Let’s Talk with James M Jackson

LOVING REVISIONS

by James M Jackson

I have entered the final self-revision phase of my fifth Seamus McCree novel. It’s the last step before I send it to my editor. Over the years I have honed my revision process, making it much more efficient.

I’m a pantser (or as some prefer, “organic writer”), so I don’t create an outline before I start writing; I begin with only a basic premise. Ninety thousand words later, I’ve found my story. I’ve tried outlining, but it’s a waste of time for me. As I write the first draft, I discover new things about my characters and their stories. Soon the outline became as useful as a losing lottery ticket.

One of my favorite lines about writing comes from Justice Louis D. Brandeis: “There is no great writing, only great rewriting.” I’ve distilled my process so I start with the largest issues and work my way down to the tiny nits that can make the difference between a frustrating read and an enjoyable one.

I share my process in the online course I’ve taught for chapters of Romance Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. (I’m offering it again this October. The details about the month-long course can be found at https://jamesmjackson.com/ .) The final step of my revision process, and the one I am performing right now, is fixing the nits—putting the final spit shine on the writing.

For example, I don’t need to say, “She shrugged her shoulders or she nodded her head.” Have you ever seen anyone shrug a knee or nod a foot? Me neither. Shrugging or nodding is sufficient (and should not be done too often).
With each new manuscript, I fall in love with some word or phrase that I overuse. Every novel has its own unique phrase that I need to root out. But I also have bad habits that I can only kill with conscious effort.

For example, I personally like flexibility and carry it over into my writing by including the word “about,” as in, “He walked about a mile.” Readers know my character didn’t get out his ruler to make sure he walked 5,280 feet and 0 inches. In any given novel, I’ll include about about a thousand times.

Do you have any pet peeves about authors’ writing styles that you wish they would change?

Oh, and today (Sept 7) is the last day of the $0.99 Kindle sale of Ant Farm, first novel in the Seamus McCree series. If you haven’t read Seamus yet, go ahead a risk a buck; you might find a new series to enjoy. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0749QYX14

 

Also, our Booklover’s Bench monthly gift card giveaway of $25 to either Amazon or Barnes and Noble is going on right now through September 18.  CLICK HERE to enter.

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Comments

  1. The self-editing software points out phrases that you use repeatedly and may not notice.

  2. I am not fond of present tense, but if written well, the story can sweep you away so you don’t notice.

  3. tinawhittle says:

    I love mixing real places into my fictional setting (I have zero imagination at world building also). And I don’t worry too much about being “wrong,” though I do try to explain the places where I have deviated from actual reality into book reality. But then sometimes book reality becomes actual reality (like Snowmadeggon, which I wrote before it occurred). I have few pet peeves when reading, though I get annoyed when writers refuse to do the most basic of research (Atlanta does not have a seaport, for example, since it is not on the coast).

    • What? Atlanta’s not a seaport? Next you’re going to tell me Savannah isn’t on the ocean either (where I have seen some author place it — thankfully, I’ve forgotten who).

  4. Great article, Jim. I work much the same way. I’ve spoken with authors who have their “go to fun words” that, as Terry mentioned, jump off the page to me. One character might use them, but another character might not, no matter whether its industry jargon or not. One of my favorite authors uses the phrase “Same goes” a lot. It doesn’t bother me, but it does jump off the page at me every time she uses it.

    • Karla — “Same goes” would stand out for me as well. When writing, one of the things I try to assure is not to share “unique sayings” between characters. In the current WIP, I discovered two characters used the same “pet name” for a young girl. I changed one.

  5. Authors who write series are more likely to have repeated phrases jump off the page, especially for “binge readers” who’ve just discovered a series and want to start at the beginning. A couple of times in one book might not be noticeable, but when it appears in every book, it starts to jump off the page.

    And sometimes it only takes once. A favorite author of mine used a fantastic description (one of those metaphor, simile things–I always get them confused), but when he used it again in another book, it jumped right off the page and lost its impact.

  6. Lots!
    But first, when you say “I personally like flexibility”, is ‘personally’ necessary? If it is you, isn’t ‘personally’ implied?
    Kind of like “in my personal opinion”.
    I don’t like overused phrases, no matter how charming. After two times it seems like filler.
    My main pet peeve is not doing research. If you set your work in an actual town, make sure street names, directions, etc are correct.

    • I like to recognize places when I read, especially those I’m familiar with, but I understand that authors have to take liberties for privacy, or just because things change. I set a scene in a specific restaurant once, named it, described it, had the “right” menu items, the piano player, and about a week after the book came out, the restaurant closed and another one took its place.

      • Terry — I had a restaurant that Seamus McCree often went to in Cincinnati go out of business on me and I included his discovering that in a later book!

    • Pat — you caught me: personally is extraneous (or badly chosen if I were trying to differentiate the “personal” me from the “authorial” me).

      And I’m with you on factual situations. Although I don’t have a problem with mixing in a fictional streets and businesses, I do want the actual streets to run in the correct directions, etc.