Friday, November 15, 2019

Pantsters Anonymous

Describe your editing/revision process. How do you make that mess of a first draft into a real book?

by Paul D. Marks

My name is Paul and I’m a Pantster.

In a word, here’s how I would describe my editing process: messy.

Since I am a pantster I don’t really have much when I start. No outline. Maybe a few notes or some ideas in my head. And I just let the characters “walk and talk” until they get to know each other, and I get to know them. It doesn’t really matter how far flung or bad my early drafts are. I guess in some ways you could say they’re my “outlines”.

The key is to realize that everything isn’t straight from the muse and that you do have to refine and chisel away at it until you come up with something recognizable. You have to work on the characters and the plot and all the other elements. I know I’d prefer never to have to rewrite, but it’s really all about the rewriting, isn’t it?

I read the drafts over and over again, each time chiseling away at them so they become more and more formed with each draft. My early drafts are random and stream of consciousness. Sometimes they run way long, other times they’re way too short. And almost all the time the endings are very sketchy. Those truly get fleshed out more with each subsequent draft.

One of the things that truly does blow me away is just how that hot mess of a first draft (and second draft and third draft) becomes something that actually makes sense and might even be fun to read. I just finished 2 new stories, working on a 3rd, amazing when it all comes together. There’s always that phase around the middle of the writing process where I look at something and it’s just a big mess and I wonder if it’s worth continuing. Most of the time it is. You just have to see the Maltese Falcon under the black paint. It’s usually there, but you have to chip away at the paint ever so gently so you don’t chip the falcon.


Even the great masters of painting “edited” their work. When some of their paintings are x-rayed they find earlier “drafts” of a work on the canvas, sometimes even different works altogether. So there’s no sin in editing and doing draft upon draft.

I usually go through lots of drafts. Some have major changes. Some have minor. But here’s a hint, don’t edit as I go along. Big things, little things, most of the time I change them in the next draft. I might make a note but I don’t get bogged down in the minutia. For example, if I have someone with blue hair on page 7 and I decide I want them to have green hair throughout, I don’t make that change till the next draft. That’s a small one and a silly one, but it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about. The only real exception in my method is if I decide that something major, plot or character-wise, isn’t working. Then I might toss the draft I’m working on and go to a new one with the new changes. But more often than not, even with big things I just change horses in mid-stream, so to speak, and go back and fix the earlier things in the next draft.

And, though I’d like to think that my drafts are perfect it helps to have a Maxwell Perkins of your own. Perkins was the editor for Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe and others. And he helped them whip their manuscripts into shape. Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t need an editor but we really do. You need someone with a different perspective and who isn’t tied to every golden word you put down on the page.

I’m lucky to have my own Max Perkins, my wife Amy, to read my stuff. And sometimes I don’t like it when she tells me she thinks I should change X or Y, but most of the time she’s right and I’ll go back and re-do something. Other times I might argue with her and I’ll end up keeping something and changing something else.

But you have to be careful about who you choose as your editor. You don’t want someone who doesn’t “get” you or who can’t be impartial and just loves every word you put down on paper (i.e. my mom – to whom everything I wrote was just wonderful). It works for Amy and me because she’s not afraid to tell me what she thinks, but we also just work well together, we’re able to hash things out and brainstorm a problem in the manuscript together. For some people, a professional editor is the solution for others a trusted beta-reader. You just need to find what works for you.

Next in the editing process is the almost-endless read-throughs. I’ll read a draft and make notes, then Amy reads it and comments on my notes and we go back and forth that way for several drafts. Finally, we’ll sit down together and read it aloud. It’s amazing to me how so many things will come out when you read out loud. Lines that might have looked fine, sound bad or awkward. Typos that you become “snow-blind” to will become obvious when you’re reading aloud.

At some point the editing has to end. It’s really hard to stop sometimes because you’ll always find more things to polish the more times you read something. But you have to finally finish and let it go. Send it out into the world and hope it can fly on its own.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Check out my Duke Rogers Series:





Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

25 comments:

Frank Zafiro said...

