Sunday, June 20, 2010

Are we there yet? The art of revision.

Or should I say the hell of revision. I recently decided that after my fourth draft of my current manuscript I'd be better off giving myself a deadline. This would be my last revision.
That's it. Done.  I've been at this for so long I can't see straight anymore. But I realized I was going about the revision process the wrong way. I wasn't letting go.

I've cut, cut, cut: adverbs, passive words, dialogue tags, narration, exposition. Cut, cut, cut. But I wasn't making any real changes to my manuscript because I wasn't looking at it with a different set of eyes. I wasn't looking at it as something new. A different version. It was the same manuscript with, hopefully, better sequence of events, dialogue, description etc., but it was the same version. I hadn't made any real changes. I hadn't learned the truth of what I was writing.

I've written before that if anyone asked me what the heck my book was about I'd have a hard time answering. I reasoned that it's because there's a lot going on in my manuscript. I have the main conflict and minor conflicts. I have a variety of characters and viewpoints. That's why it wasn't easy for me to answer that question. But the truth of the matter is, I didn't take out my chisel and hammer to mold the truth of my story. After four revisions nothing had really changed. I was scared and in love and didn't want to make any drastic changes. But that question lingered and I knew in my heart that something was out of whack.

So what does revision mean?

It means learning your strengths and weakness as a writer. What scenes stand out and are well written? Which ones seem to lose flavor? The revision process is an opportunity to look at your manuscript with a new set of eyes and realize the possibilities that can make your draft better. There is always a risk of making some scenes worse, but there is also possibilities of making it better. In order to do that we have to let go of the original version. Be free to experiment and you may find a very satisfying accident.

Suggested read: Chapter after Chapter by Heather Sellers.


  1. Have you thought of letting someone else read and critique it? I know this has been helpful for me. And while I can sum up most of my stories in a few lines I do have one I can't seem to even write a damn query letter for and for exactly the reasons you descibe. I know how you feel - good luck :)

  2. I sympathize! Every time I think I'm done with my second book, I discover I'm not. And you're right -- sometimes it's not about fiddling with the words -- sometimes it's about restructuring the entire thing.

    I know now that I didn't know what I was writing about when I drafted this story for the first time. I was exploring. Now I know what it's *supposed* to be about -- and this revelation caused me to go back and rewrite everything that didn't belong.

    These changes will, consequently, cause me to ditch the sequel to this book and start from scratch. It may very well be a satisfying accident ... but it took that initial exploration to get me there!

  3. Hi mshatch. Thanks for your comments. Yes, I have had beta readers read it. And it does help.

    Thanks for sharing Dianne. That is where I find myself at this moment--learning what its suppose to be about and cutting out everything that it isn't. It's an A-HA moment for me. I only wish the veil had been lifted earlier. But it is a learning experience.

  4. Yes, editing is hard. For me the hardest thing to learn was to cut words that I thought were so wonderful. lol. But I was liberated when I realized that, no, the world would not stop turning if it didn't get to hear some of my words.

  5. hell is exactly the right word. i'm on draft 2.5 or 6 depending on what mood i'm in and i don't think i've found the exact theme of my story either. maybe that's the problem. it's about a lot of things, but not one of them really stands out.

  6. Thanks for stopping by B.J. I think letting go is hard but we do what we must.

    Michelle I am in the same boat. We have to pick one and get on with it. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes may set you on the original course again. Don't give up.


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