A new deadline

Now that I’ve finished a draft of my book, I need a new deadline.

Or maybe I should call it a goal. Deadlines, in my mind, aren’t flexible, which is both a blessing and a curse. Missing deadlines makes me feel guilty — I am a journalist, after all — and I rarely meet the self-imposed deadlines I’ve set for writing this memoir. Since this is my first book, I never know how long writing a scene or a chapter or a section will take me, and each one tends to take longer than I guess.

Which brings me back to my original point. I need a deadline for revision. When should I expect to be done?

I’d prefer to set a goal that’s too soon rather than too late. And there’s a date that’s coming up I can’t pass up: January 1. The first day of 2010! That gives me four weeks, which seems reasonable considering I’m already partway through this process because I edited and revised as I wrote the first draft.

Of course, finishing this revision isn’t the end of the road. Once I’m happy with the book, I plan to hand it over to a few friends, writer and editor types, who have offered to read it from beginning to end. Based on their suggestions, I’ll revise again.

And then, my friends, the book will be done.

UPDATE: As a few readers pointed out in the comments, I mean done as in ready to submit to literary agents. If that pans out, I’ll have more revisions ahead of me.

This is cause for celebration…

I finished a draft of my book!

That’s right, I’ve written through the entire manuscript. It feels like a huge accomplishment. I’m ready to move onto the next stage: revision.

Actually, I’m already well into the revision process. I’ve edited 16 of my 33 chapters. At least one critique partner has read through them, and I’ve made changes based on their suggestions.

I realize this goes against conventional wisdom about writing an entire draft before revising. But revising along the way worked for me. And one of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far about writing a book is that I have to do what works for me, even if it doesn’t follow conventional wisdom.

What do I hope to accomplish during my revision stage?

Cut & Trim. My manuscript comes in at about 100,000 words. I want to get it down to 85,000 – 90,000, a length that will appeal to literary agents and publishing houses. That means I’ll be tossing out chapters and scenes I spent time and energy writing. But cutting is about more than losing words. Tightening my manuscript, getting rid of scenes I don’t really need, will improve the story.

Decide on a beginning. Several of my readers made a similar suggestion about the beginning of my book, that I may want to start differently. I’m going to give it a whirl and see whether that works better.

Consider the chapters all together. I’ve edited half my chapters, so I believe each works separately. But once I finish revising the rest of my pieces, it’ll be time to look at all thirty or so chapters together and see how they work as one unit.

Improve transitions. Several chapters could transition more smoothly. I’ll examine the beginnings and endings of each chapter, making changes where necessary, to make sure chapter breaks are seamless.

Reconsider all embarrassing scenes. During my first draft, I revealed everything about myself that would make the story interesting, knowing I could always delete those embarrassing scenes later. Now it’s time to decide whether I really want to include each one in the book. Am I comfortable with letting readers know all these personal details? In many ways, those embarrassing tidbits are what make my memoir interesting.

What do you focus on during your revision process?