Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Micro-Revision--Working from Small Issues to Bigger Issues to Solve Your Book's Problems

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to study with a well-known novelist online.  She offered a workshopping class that focused on micro-revision. 


As an editor, I knew about micro-revision, but it had always come last in my editing process.  Solve the big issues first, I was trained.  Deal with the structure problems, then the language fine-tuning will come naturally.


This writer used a different method, and since I'm always interested in learning new methods, I was intrigued.  I gave her eight weeks of my writing life and awakened my creative brain to micro-revision.
Each week, we chose a different section of our story to revise.  Small sections, like one paragraph or one or two pages.  Three pages at most.  Sometimes our focus was a section of not-quite-successful dialogue.  Another time it was a minor character who didn't quite come alive on the page.  Or the ending or beginning--always so challenging to sculpt.

About the same time, I was reading a great writing book, The Half-Known World, by writing teacher Robert Boswell.  Boswell had a similar theory.  Once you had basic writing skills in hand, once you had your story partially formed, it helped to begin small in your revision.  Boswell is interviewed in a wonderful article about this method of revision.  

Again, I saw changes in my writing from micro-revision. 
There are some dangers.  If your story is still in the very beginning stages, you can easily get hung up on nit-picking the details and never actually craft any structure.  But micro-revision can truly bring a welcome freshness to a stalled-out work.

Of course . . . once I learn a new method, once it works for me, I end up having to pass it on.  Since that class, and several others I taste-tested over the years, I've developed my own approach to micro-revision. 

This Monday, June 8, I will open the online classroom to Story-in-Progress, my new micro-revision workshopping class for fiction and memoir writers with a story-in-progress.  ("In-progress" assumes a certain level of commitment and time invested in the writing--it's not just beginning, it's been around a while.  But it's stuck.  Not all of it, but enough that there's some temptation to put it in a drawer and start something new.  Is that your writing?)   




It pays to learn about the theory of micro-revision, as long as you're at an intermediate or advanced stage of your writing.   It's a wonderful break from the big picture, to take that magnifying glass out and zero in on small sections of your work-in-progress.



Changes in a pivotal paragraph or a first page can inform the entire revision process.  It sometimes works to go from small to large.   


This Week's Writing Exercise

1.  Read the interview with Robert Boswell.   

2.  Boswell uses a revision list for his works-in-progress.  Start one of your own this week.  Go back through any feedback you've gotten for this piece of writing, and make a list of comments and suggestions, in any order, whether or not they make sense to you right now.
3.  Over the week, arrange your list small to large, micro- to macro-revision.   
4.  Pick one small change to make this week; see how it affects your understanding of the larger story.