October 31, 2012

Lessons from the Trail Part I

During the course of composing my Chiles bio, people often asked me how I went about writing it.

Well, the first couple years were the hardest because I was still learning how--and I was teaching myself through trial and error.

One of the key lessons that is at the top of my mind nowadays is, "smaller is easier." By that I mean that revising small portions of the book--a page or less--is so much easier than scanning an entire 500-page manuscript for typos or substantive errors.

Once I finished the book, I tried many different methods of revisions. Most were frustrating because at that point the manuscript was about 900 pages long and the top priority was cutting wholesale. But I think it's fair to say that I also just tried to revise on the chapter level and not on the single page level. And my efforts to polish the script suffered in consequence.

To me, the best way go about revising a large, hundred-page-or-more manuscript is to slice it into manageable portions and revise each portion individually. It allows the author to visualize a small section in isolation, and see whether it can stand along, on its merits and out-of-context. If it looks weak standing alone, it probably is weak and merits revision. If is really sings, even solo, then it will probably be fantastic ensemble.

The most successful revisions I did on Walkin' Lawton occurred toward the end of the process, when I fully realized the benefits of scanning passages at a micro-level. I skimmed chapters, found faults, and then broke those weak links away from the chain for a closer exam. I rewrote paragraphs, paying close attention to clarity. Then I rewrote words, paying attention to memorability.

I cannot help but delight in some of those new, revised passages that entered the manuscript very late in the process. They reflect the full benefits of micro-revision. It's highly recommended as a method to make peace with large manuscripts.

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