Today I’m pleased to welcome Linda Huber to the blog to talk about her revision process.
Linda grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, but went to work in Switzerland for a year aged twenty-two, and has lived there ever since. Her day jobs have included working as a physiotherapist in hospitals and schools for handicapped children, and teaching English in a medieval castle. Not to mention several years spent as a full-time mum to two boys and a rescue dog.
Linda’s books are psychological suspense novels, and the ideas for them come from daily life. The Paradise Trees and The Cold Cold Sea were traditionally published in 2013/2014 before she self-published The Attic Room in 2015 and Chosen Child in early 2016.
Ward Zero, her fifth book, was inspired by a consumer programme on Swiss TV.
You can read Linda’s First Draft Q&A HERE.
Your first draft has been completed, what state is it generally in?
It’s on a word doc and is anything between 75,000-95,000 words long. The word doc is in a folder along with my notes on plot, characters, location etc, and my chapter plans. While writing the first draft, I often add notes to myself on the ms, in a different colour, of things to check or find out when I do the first revision.
What is the first thing you do before you start to revise?
Put the whole thing away for a bit, because it’s true – a couple of weeks (at least) distance makes all the difference! But during this time, it’s very much still in my head. I think a lot about my characters especially – would they really do what they’ve done in my book? Can I change anything to make their behavior more natural? Is there anything I could add to improve the plot? Are my chapters in the best order? And I make notes on everything that comes to mind.
How do you assess the damage that needs working on?
At the very first revision stage, I think this is more gut feeling than logical assessment. If I’m not sure about something, then it probably isn’t working. The first thing I do is read the whole thing through, and add in my notes of the past few weeks while the draft was resting, plus anything else that comes to mind while I’m reading. The notes are in different colours according to what I have to do with them, so the ms looks very bright and cheerful at this stage! Then I’m ready to start revising.
Do you allow anyone to read that very first draft before revisions or can you assess it objectively yourself?
Neither. First drafts are for my eyes only, but I’m very aware that I can’t assess my book well myself; I’m not sure anyone can. My aim is, by the end of the first revision, to have the book in a state where I can send it to my editor, Debi Alper (who is fabulous – we’ve worked together on all my books except the first). She then sends a detailed report on structure, character development, and plot, as well as the ms on paper, with handwritten notes – and that’s when the revision gets really interesting.
What do you initially focus on, when approaching the completed first draft of the manuscript?
I try hard to read the ms with reader’s eyes. The events in my book are logical to me, the writer – but would a reader see it the same way? I try to identify and fix areas which might need something to clarify for the reader why such and such happens, or why someone acts the way they do.
Do you have any rituals, writing or real-world, when revising a manuscript?
Sucky sweeties (for revision and for writing…). I keep a supply right beside my laptop. There’s an Aldi along the road, and they have a good selection. My current favourites are the yoghurt and fruit ones, Werther’s Originals, and blackcurrant pastilles.
In what format do you revise, paper or computer?
My first revision is still in the computer. When it comes back from my editor it’s on paper, but I then continue on the pc again.
How messy is the revision process – can you go in and repair areas or does the whole manuscript get decimated?
That depends a lot on how much needs fixed! One thing I always, always do, is make a copy of each stage before I move on to the next. So if my decimation gets too extreme, I can scrap it and start that stage again.
Is revision an overhaul of the story or is it minor editing?
For me, minor editing it what I do at the very end of the process – check I don’t have too many repetitions of my favourite words and phrases. How much is overhauled during revision depends on the book, I think. The structure of my fourth novel Chosen Child, for instance, hardly changed at all after the first draft, whereas other books changed massively.
What’s the biggest change you’ve made to a story during this process?
In The Cold Cold Sea we changed the timeline. Originally, the first third of the novel had alternating past-present chapters with alternating POVs, and I changed this to a long linear section with one POV, followed by a second in the other POV.
In The Attic Room, an entire subplot came out, and in Ward Zero, I changed Kenny into Caitlyn…
When first drafting, many writers keep track of progress by counting words in a day. How do you make sure you’re progressing as you’re revising?
I just work through the book. The aim would be a couple of chapters a day at least.
Do you prefer to write the first draft or do you prefer the revision process?
I MUCH prefer revision. When I’m writing the first draft, there’s a feeling of urgency, of doubt, of ‘I have to get this down; OMG am I going to make it, is it going to work?’ With revision, the base is already there, and I’m aiming to improve it – and that’s the fun bit!
What do you drink while you’re working?
Tea (atm I’m into lemon and ginger) in the morning, coffee in the afternoon. Maybe a cold drink in summer, but that’s as well as and not instead of coffee.
How long does this process take and what shape is the book now in?
My own first revision takes a couple of months, and at the end the book goes to my editor.
When it comes back we repeat the process. And at some point, the xth draft turns into a real, proper book…
Thank you for delving into your revision process Linda.
Ward Zero: the dead ward…
Horror swept through her. Had she been buried alive?
On Sarah’s first visit to see her foster mother, Mim, in Brockburn General Hospital, she is sucked into a world that isn’t what it should be.
Someone is lying, someone is stealing. And someone is killing – but who? With a grieving child to take care of, as well as Mim, Sarah has to put family first. She doesn’t see where danger lies – until it’s too late.
If you think you’re safe in a hospital, think again.