Why Revise?

I feel like I’m going to be editing and revising forever. Last year, all I did was write. It was incredibly fun. Since mid-July though, I’ve been working on ONE project, a never ending revision of my first novel.

Devoting a lot of time to writing, practicing if you will, can help a person improve their writing ability. I know it’s helped me. For my second novel, I wrote something that was completely uncharacteristic of me and out of my comfort zone as a means to stretch myself and improve my skill.

I’ve learned, however, during this lengthy revision process, that writing constantly isn’t enough. Revision and editing are vital to becoming a better writer.

Briefly touching on whether or not writing can be taught, Matthew Salesses, author of the incredibly well-crafted book The Hundred-Year Flood, wrote:

The other day I was talking to another writer….[who] thought that some revision methods could be taught, but not writing.

To me, most of writing is revision. What she seemed to be calling “writing” is what I would call “drafting”–first drafting–if there is to be a split between writing and revision. So to say that revision can be taught is, to me, to say that writing can be taught.

What struck me most about his post was the line, “To me, most of writing is revision.” When I first read that, I was glad to know that I wasn’t alone, that other authors spend a lot of time revising too. If my stories can be even half as well thought out, intricate, and captivating as The Hundred-Year Flood is, I’ll be happy.

My second thought when I read that line was ‘Crap. This lengthy revision is a normal part of writing?’ Knowing that I’m making my manuscript better by revising it is nice. Knowing that my future revision projects might go faster because I’m learning and growing so much now is nice. Despite all of that, continually editing and revising is exhausting. I’m ready to be done with it! I don’t hate revising. Often, it can be fun. The length of time it takes though, is mind boggling.

It’s worth it. I’d rather have a well-crafted book than a poorly executed ‘good story.’ I’m writing fantasy so I don’t expect it to be a literary masterpiece or anything. I just want my manuscript to be the best that it can be.

Slow, tedious, and sometimes painful as the revision process can be, I think it’s essential. It isn’t something that should be rushed, no matter how eager one is to get their story out there. Early in this process I posted about How to NOT Go Insane While Editing Your Novel. Check it out if you’re struggling.

I’ve learned a lot by revising. I’m grateful for the experience. I know that when I finally get around to writing again, I’ll be much better at it: I’ll be more organized, have my story and character arcs mapped out better, and hopefully, be better at writing clearly and concisely.

We all think that we’ve written the best story EVER. If you open yourself up to the possibility that your work can be improved though, loads of ways to polish it might come to mind. In a way, it’s like writing all over again. There can be a lot of creativity in revising. Can be. Every project is different.

I think a good way to know if your revising project is done is when you (and others) can read through your manuscript without complaint. To find out what needs to be fixed in your story, or to decide whether or not you’re done, try reading your story aloud to yourself. If you want to publish, than you’ll probably have an audio book made of it at some point. If you want others to listen to it without cringing or being confused, make sure that you can listen to it first.

Accept the slowness of the process. Revising is slow, but it’s worth it.



15 thoughts on “Why Revise?

  1. I’m currently reading Lisa Cron’s book, “Story Genius,” while taking a break after finishing a “first draft” (which I wrote online, one chapter at a time, editing way too much at the word level, I think.)

    There’s a magic to certain stories I’ve run into, such as, “The Fault in Our Stars,” that seems to be independent of the traditional wordsmith’s rules. I think this is because those magic novels seem to be written by the protagonist herself, not by the author.

