WarriorRevisions Revisited, by Jeff Posey

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A month ago, I wrote a guest blog here about Revising/Rewriting the WarriorWriter way as taught by Bob Mayer. I preached about the three arcs to emphasize in revision: Plot, Character, and Symbolism. Since then, I’ve spent about six hours per day revising and rewriting the first draft of a novel I composed for this year’s National Novel Writing Month.

So how’d I do? Not so good. I’m a bad WarriorWriter. Maybe. (You decide.)

Back in the middle Eighties when I started my professional writing career in magazines, I called everything between the composition of the first draft and the final copy placement into layout, “Comb Edits.” Think of a girl with long hair combing or brushing over and over until all the tangles are gone.

So here’s my confession: Despite the way I understood the teachings of Bob, I defaulted to my old ways of comb editing. Sure, I kept an internal chant going of “Plot, Character, Symbolism” while I combed, especially when I encountered tangles. But I discovered I don’t have the mental discipline to focus my edits solely and only on, say, Plot Arc.

So what are the WarriorWriter lessons here? I like triplets, so let’s extract three:

#1: Editing is good

I don’t care what you call it or how you think about it, going over and over your manuscript with the same creative intensity you had in composing the first draft makes it better. The first few comb-throughs force you to confront the most difficult tangles, which usually involve plot, characters, and symbolism. (And that’s also when the word “rewrite” is more in play than “revise.”)

#2: Warriors improvise

Just because the plan calls for sticking to plot issues in the first edit doesn’t mean you get to ignore every other problem you see. If your mission is to blow up a bridge and a tanker truck filled with gasoline is conveniently broken down in the middle lane, you change your plan to take advantage of it.

#3: Who Dares Wins

That’s the title of Bob’s book about success in every aspect of life using the warrior philosophy of the Green Berets. Those who dare write the first draft of a novel dramatically increase their changes of publication (duh). And those who dare edit their work with the fine-toothed comb of plot, character, and symbolic development increase their chances even more (duh again).

To me, the largest lesson of WarriorWriting is to do whatever is necessary to find the tangles and fix them, to dare invest everything you’ve got to be in a position to win. If you don’t, you’re not really in the game. Usually, the hardest part is seeing the real tangles that lie hidden behind the walls of our own psychological making (and that’s where the help of other people becomes invaluable: hence the need for psychologists, beta readers, and editors).

The good news is, most people don’t dare confront these tangles, and therefore won’t win. When you point out tangles to most people, they get defensive or ignore them. Only a scant few keep combing and combing and combing until they’ve relentlessly created a manuscript (and a life) worthy of recognition.

Happy WarriorWriting.

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Jeff Posey writes historical and contemporary fiction informed by archaeological findings of the Anasazi culture that lived in the Southwestern U.S. a thousand years ago. He blogs as Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey, and enjoys his Twitter buddies as AnasaziStories.

And, yes, Jeff fully appreciates the irony of a guy who is so bald he hasn’t touched a comb in twenty years evangelizing the benefits of “comb editing.” There’s always the lingering hope of facial hair.

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  1. #1 by Jason Myers on December 16, 2009 - 8:04 pm

    Editing and revising to me is the funnest part of writing. It’s where I can go in and enjoy the story, and find issues, and build up things I want.

    My Nano story didn’t have a ticking clock in it, but I found one near the end of the story, and I will go back in and pepper the story with it.

    I also plan on writing out all the names of my characters, and charting each one’s arc for the story.

    I need to work on theme and create some other documents within the story to add layers to it. I can’t wait. It’s so fun.

    I like to keep my story “in the drawer” for a month or so before I go back in and start revising, so I forget a lot of what I wrote. Then it’s like editing someone else’s work.

  2. #2 by Bob Mayer on December 16, 2009 - 9:16 pm

    I’ve learned the value of editing and rewriting over the years. There is only so much you can do on the first draft. After you get that down, then you have to add in layers to the story.
    My goal in current WIP is to get a draft down as quickly as possible and then spend considerable time rewriting.

  3. #3 by jasonamyers on December 16, 2009 - 9:22 pm

    But wait, Bob. I thought you edited as you went? Don’t you hate rewriting? Or are you taking a different approach?

  4. #4 by jasonamyers on December 16, 2009 - 9:23 pm

    Don’t confuse poor Jeff.

  5. #5 by warriorwriters on December 17, 2009 - 2:00 am

    I love how you have therapists, beta readers and editors listed together, LOL. How apropos. Great article. Editing is always a tricky task. The subconscious mind plants so many seeds, and, if one is not careful, it is easy to “weed out” some really great stuff. I LOVED number two about warriors improvising. So true and I think, again, that goes with my point about the subconscious. I think it “plants” those “gasoline trucks” to make life easier on you the writer. But then we get busy editing and essentially push them off the road…oblivious to the fact that out subconscious mind just gave us a helping hand.

    Great job and another wonderful contribution! You guys are going to be a tough act to follow😉.

  6. #6 by Frances Hunter on December 17, 2009 - 3:43 pm

    Jeff, you are so right that (duh) only by actually writing a first draft, and then revising, and then polishing, and then pondering, and then revising, etc. can leave you with a finished book! Sometimes when I look back on it I can’t believe that I have one book and one on the way (February). You have to start with a dream, but you need persistence and a little chutzpah to make it actually happen.

  7. #7 by jasonamyers on December 18, 2009 - 12:21 am

    Whatever!!! Kristen, you are so much better than we are. Jeff and I area like boot camp scrubs to your Master Sargent.

  1. Writing Roundup, December 18 « Uncategorized « Jen's Writing Journey

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