Paul,

* My wife Kristi is my Amy/Max. And when you said, "Sometimes I don't like it when..." about her suggestions, I'm totally there, brother.

Sometimes, even though I don't go with an idea or a thought she has, it sparks another and another, and still gets me where I need to be.

* Your pantsing process sounds like my process when I'm on a solo project. It'd be a mess of a way to write with a partner, but can be glorious on a solo. I really like how you point out that your first draft is the equivalent of a plotter's outline. The two processes are really not as different as we all like to pretend.

Good post, bud.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Frank. And I think we're both lucky if your wives can be our Max Perkinses. You're also right about even when we don't necessarily take their suggestions directly they spark other ideas. It's good to have someone who can be objective and help us get where we need to be.

GBPool said...

My writing process is different than yours in a few respects. I write the first chapter or two and then go over it, polish it and see if it is going where I want it to go. I am more concerned with the beginning of any story than anything else because that is what captures a reader's interest. Then I write on, polishing the stone as it were as I go. But the heavy polishing does come at the end. That's when I listen to my words to see if they make sense. This I do four or five times in a complete read-through. I put it away for a while and go over it one more time. But as you said, it's that polishing that is so important. It shows that the writer cares about his reader as well as himself. It's work, but o so necessary.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

I think we work the same way, Paul. No outline, but a lot of editing.

Susan C Shea said...

"Not everything is straight from the muse." Truer words were never spoken, Paul! Well said.

Rick Robinson said...

Growing up, a punster was someone who snuck up behind you and pulled down your pants. Is that what you do? Seems like from what you've said, you're more of a "seatster", as in plotting by the seat of your pants.

Rick Robinson said...

It changed it... should be a pantster was someone who...

Maggie King said...

I’ve had editors who don’t “get” me. Very discouraging. But it can be helpful as I can make my story clear enough that they can “get” me.

Paul D. Marks said...

Gayle, it sounds like your system and mine are similar though I try to bull through a first draft more than finessing the opening. But whatever works, right?

Paul D. Marks said...

It’s all in the editing, isn’t it, Dietrich.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Susan.

Paul D. Marks said...

Rick, it could be a seatster, but that’s a new one on me. But no, I don’t pull down people’s pants, but I do fly by the seat of my pants.

Paul D. Marks said...

I think a lot of editors don’t get writers, Maggie. Unfortunately. But I guess we have to play to the house sometimes.

Craig Faustus Buck said...

Hi Paul, great post. I, too, am a total pantser, but I don't have your discipline of saving changes until the next draft. I am continually backtracking and correcting, especially if a character does something unexpected and I want to motivate it earlier. I just don't trust my memory enough to wait until a subsequent draft to make the change. An idea in the hand is worth two in the past. However, my method probably increases my writing time by 200%. It's certainly not efficient, but it works for me creatively. The interesting thing (well, I'll let you be the judge of that) is that, by the time I get to the end, I've probably rewritten the beginning of the book ten times as often as I've rewritten the end.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Craig. I love your expression about an “idea in the hand is worth two in the past.” And I understand about forgetting things, or worrying about forgetting them if you don’t fix them at the time. But I find that for me if I don’t keep moving forward I just get too bogged down. But whatever works for you is the way to go.

Lawrence Maddox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lawrence Maddox said...

Great post, Paul.
Pantsters rule!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Larry. And Pantsters rule, definitely! :-)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Paul,

I agree about not worrying about the mistakes in a first draft. The important thing is getting it down, rough as it may be. Self-editing is necessary regardless.

Paul D. Marks said...

Good points, Jacqueline. Just get it down, then bring out the hammer and chisel :-) .

Kaye George said...

Plotter here, but we have so much in common. That middle part, middle stage, middle muddle where everything seems hopeless. Plus, the endless edits and re-readings. One thing I finally learned is that someone else'e process isn't going to necessarily work for me. I know that everyone has to find their own, but reading about how others do it helps refine it!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comments, Kaye. I also like hearing about others' processes. But, as you say, ultimately, we have to find out what works for us.

Delores White said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
sadsd said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kjfgdfuh said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.