her black mane, and walk away to overwhelm myself with the guilt, hopelessness, and vexation I’d shoved from my horse’s senses. By the time I crawled into my blankets next to Doni to sleep, I had exhausted myself of emotion, and I felt no different and not the least bit rested when the sun rose.
The one bright light of that first week came on my birthday. I woke that morning to Doni shaking my shoulder. “Come on, sleepy,” he whispered in my ear, the glow of joy on his face brighter than ever. “You’ll miss your birthday party!”
It was as merry a party as it could be while away from home and with all seven of us crowded into a two-person tent. Keli and Doni played their flutes while the others clapped and sang our people’s birthday song. Then we ate a special breakfast of sunflower seeds, cranberries, cacao pieces, and – one of my favorites – Aunt Maji’s honey biscuits, wrapped in palm leaves to remain fresh. “I still don’t know how we managed to hide them from you for one whole week,” Gidion said as he passed around the biscuits. “I was sure you’d find them and eat them all before now!” There were no gifts; Councilors were not paid for their work, so the others couldn’t afford to buy any. That didn’t matter to me, though. I carried the joy of that waking for the rest of the day like a grin that stretched from head to toe.
That lightness lasted until late afternoon. It was the first day of summer, and it had been unforgivingly hot. At Aurek’s request, which by routine Gidion relayed to me, we had stopped to rest in yet another open plain. Immer and I had galloped ahead so I could get a better sense of our current whereabouts. No sooner had I opened the map that Gidion trotted over on Siabro.
“Aurek wants to camp for the night soon,” Gidion said. “He wants to know if there’s a grove of trees nearby.”
I started to answer but didn’t. The nature of Aurek’s request grated on my patience. “Aurek wants to know?”
“And he sent you to ask me rather than coming to me himself?”
Gidion’s face reddened. “Yes.”
I turned in my saddle to look at the rest of our party. Aurek had dismounted from his horse and was talking to the silver-haired Mountain Man named Okin. From the way Aurek stood, with his hands on his hips and his back and limbs rigid, I could tell he was troubled – or, worse, angry. I looked back at Gidion. “What’s the matter with him?”
Gidion shrugged. “He didn’t say.”
I stared at my cousin. “He talks to you every cursed morning, yet you don’t know if he’s worried about something?”
“Eva, stop. I don’t ask questions, all right? If something’s the matter, I’m sure Aurek would tell me. Now, shelter for the night.”
Yes, there was a place. I pointed straight ahead. “Remember Fortress Rock? We’ve camped before, under some of the stone overhangs. Let’s go there.”
“Great. I’ll go tell the others.”
I motioned for Gidion and his horse to come closer. When they did, I lowered my voice. “Has Aurek lost his head? Does he think he can go this entire mission without speaking to me? I’m his wretched navigator! If I’m going to take him – and all of us – to our enemy’s doorstep, he needs to come a lot closer than two horse-lengths from me.”
Gidion rolled his eyes. “Eva, can this wait?”
I almost snapped back with a “no.” Instead, I drew a deep breath and gazed off in the direction of Fortress Rock. How could I express my frustration without firing off like a ship’s cannon?
“What do I have to do, Gidion?” I asked. “What do I have to do to make him trust me?”
Gidion sighed. “I don’t know, Eva. That’s your problem, though. Not mine.” He nudged his horse with his lower legs. “Maybe making friends with your Mountain Man companions would be a good place to start,” he said as they trotted away.
Summer soon took its brutal hold on the Hartlands. Heat bore down on us from the vast, cloudless sky, sometimes dripping with humidity. By mid-morning, my clothes would cling to my sweaty skin and my throat would scream for a river’s worth of drink. On the worst days we would rest twice so our horses would not exhaust themselves, and be careful not to empty our water pouches and gourds. Forging the Alyen River was beginning to look like the most welcoming part of our journey – but that was several days away.
One afternoon, during the day’s second rest, I urged Immer further ahead to gain a better sense of our whereabouts. We halted atop a gently sloped knoll so I could open my map. Moments later, Gidion galloped over on Siabro. “We might have to camp sooner than planned. The heat’s given us quite the beating today.” He wiped his sweat-soaked hair away from his forehead. “Where do you think we could shelter for the night?”
I pointed ahead to a stone formation in the distance. “What about Fortress Rock? We’ve camped there before, when Edaro was Captain. It’s only an hour’s ride from here.”
He stared at the landmark without blinking. “Isn’t Fortress Rock important to the Mountain Folk?”
“It’s one of their prayer grounds from the persecution days. The rocks have always been there, though. I remembered it from history class, and I…” Without thinking, I tugged at the heartstone ring on my left hand. “I thought they would like to see it.”
Gidion’s face relaxed, and a sliver of a smile emerged. “And I was convinced you’d never make peace with them. Come, let’s go tell Aurek.”
I narrowed my eyes. “I’ll let you do it, Gidion.”
His mouth fell open. “What?”
“You heard me. You actually enjoy talking to Lord Aurek. I limit myself to one dose of him each day.”
Gidion stared slack-jawed for a moment, then scowled. He nudged Siabro’s sides with his calves and trotted closer, lowered his voice when he was close enough. “Have you lost your head? Do you honestly think you can go this entire mission without being civil?”
“You don’t call this,” I paused to wave a hand at Fortress Rock, “being civil?”
“It’s a thoughtful gesture, but you need to do more than that.”
“More? What do you want me to do, Gidion? Make friends with them?”
“That would be a start.” He nudged Siabro again and rode off to rejoin our company.
What do you think of the excerpts above? Do you think the Draft #2 excerpt is an improvement over the Draft #1 excerpt?
Also, do you have a habit of revising in the middle of your first draft? What tips do you have on cutting down on self-editing or saving potential revisions for later drafts? Share your responses to any of these questions, or any other thoughts you might have, in the Comments section below.