Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Revision Game

Today for our craft element, I'm going to talk about revision. At some point in the writing process, everyone has to revise. It's sorta like the "lather, rinse, repeat" or the "reduce, reuse, recycle" we hear a lot growing up. Except, for writers it's not always as formulaic. In theory, it should be "plot, draft, revise" because that's what we'd all like it to be---but more often than not it's different. For me, it's probably "idea, draft, draft, revise, draft, share, get critiques, freak out, think, revise, revise, delete, draft, revise..." Or something like that. 

The point is that revision is ALWAYS necessary for a draft. For everyone. (Even God revised. hello--Adam and Eve? The flood? Just saying.) The problem with revision is that is a never ending thing. Especially when you have critique groups--or school. Opinions always change drafts, or they change your opinion of your draft. 

Revisions are a big game. You can't start before the draft is ready. You have to know the way the pieces all fit together. You have to be willing to change, to grow and to lose. You can't hang on too tightly. You have to be ready and the story has to be ready. Once you're ready, you have to strap in and hang on. It's a bumpy ride.

Over a year ago last month, I started this novel. It came from one little line. One little line that turned into three lines that turned into a page and then six months later, 101K. Those first lines: 
"There's never enough time. It moves too quickly, signaling the end of everything. The end is the thing I fear the most.  Eventually, though, all things end. Days. Nights. Life. Even love. The fear of this loss is greater sometimes than the truth—that he lays here beside me, breathing, his arm resting over me.  Truth is undeniable....truth. One day they will find me and on that day, time will be quick and slow at once. Time is my enemy."
I can still feel the elation I felt when I wrote those lines down on a napkin in the Border's coffeeshop where I was working. Those words sent me on an adventure--a long, long, long, long adventure of discovery and writing that I didn't get to experience as much with my first novel. When I wrote the last lines of that first draft in January of 2011, it was the best feeling ever. It was done!

And then I got critiques. I got notes from agents. I got input from writer friends. People read it. And I learned I was far, far, far from done.

Five rewrites (or revisions) later, I'm only 15k in. The story is the same (mostly) it's just being told differently. Things are being cut out. Things are refined. My character is stronger because I know her more. I know what I can leave out, what I can keep in and what I want the story to be. Trust me though--it is not easy. Not easy at all.

There are days when I look at my word count and I think about what it used to be--and I want to cry. I mean. I've been writing and revising, deleting, revising, writing, revising, rethinking, experimenting, revising, writing...for over a year now. But I tell you, I know that in the end ALL THE REVISIONS WILL BE WORTH IT.

If you're revising, if you're about to revise, if you're thinking about revising--make sure it's ready. Make sure you're ready. Make sure you know how much work it is and how satisfying it is to see your draft change and become something incredible. If you're doing it right, if you're willing to lose and grow, it can only be better.

Where are you in the process? What is the most times you've ever revised the same story? How do you know when it's ready? What's your least/most favorite part of the revision game?


  1. Okay, got it. in the last weeks everything I read said: finish your first draft, THEN revise. I should have known that two years ago when I wrote and re-wrote scenes until they seemed perfect, and then got to the next scene and went like that for an year and barely wrote something worth it. Hopefully, now I have an outline and I'm doing my best to stay away from written chapters and just go ahead with writing the undone.
    I'm always dazzled though, by how fast you guys finish your drafts, I guess being a perfectionist freak doesn't help too much..
    Congrats on finishing your novel! And good luck on your revisions!

  2. Oh, I am a perfectionist freak. I know that Patricia and Cindy are as well. Completely. The thing about writing: it's hard to perfect something that isn't finished yet. IMO, it's much easier to fix make it better when it's finished. Get the image out and then highlight the details (if that makes sense).

    And we're not that fast! I'm not. Not when you think about how long revisions have been happening. lol

    Good luck to you!! I know you can do it.

  3. Danielle,

    I'm in TOTAL freak out mode right now. Plotting out the necessary changes is fun. Seriously fun. But then when I open my word doc and see all that I've done and all that has to change to make those necessary changes...well....it freaks me out big time. I'm paranoid I'm going to screw it up worse than it already is. I think I'm doing it wrong or that maybe it was better the first time. I know none of this is true. I know the revised version will be much, much better, but I still can't stop the self doubt. I'm learning that it's my absolute worst enemy.

    Roxo, hang in there. You'll get the swing of things and we'll be here to root you on!

  4. Roxo, Danielle put it perfectly when she mentioned about how it's harder to perfect something that isn't finished. I've been in that never-ending loop for awhile now. I wrote a whole bunch over about a week and then spent WEEKS revising and trying to perfect it.

    I've finally forced myself to stop editing and starting writing because if I don't MOVE ON I'll end up with a few beautiful chapters, but no book.

    And don't worry about drafting speed, I'm definitely not a quick drafter. In fact, right now it feels like I'm taking FOREVER! But we'll both get there eventually! :)

  5. Cindy! I completely agree that doubt can be your WORST enemy when revising! That's how I get when I've been doing tons of revisions. That's when I feel like I have to step back, take a week or so to just read or do other interests and just enjoy things. Then come back to the revisions with a fresh (and hopefully more relaxed) outlook!