Posted On November 25, 2015 by Print This Post

Embracing Change by Maggie Bolitho

A few months ago, Maggie Bolitho traveled over 12,000 miles throughout Australia. During the trip, she met with her publisher and worked on edits for her latest book. Today, Maggie shares her advice on getting through edits and rewrites. 

Welcome back, Maggie! 

The only thing certain in life is change and that rule is proven again and again in writing. While there are a few geniuses around who lay down a perfect draft on first attempt, most of us have to revisit our stories more than once.

The first, tepid draft of my latest novel Outback Promise was finished years ago. That initial hack at the coalface was so bland, a friend read it and commented, “This is fine for your family and friends but you may not want to show it to a publisher yet.”

It took me a while to accept that I could proceed with a new type of freedom. Whatever I did from there couldn’t possibly be worse than that first effort.

Since then I’ve completed six more novels. One has been published (Lockdown) and the rest are in various stages of revision. I’ve learned a lot during this writing apprenticeship.

You know that old question: what is one thing you wish you knew when you started writing? My answer: revising a manuscript is one of the most exhilarating and creative parts of the process.

My writing process is something like this:

  • Complete a first draft.
  • Put it away for one or two months.
  • Open it again and start revising.

That last step is as important as the first. There are many books that help a writer complete the first draft and complete it well. There are far fewer that help with the process of revision. So here are my suggestions for the rewriting process:

  1. Read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.
  2. Save the book under another name. e.g. Great Australian Novel draft 34. I use metric dates on my drafts so I have an idea of when they were done. e.g. Outback Promise 15-11-21
  3. Now into the grand design: think about the theme of your book. What are you trying to say? Have you said it? Can you summarize it in one sentence?
  4. If you work electronically, print a copy of the manuscript. If you work in print copy, look at your story electronically. The brain processes printed material differently than electronic and you should take advantage of both.
  5. Read the manuscript from start to finish. Make notes, mark up but don’t stop to edit. Try to get the reader’s experience. Is there tension or conflict in every scene?

If it’s underwritten, be prepared to write more.

Is it overwritten? If so, prepare to commit darling-cide. If you can’t bear to part with the bits you’ve deleted, save them in another folder. I have copious files of the darlings I’ve killed. I’ve never retrieved anything from them but I like the option.

  1. Revise based on your notes.
  2. Workshop it or engage a professional manuscript reader to give you feedback. Be thick skinned and open to suggestions.

Critique partners may be tough at times but the market is much tougher. Identifying critique partners is another challenge in itself but worth the effort. Revise again.

Avoid the temptation to ask friends for feedback at this stage. At all stages really. Friends may not embrace your genre. They may fear hurting your feelings. They may feel there is something wrong with the work but lack the analytical skills to help you fix it. Your critique partner may become your friend but it rarely works the other way around.

  1. Read it aloud, start to finish. This step will reveal inconsistency, poor diction, and continuity flaws among other weaknesses.
  2. Revise again.
  3. Repeat steps 2-8 until it’s the best it can be.
  4. When you move toward publication, you’ll work with a professional editor. Be prepared to start the cycle again.

I revised, edited, and workshopped Outback Promise a few times since my friend’s first withering comment. A conservative estimate might peg the published version as draft number thirty or forty if only major rewrites were counted. Still, I learned something every step of the way. The lump of clay took shape, fell over, and was worked on again.

The story of Outback Promise didn’t flow off my fingertips. It’s about Ros and Grady who lose their only child in a horrific hit and run accident. In the same catastrophic event, Grady is seriously injured. I don’t have children. I’ve never been involved in a major car accident. I had to dig deep to understand and feel how those disasters impact lives.

There is no such thing as writing, only rewriting. I first saw this quote attributed to John Steinbeck. I’ve also heard that Robert Graves, Harry Shaw, and Stephen King said it. Maybe they all did. It’s true regardless of where it started. Rewriting is when the story is primed and polished. Give your work the time it needs. It will be out there for a long, long time.

When do you change something and when is it better to leave it alone? That’s another question for another day.

Do you have tips on editing and rewrites? Please share!   