    Thanks for this interesting post! Personally, I’m more interested in, and impressed by, the “great story” than the beauty of the prose, but I do respect those with the talent and desire to deliver words in an artful way. Maybe I respect them too much. I know that when I’m writing, I focus too much on the way things sounds, to the neglect of the story. It’s a habit I’m struggling to break because it slows me to a snail’s pace. I call it “perfectionism” when I do it. When I was a surgical pathologist, perfectionism was essential to avoiding fatal mistakes. (Literally fatal.) As a writer, I consider it an albatross.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m more concerned with the story being flawless too. I’ve noticed that there are two ways to edit: line by line or paragraph by paragraph. When I focus too much on the lines, I might get something beautiful but the whole paragraph usually suffers for it (meaning I have to change everything).
      It’s a balancing act. If it’s too beautifully written, it stops up the reader. I’ve read books like that before, where I want to highlight and quote every line. They are awesome, but can definitely be tough to wade through on the story level.
      It isn’t a bad thing though. Those types of books win all the prizes! Maybe you should stick with your perfectionism 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t have the talent for winning beautiful-prose prizes, but I hope I’ve got what it takes to learn to write stories that average readers will find spell-binding and enlightening. I’m probably already proficient enough to write without drawing attention to the words (and away from the story) – that’s my goal as far as the words are concerned. But as far as the story telling is concerned, I’ve got miles to go. A lot to learn. For me, that’s where the magic lies. My perfectionism is just a constant fear that my words are getting in the way of the story.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s funny, the magic power of words. They create the story but can also distract from it. I think its something that all writers have to constantly think about, how they want to present their story.
        The fact that you are aware of what you want and are working for it is huge though. We can’t improve if we don’t think we have room to grow! Keep working and I’m sure you’ll get to where you want to go 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thank you. I’m liking “Story Genius.” Here’s a quote, “What undoes so many writers right out of the starting gate is something that seems so totally reasonable that it never occurs to us to question it: we decide that the first thing to do is to learn to write well. The trouble is, in learning to write well, we completely miss the boat, storywise.” The title of chapter 2 is: “Myths Galore: Everything we were taught about writing is wrong.”

        I learned this the hard way, I think. Many of the “How To” books I read in the 90’s were authored by literary people who didn’t happen to mention that fact or the existence of an assumption gap between their word-centric approach and the story-centric approach of the people they belittled – those who were writing popular novels.

        Thanks for all your interesting thoughts! Great chatting with you about all this crazy stuff. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re absolutely right about revising. Most people who aren’t writers themselves have no idea how much work goes into making something smooth and readable.

    People think if they can write 1000 words a day, they’ll have a finished novel in 3 months. But that’s just the start, right? I always think the more work that goes into a book, the less the reader notices it. Good writers make it look easy.

    Best of luck with your revising. As you say yourself: it’s worth it ! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a bummer though, having to work that hard when all you really want to do is create and you have other stories waiting to be written!
      Yeah, if the “majority” of writing is revising, than that 3 month novel will take longer than 3 months to revise and edit! :/
      I really hope that it gets faster though. You’ll have to let me know when you start writing something new: does the first draft start out more polished and cohesive since you’ve experienced writing, editing, and revising another story already?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It will get faster but…

        It’ll probably get worse before it gets better.

        My first book I wrote and edited as I went along and the whole process took 2 years.

        For my second book, I wrote the first draft in two months. I then spent 3 years revising and editing it.

        For my most recent one, Mervyn vs. Dennis, I finished the whole thing in 9 months. So there is light at the end of the tunnel!

        After my tough experience with my second book, I don’t write first drafts anymore. I write, edit and revise 500 words per day, making sure they’re perfect before I stop for the day. The next day I’ll reread them and make a few changes then move onto the next 500. It works for me but not for everyone.

        If you stick to the first draft method, I doubt your first draft will get more polished and cohesive BUT you will get much faster and slicker at editing and revising.

        Good luck! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Do you have your plot outlined with that method? As in, you know exactly what you want/need to write everyday? I’ve just started to appreciate using outlines/timelines/plot mapping. I feel like it will help me in the future but I don’t want the process to become formulaic either.


      3. I have a rough outline, yes. I know what will main event will happen in each chapter but not the exact details. For example, I’ll know that Bob and Dave will go camping in chapter 6 and they’ll accidentally set their tent on fire but how they deal with it is up to them.

        I try not to over-plan because that doesn’t allow the characters to make their own choices. Some things I simply don’t know and those are always the most fun (and daunting) to write. I wouldn’t worry about it becoming formulaic. You’ll always find surprises along the way, even if you plan! As someone who always used to go way over my word count limit and end up wasting time on mad digressions, I can definitely recommend outlines.

        Liked by 1 person

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