Sunday, September 5, 2010

Shayda's Guide to Revision

I confess--I haven’t had a whole lot of practice with revision, at least not with novels. During college, I wrote tons of dark, lyrical short stories for my workshop classes, but revising those is a completely different animal from the beast that is novel revision. Aside from my trunk novel, I’ve never had anything of that length or complexity to revise. And, of course, my experience with revising my trunk novel (before I realized I was beating a dead horse) was something akin to floundering in the middle of an ocean.

In short, terrible.

While that was largely due to the fact that I was trying to whip something useless into a respectable shape, I’ve never been extremely fond of revising. That having been said, though, I’ve managed to glean some valuable pre-revision techniques that—at least for me—will make all the difference in the world when I’m finished with my WIP.


Sometimes, either while you’re writing or as soon as you’ve finished writing a certain scene, you’ll hate it. Or you’ll realize it’s not working the way it should. Or that you need to expand something. Or cut. Or change the tone or the voice or where it falls in the story arc.

Whatever that is, usually you’ll feel it, even if you can’t quite articulate what’s wrong at the moment. MAKE A NOTE. If you use Scrivener like I do, you’ll find the “notes” section in the right sidebar invaluable. If you’re writing it in a regular word processor or by longhand, mark it where you’ll see and remember it.

Trust me. It will give you a huge jumping-off place when you’re ready to revise. I already have a good five or so major revision spots planned, and I’m only two thirds of the way into my WIP.

The Exception to Write-It-First

Now, while I usually adhere to the write-it-first-then-revise doctrine of noveling, I will say this: sometimes, like with the early draft of SPITFIRE, I realize something is fundamentally not working. I got 30,000 words into that draft before I realized that the tone and voice and tense just weren’t meshing with the story.

Trust me—it broke my heart to trash 30,000 words. Most of those were even pretty good words. But ultimately, they just didn’t serve the story.

I wouldn’t call this revising, per se, but sometimes it pays to scrap what you’ve got and just rewrite the thing.

I also found that, because I’d written the beginning before, it was even better the second time around. I have a whole blog post over at my personal blog about this wonderful and curious phenomenon.  Unfortunately, I can't find it, so you'll just have to poke around over there until it pops up.

In short, revising is one helluva beast--but also the kind that, as long as it doesn't kill you, makes you--and your writing--stronger. Duck your head and barrel through it, because it's all worth it in the end.

*Awesome comic found at Sequential Life here.  

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