Revision – A Writer’s Worst Nightmare?

During my daily excursions on the World Wide Web, I’ve chatted to a number of writers and seen a great number of tweets that all say the same thing: Writing the first draft is exciting/exhilirating/awesome/the-best-thing-ever and that any edits and revisions that come after are hellish/boring/like-root-canal/horrible. In fact, I’ve seen more than one writer refer to being stuck in ‘revision hell’ or ‘editing hell.’ I’m the complete opposite. To me, there is nothing more intimidating than a plain white page. I love me some edits and here’s why…

1. The Fix

As a bit of a pantser-plotter hybrid, my rough drafts tend to fall out of me in fits and starts. I often have no idea where the story is going when I start that first chapter. By the middle, I have a better sense of character and story trajectory and can already start streamlining the plot. By the end I know what’s happening and why and end up mentioning details that just don’t exist in the first half of the book. The joy of editing is that I can fix this crazy spaghetti-mess of a draft now that I know what the story’s about and where my characters end up. I can go back to the beginning and add foreshadowing, trim superfluous scenes and create suspense. I can also mould scenes from lumpy misshapen werebeasties into something beautiful and identifiable, giving me the character development that is often lacking in those early drafts.

2. The Make-over

Again the curse of the pantser, but I often start a story with a certain aesthetic in mind (be that high fantasy, gritty urban, cyberpunk, steampunk etc.) and as I write, I discover that a different aesthetic suits the plot or characters better so I start morphing the novel towards the new design. This can result in a book being half sci-fi, half fairy world – total messy mash-up. Mash-ups are great. I love them. But they need to be done cleverly and carefully – two things rarely found in a first draft. Part of my revision process involves giving my story a make-over, making it more of one, less of another or eradicating the errant style altogether. This sort of world-building polish should not be over looked as the world-building affects everything from plot to character to voice. I often find that an aesthetic make-over is not simply exchanging one colour for another in a scene but affects metaphors, dialogue, even setting and era.

3. Polish (the shiny stuff, not the people from Poland)

I am guilty of over writing. I tend to over think things and my writing can end up sounding precious at times. I don’t always see it in the first, second or even third rounds of edits but when I do, I whip out the sander and grind away some of the polish. Yes, your work needs to be ‘polished’ in that your hook is awesome, your characters are loveable/detestable and that your prose pops off the page. What polishing a manuscript doesn’t mean is over decorating with tinsel and glitter to the point where the story is so shiny bright it makes a reader’s eyes hurt. Sometimes raw is better and more visceral, adding to the verisimilitude of the story. This is where critique partners and beta readers are important, telling you where to spruce up the story and where you need less of the awesomesauce.

I’m not sure who said it but they were right. Writing is rewriting, and then some. While I do enjoy this process, sometimes I get sick of my story and to a point where I just want my characters to shut the hell up. When I get like that, I know I need to take a break, put the ms away for a couple of months and return to it with a fresh perspective. This works and helps me fall in love all over again with my characters. It also helps me see flaws I might’ve missed before, which leads straight back to number 1, The Fix. Everyone’s revisions process is different, and whether you enjoy it or not, it is a fact of life for all writers.

Do you enjoying revisions? Any tips or tricks?

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