Thursday, December 17, 2009

Now or Later?


Throughout my career, my general pattern has been to start each day's work by editing, polishing, and revising what I wrote the day before. I can't argue with the way it's turned out. On occasion, when deadlines were tight, I've been known to just start typing where I left off the day before and rely on Livia to fix any mistakes I make. It certainly helps to have a fine editor in the same house, so that she can say "What happened to the other dead body?" or "This sentence doesn't make any sense" or "You're not going to have the hero get hit on the head and knocked out again, are you?"

I've also, at times, written something straight through and then gone back to the first and edited the whole thing, and I'm wondering if that might not actually be the best way to approach it. I think when you read the whole book in a relatively short period of time, you might see things you'd miss if you were just rereading small chunks every day. But I don't know. When it comes to writing, my rule is whatever works is what works, if that makes sense. I'm curious anyway about what you writer-types out there think. Is it better to revise every day, or wait until you're finished and revise the whole thing?

11 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I follow the same method you use. I also happen to have an excellent in-house editor, which really helps.

When I started out, I had a different approach. I was using a typewriter (and where did you find that old photo of me working on THE COYOTE CONNECTION?). In those days, I didn't revise until I'd written the whole book. Because revision was so troublesome, I changed as little as possible. The computer has been really handy for revision, especially for going back into the earlier sections of the books and fixing things up.

beb said...

I can't help ya because I hate to edit - ever. When I do edit my fan writing I find that letting it lie for a week or two makes it easier to read objectively.

On the other hand I can see where re-reading what you wrote the day before makes it easier to pick up the story where you left off.

James Reasoner said...

Actually, I think that must be a picture of me writing a Mike Shayne.

Chap O'Keefe said...

Sorry, friends, I think it was Matthew Mayo who first laid claim to the chimp photo for his author pic!

My working method today is the same as the one described. Also, ditto to Bill Crider's remarks about how it used to be with typewriters. I can remember older journalists (of whom I was one) viewing with huge trepidation the introduction by newspapers of "DEI" (direct editorial input). Stories were told of venerable columnists hiding away their old typewriters in closets. But it didn't take long before they wouldn't be without the computer. Same today for just about every book writer I know.

Unlike James and a few others, whose output I envy, I'm not a prolific wordspinner. Without a PC, I think these days I would be daunted to the point of paralysis.

Brian Drake said...

I sort of cheat. I write longhand first in a notebook, then type, and as I type, I change things, so I guess I revise as I type and then when the manuscript is done I revise again. I've always been able to turn work out pretty fast that way (the latest project has been through two drafts in as many months, but this may be an exception), though marathon hand-writing sessions lead to an awful case of wrist cramp which usually requires a day or two of rest.

Why did I start writing longhand, you ask? When I was 14 I listened to a Robert Ludlum interview and he said that's how he wrote. I tried it. I liked it. And everybody who sees me doing it thinks I'm crazy.

Ed Gorman said...

I really appreciate your posts about your writing process. Nice to know there are other lunatics out there suffering right along with me. I write straight through, take a break for a few days (I'm talking short stories here) then go back and revise. Novels pretty much the same but I try to take at least ten days away from the first draft, working on something else, before going back to it. But you're right, it's whatever works and in thirty years I've tried just about every approach ever created.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I haven't had enough books published to be considered a writer, but I usually write the whole enchilada and then go back and make changes. Unless I think of something that demands to be changed right away, or before I forget.

BTW, that's a great photo. The chimp looks like he really knows what he's doing.

James Reasoner said...

Brian,
My first two novels were written in longhand, using a fountain pen and writing in spiral notebooks. If you're persistent, you can turn out a lot of words that way. Sometimes I miss it. But as Chap says in the comment above yours, I'd never go back to it. I didn't know that Ludlum wrote in longhand, by the way.

Ed,
Lunatic is the right word. If it was always as hard as it is on the bad days, I swear I'd give it up. Luckily, there are the good days to balance them out, or at least they have so far.

Cap'n Bob,
That chimp's got a lot more on the ball than I do right now.

Matthew P. Mayo said...

Ha! Right on, Chap! I was just about to say that the chimp looks familiar.... (Actually, I think we all have an inner typing chimp.)

While I've only published a handful of books, I've used the same technique each time, which is to power straight through the rough draft, then go back over and over it until it seems finished--or until I start typing with my forehead and begging for bananas.

Perhaps I should try the begin-the-day-with-editing technique next time out. I'm game!

Cheers,
Matt

Brian Drake said...

James,
Ludlum made his comments about writing longhand--with a Ticonderoga #2 pencil and yellow legal pads--to Larry King on the radio one night (back when King still had his radio show; it would have been 1990) and I remember Larry's reaction to the news: stunned silence. Ludlum thought his reaction was hilarious. I used to have the interview on tape but the tape vanished many years ago. He's made the same comment elsewhere, though.

pattinase (abbott) said...

For short stories, I not only go back the next morning and rewrite and polish, I also do it after lunch or whenever I get stuck. This amounts to stories that are overly polished at the beginning and fairly rough at the end. Oh, well. I prefer editing to anything else.