I’ve been revising a lot lately, so it’s been on my mind. Because of this, I think I’ve been noticing all the revising stuff that have been coming up in the virtual world lately. It’s funny how the brain takes notice when it sees something relevant, isn’t it? :)
Anyway, a lot of writers are asking about the best way to revise. They’re looking for specific ways of doing this, like cutting X number of words from the first draft, skipping over the first few chapters to where the story supposedly starts, or how to spot spelling and grammatical errors. And, really, it’s great that writers are looking for information. It shows a desire for growth. I just think they’re looking in the wrong place...
First of all, not everyone needs to automatically chop off the first three chapters. Some writers are very good at identifying the story’s true beginning. So if they cut out the first three chapters, they’d be cutting out essential pieces of the story. On that same note, some writers are sparse with words in their first drafts, focusing only on the bare bones of the story. Therefore, setting a goal of cutting words in the next draft is going to hurt rather than help. Instead, that writer needs to add flesh to the bones. Because of this, you need to identify what kind of writer you are before you start taking everyone’s advice.
Next, let’s look at what revision is, as well as what it’s not. Revision is looking at the content of your story to see if it’s telling itself in the best way possible. Once you’ve got that down, *then* you look at your choice of words, sentence structure, and spelling and grammatical stuff. In other words, once you’re finished revising, you polish your manuscript. It doesn’t make sense to polish before, or even during, revision.
So, how do you do this? Well, it’s not easy. And to make things even harder, there’s no formula, or exact way of doing it.
Just like your writing process, your revision process is unique to you – it depends greatly on what kind of writer you are. Do you just sit down and let your words take you on a ride? Do you plan meticulously, knowing every detail before you start writing your story? Somewhere in between?
I’m an in-between kind of writer, probably smack in the middle between ultimate exploration and ultimate planning. I need to know where I’m going, but I don’t want to know the details of how I’m going to get there – except for the beginning. Everything flows downhill, so I have to make sure I’m flowing from the right place, and that I have everything I need. I don’t like to be on a journey, constantly checking my pockets for stuff, and then getting mad when I don’t have it. So, I revise the first chapter heavily before I even move on to the second chapter. After that, I don’t revise much (only big stuff) until I’ve finished the entire draft. I guess you could say I’m sort of a revise-as-I-go kind of writer. With some exceptions.
But what if you’re not that kind of writer? That just means you have a different set of parameters when it comes to revision. Those parameters will be determined by how you wrote your first draft, so it’s impossible to create a comprehensive process that will work for everyone. Fortunately, there are parameters that everyone needs to incorporate in some way, shape, or form. Most are in the revision checklist I wrote last year, but here are two more.
All writers need distance from their work. Without it, we can’t obtain the necessary objectivity to see our work for what it is. Is it truly the masterpiece we thought when we wrote the first draft? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth fixing. Putting time and distance between you and your manuscript will let you see the areas that need work, as well as the areas that don’t need much work.
Big stuff before the small stuff.
Once you’ve finished a draft, take a good look at the overall story. Does it flow well? Is everything absolutely necessary? Is there enough tension? Does the story have the appropriate shape? Looking at these big pieces before you agonize over word choice will save you down the road. What if you spend weeks perfecting a scene, only to have to cut it in the end? After you’re happy with how the story fits together, then you can work on the smaller pieces.
There are other things you need, of course, and it depends greatly on what kind of writer you are. That said, no matter what kind of writer you are, your revising process is probably going to vary widely depending on your current project. I’ve written and revised four books so far – though it feels more like six, since I’ve rewritten and revised one of those books three times, basically starting from scratch each time. And, with each book, the writing and revision processes have been different. I imagine the same thing will happen with my next book, and the next, and the next, and so on. And, to me, that’s part of what keeps writing so interesting. :)