Friday, November 13, 2009


If you're a writer, you probably have a work-in-progress (WIP). Heck, if you're a writer, you probably have a dozen WIPs.

After you've completed a first draft, and after putting it aside for a suitable "percolation period," it's time to get busy with the initial round of revisions. (I know many writers edit as they go. If I tried that, I'd never get past the first chapter!)

In other words, it's time to make sausage. sausages

Here's a tiny glimpse into the beginning stage of my sausage-making operation. Sometimes I change the order of the steps or omit a few, but eventually I grind and slice and dice and squish everything together into one tasty hunk of novelwurst.

I begin at the computer, where I...

Spell check. I do this multiple times throughout the process. I don't know about you, but a gremlin lives in my laptop and likes nothing more than to jack with me by adding typos and misspellings when I'm not looking.

Examine/eradicate/change my crutch words. Using WORD's Find and Replace feature, I search for all the words I typically overuse: that, just, maybe, sometimes, pretty, little, smile, nod, exopthalmos (just seeing if you were still with me), etc. I don't get rid of every instance, but I delete a lot of excess verbiage (especially those pesky "that"s that keep cropping up). Sometimes I also search on -ly words (bad adverbs! bad!).

Insert/adjust chapter breaks. Some are "cliff-hangers," some are logical scene endings, and others are based entirely on writer's whim. I re-jigger them so I don't end up with any 2-page chapters or 42-page chapters.

Tidy up transitions. My goal is to get the reader from one scene to the next smoooooothly and (relatively) unconfused.

Pretty-up ugly prose. Tighten, tighten, tighten.

Fill in those ominous XXXs. While writing the draft, I insert an XXX "placeholder" whenever I need a particular name (person, place, thing) but don't know it. Now is when I actually do the research to fill in the blanks.

Work out/refine timeline (see earlier post on A Million Blogging Monkeys). I get a calendar from whatever year/month the story takes place and map out the timeline. This way I can avoid having my characters undertake 36 hours of stuff in a single afternoon--and other embarrassing goofs.


What's next? After I complete all of the above (on the computer), I print out the manuscript and do a hardcopy edit. My eye seems to catch different things when I read on paper. (Plus I like scratching stuff out with a big 'ol red pen.)

Then it's on to read for story flow and character development (I'll leave those details for a future post).


How about you? For those who don't edit as you go, is your process anything like mine, or is it something totally different?

How do you make your sausage?


(This entry is “simul-posted” on InkSpot.)


Be sure to visit the blog on Monday for Part I of an interview with fellow InkSpot blogger Keith Raffel.



Unknown said...

Interesting way to make sausage, Alan! Very methodical and, well it sounds quite organized.

I just love these glimses into the process of making sausage. :)

Elspeth Futcher said...

We seem to follow a very similar process in our sausage-making. I spell check over and over again. I check verb tenses as well. Then it's time for the placeholders; which can take a while. Chapter breaks are usually okay, but might get fiddled with. I'm incredibly aware of timelines when I'm doing the first draft so hopefully there's no monster mistakes.

I actually don't mind editing; far more logical than writing the sucker!


Alan Orloff said...

Crystal - It only sounds organized. It really is like making sausage.

Elspeth - Editing does seem to take less "work," but then I think I must be doing it wrong.

JournoMich said...

VERY helpful to a newbie writer. Thank you! I know it's basic, but I didn't know about Word's refine feature. Thanks!

Uhh, the sausage pic? Very gross.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

This sounds like a very organized way of making sausages, Alan! And very tweetable...

Mystery Writing is Murder

Anonymous said...

Alan - I like your method! I always have a process I go through, too, to "make my sausage." I start with content: is it interesting? Is it a taut plot? Am I off on a tangent or wasting too much verbiage on something? Are the characters real? Then I move to the structure (chapter organization, etc.). Then I do the mechanics stuff. At least that's what works for me!

And like Elizabeth - I'm tweeting this 'un : )

Alan Orloff said...

Michele - Find and Replace is invaluable for when you need to change your character's names. Just be careful: if you change Tom to Jim, you might have your character putting a slice of jimato on his sandwich!

Elizabeth - Maybe you should put up a sausage recipe on Mystery Lover's Kitchen. I've got a picture for you! (even if Michele thinks it's gross).

Margot - I'd love to read for content first, but I get too distracted by all the typos and ugly prose. It has got to be semi-clean before I can read through it on paper.

Thanks for the tweets, tweeters!

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Your process is very structured and logical…a great thing. Mine’s not quite as well thought out. Primarily, I read my document over and over, until I can repeat it by heart. Many sins and oversights surface this way…particularly bulky, awkward sentences or scenes. I do some of the search things as well, but primarily, I rely on how it reads to my ear and if there are logic breakdowns.

Best Regards, Galen

Annette said...

My process is very much like yours, Alan. Except I save the spellchecking and word finding until after I've done the hard copy read-through. By the way, yesterday I printed out my first draft for that very reason.

However, as a vegetarian, I can't get into the sausage-making analogy. I'm with Michele. The picture is ick! LOL!

Alan Orloff said...

Galen - Your memory is better than mine. I have trouble remembering my name sometimes, no matter how many times I say it. For the record, I did not find your blog today offensive. In fact, your anecdotal research mirrors actual market research--more women buy books than men.

Annette - Congrats on getting to the hardcopy edit stage. I spell check before, I spell check during, I spell check after. I hate typos!

I don't eat sausage either.

Annette said...

Okay, I admit I do spell check as I go. But I figure, so much gets changed during the revision stage, it doesn't make sense to do a line edit type spell check until a little later.

Cassandra Jade said...

It depends how terrible the first draft is. I'm defintitely the type that when I edit as I go I don't move in a story. I didn't finish my first draft of any novel length piece of writing until last year because I just kept rewriting beginnings and not getting much further. Since I've taken the close my eyes and type approach to first drafts I've written a fair number, unfortunately most are extreme works in progress.
That said, spelling is the least of my problems. I have to go back to basic plot mapping and character motivations and graphing out subplots and where they travel through the story and intersect each other and just generally make sure it makes sense. Then I get on to the spelling and worry about sentences and making it pretty.
Thanks for sharing this post.