Sunday, January 8, 2012

Organizing Book Revision Notes

I spent my Winter Holidays revising WATERSPELL Book 3: The Wisewoman, getting it nearer ready for a Spring 2012 release. While writing and revising Books 1 and 2 (which are available now as e-books and paperbacks—please see, I accumulated a mass of notes: details I needed to work into Book 3, or background that should underpin the third, climactic book.

My habit is to jot down a thought, whenever it comes to me, on whatever scrap of paper is at hand. I end up with sticky-note notes, index-card-size notes, notes scrawled on legal pads, and notes penciled on the backs of envelopes. (See "Notepads, Notepads, Everywhere.") By the time I got to Book 3 of the long and intricate WATERSPELL trilogy, I’d accumulated a rather intimidating mass of notes.

To organize them, I hit upon the idea of separating them into four categories:

This way, I could sort them by importance.

“Plot Issues / Loose Ends” and “Toward the Climax” (notes related specifically to the final three chapters) took priority. These were essential matters: the solutions to mysteries and the answers to questions. Throughout my editing of all three books, I’d made careful notes to be sure of not overlooking anything vital that must be dealt with in Book 3.

“Descriptive Details” were secondary. In this folder, for example, I filed a quote from snake-handler Bill Haast (1910-2011), describing his pain when he was bitten by a blue krait, one of the world’s most poisonous snakes. “I felt like the skin had been stripped from my body, like every nerve in my teeth was exposed, like my hair was being ripped out of my head,” he said. He had hallucinatory visions of lambs’ heads and purple curtains. Nowhere in Book 3 did I have occasion to use Haast’s pain for inspiration (instead, I drew on my own experience of being stung by a scorpion in the tropics), but I’m keeping the clipping in my files. In a later book, I may want to inflict Haast’s pain on another character.

Under “Insights,” I filed this sticky-note to myself that I do not remember writing: “Carin [WATERSPELL's protagonist] had lost her identity, but perhaps never her sense of place.” That idea, I now see, permeates Book 3. In fact, it’s central to the whole story. Early in Book 1 we find this: “Here in the hard-won north, she might find the place where she belonged.” Carin, like most young people, needs to know where she fits in. She’s on a quest to find her place, wherever it might be.


WATERSPELL Book 3: The Wisewoman, a 404-page manuscript, now awaits me on a table near my favorite reading chair. I plan to distract myself with other pursuits (such as promoting Books 1 and 2) for a few weeks. Then I’ll give it a final prepublication read-through. Publication target date: April 2012
While pulling my Book 3 notes together, I remembered an excellent book of advice written by my friend Kathryn Lay. It's chockablock with great practical tips. The Organized Writer Is a Selling Writer is available directly from Kathy. Or download the Kindle e-book.

SELF-EDITING: A Systematic Approach to Editing Your Own Writing

Another resource I'll mention is my own book, Self-Editing: Two Half Brains Make a Whole Writer. It offers tips for (partially) computer-aided editing and for invoking the critical faculties of your logical left brain at just the right time. First use the Find feature to locate predictable problems: “ly” adverbs, overuse of commas, qualifiers that leech the life from writing. Then move on to meatier matters of self-editing: eliminating wordiness, changing passive voice to active, when to show and how best to tell, subtlety, pacing, etc. This is nuts-and-bolts advice for fixing common errors.

E-book formats available: Nook, Kindle, and others.

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