***

Outback PromiseOUTBACK PROMISE [HarperCollins Australia – November 2015]

Sometimes, before you can find yourself, you must lose yourself in the desert.

Can Ros and Grady move on from the past, or will their pain drive them apart? Six years ago, the Balfours lost their only child to a hit-and-run driver. Recently, Ros discovered Grady’s affair. With their marriage fast disintegrating, they decide to take a three-month camping trip into the heart of Australia to try and mend deep wounds and rekindle the fire that once fused them close. This trip will decide the fate of their relationship: do they have enough strength and enough love left to accept what life has put them both through? But trust and forgiveness don’t come easily, and Ros and Grady have to navigate not only the wilderness of the Outback and the challenges of other travellers, but also the chasm of grief and bitterness they have sunk into over the last six years. Their only hope for survival lies in facing the secrets they have both tried to keep buried.

***

Bio: A free range child, Maggie Bolitho grew up on an island In Canada’s Pacific Northwest. She spent her formative years Maggie Bolitho 1constructing alternative universes, flying under the radar and wishing for 20/20 vision.

She set out to see the world shortly after her 17th birthday. Eventually she met and fell in love with a wild colonial boy. After five years of futile resistance, she moved to Melbourne, Australia and married him. In 2007, Maggie and her husband made Canada their permanent home. They now live in a leafy suburb on that island where Maggie grew up. Most of the time they are perfectly happy there, although sometimes they long for the sunburnt country.

While living Down Under, she started writing fiction. Some of her adult short stories appear in different anthologies in the US, Canada, and Australia. She has had poetry published in Quills Canadian Poetry magazine. Her debut novel Lockdown (YA) was published in 2014 by Great Plains Teen Fiction (Winnipeg, Canada). Outback Promise is being released by HarperCollins Australia in November 2015.

To learn more about Maggie, visit her website or connect with her via Twitter and Facebook.

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7 Responses to “Embracing Change by Maggie Bolitho”

  1. Thank you for hosting me today!

    Posted by Maggie Bolitho | November 25, 2015, 8:30 pm
  2. Hi Maggie,

    Sorry for chiming in so late. I had internet connection issues this morning.

    Putting a manuscript away for a few months is an important part of the process. The distance allows me to look at the ms with a new perspective.

    Most of my rewrites involve reconstructing sentences. How many ways can I rework a sentence to make it more impactful? Then again, reworking a sentence doesn’t necessarily make it better. Also, when I find myself adding/deleting scenes during revisions it’s usually a sign that I’m not convinced the story is working.

    Good crit partners are key, too!

    Great to have you back.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | November 25, 2015, 8:37 pm
  3. Thanks Jennifer,

    Knowing when something has moved from bad to good, or vice versa, is tricky.
    That is certainly where good critique partners come into the equation.
    It can be hard to find good critique partners though abd sometimes a lot of frog kissing is involved.

    Posted by Maggie Bolitho | November 26, 2015, 11:59 am
  4. I apologize for commenting so late – I’ve been derailed by a nasty cold and a touch of the flu.

    What a fascinating post! I love to-do lists, because it’s so satisfying to cross things off. You have some very good suggestions – I’ll try to follow them!

    Every time I see your name I’m reminded of a British mystery writer, Maggie Bolitho. I’ve read all her books and enjoyed them all. Are you by any chance related to her?

    (I know, I know – it’s a little like saying “I know someone who lives in your town. Do you by any chance know them?”)

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | November 27, 2015, 11:40 pm
  5. Hi Becke
    No, I’ve never heard of the other Maggie Bolitho. Now I’m going to find her!
    Thanks for your comments on the post. I’ve met writers who said they didn’t know where to start with revision. This is a basic list and I’d love to hear other people’s opinions on how they approach the challenge.

    Posted by Maggie Bolitho | November 29, 2015, 12:54 pm
  6. I couldn’t find that other Maggie Bolitho. She is elusive in this time of find anyone anywhere cyber living. That’s both good & bad isn’t it?

    PS for some reason I’m unable to login with my wordpress ID. No photo with this comment!

    Posted by Maggie Bolitho | December 3, 2015, 8:20 pm

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