I’m convinced that what separates the professional-level writer (published or not) from the enthusiast is the thoughtful, deliberate act of revising. Often, the focus is on just getting the words out on the page. There are organizations, books, communities and other cheerleading squads dedicated to helping writers get their stories down on the page. What we often forget or gloss over is that the first draft is only step one of the process.
The first draft is like getting together your raw material, assembling your tools, creating that first sketch, making a miniature model. In order to get a book that is cohesive, consistent, and worthwhile for others to read, a writer must master rewriting.
Rewriting (or revising) is not the same as line editing. Rewriting is not agonizing over word choices, tweaking dialog or making sure that Susan still has blue eyes on page 80, like she did on page 7. Rewriting is the ability to look at your story in terms of plot arc and character development. It’s to make sure that your conflict is present and meaningful; your plot is logical and plausible according the rules you have set for your world; and your characters don’t do dumb out-of-character actions. Rewriting is a process in which your left brain and right brain work together to uncover the story you wanted to write from the mess of words in front of you.
Rewriting is a hard skill to learn. My first book, The Changeling, was a rather clean first draft. It didn’t take too much work to get it to the point where it is the book I wanted. Yes, it still has issues, namely of the pacing kind. It has a prologue; it has many chapters about the main character growing up; the inciting event that kicks off the whole quest journey doesn’t even happen until a third of the way through the book. It may not be a marketable book, but it is the book I wanted to write and I’m happy with how it turned out.
My second book, though (*shudder*). My MC spent most of the book reacting instead of acting. I kept secrets way past their expiration date. Instead of bringing out those things into the open and using them as conflict, I spent most of the book trying to keep everyone in the dark while all these inexplicable things happened just so I could pull out my aces (ta da! Here’s what everyone’s been hiding!). It turned the book into a big mess that has been a headache to revise.
Then we have Quartz, the most broken book of all. So broken that it didn’t just end, it petered out. So broken that the last chapters are peppered with notes to myself in red font–“blah blah blah” “boring!” “I don’t want to write this scene so I’ll just move on to the next”. Somewhere along the way, in spite of a dynamic opening, great dialog and some truly exciting action scenes, I got off track. Now I was stuck in the mud, wheels spinning uselessly. I knew Quartz needed a major overhaul, but revision was never my strong point. I approached rewriting in a haphazard, insert-a-comma-here-delete-a-scene-there sort of way.
Then along came the How to Revise Your Novel course. Since I had no method (and only madness!) to my revising, I decided to try it Holly Lisle’s way. There is a strong left-brained aspect to the course (complete with worksheets and index cards) which works for me (all the jobs I’ve had—and been good at–have been detail-oriented and task-focused). Instead of my usual scatter-shot approach, I’m combing through my ms in a more systematic way. So far, it’s both manageable and enlightening. And best of all, I’m no longer as overwhelmed as I normally am when facing a rewrite.
So, taking Quartz through that course has been the major component of my writing this year.
How about you? How do you handle the process of revision?