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Revision = Re-Vision. Seeing Again
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 10:38 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195


Too often people think of revision as just catching mistakes: typos, spelling errors, grammar errors.  But effective revision includes re-visioning the work--seeing the work anew.  Both from the outside, as if the writer were a reader meeting the work for the first time, and from the inside, as the writer sees new ways to make the work better for that reader.

Concentrating on surface "mistakes"--the typos, the run-on sentences or dangling participles--means a writer misses the chance to improve the work from its very foundation.   So look again--see again--what the idea behind that story was meant to be, and then see where that idea can be clarified, polished, focused.  Maybe what you thought the story was supposed to be isn't what the story really is.  Maybe partway through it took a different path.  Now that it's written, you know what you want it to be.

Read with fresh eyes--with new vision--to see what the story is, and then see if it can be chiseled into sharper relief, if all the characters stand out clearly, if all the events are in the right order and make sense, if a reader, coming to it, will be yanked into it and not be able to escape. 

I use a three-stage approach to revision; if you're interested, I've written about it before (there's one version on my website: http://www.elizabethmoon.com/writing-revision.html

But the important point is to see the work anew, so you can make it better. 





Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 9:59 AM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438


Thanks for sharing your insight, Elizabeth! I love your idea of the revision process as "seeing the work anew."
Herb Mallette
Posted: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 1:26 PM
Joined: 6/28/2011
Posts: 188


I think this is spot-on. My impression is that a lot of people new to writing really don't believe they're writing rough drafts. They think instead that they're producing a fully realized work that will just need a little proofreading at the end and maybe the tweak of a sentence or two here and there.

That mindset is imprisoning in two ways. First, if you don't expect your initial draft to require significant, open-eyed revision, you're naturally going to experience either denial or depression when confronted with evidence that you still have a lot of hard work to do even though you reached "The End."

Second, if your intention is to do all of the hard lifting  during the first draft, you'll have a strong motivation to do revision work in midstream as you're writing. On page 130, I realize that my protagonist's long-lost brother really needs to be a step-brother, so I go back through the first 130 pages and change all the references -- and of course, along the way I see some typos to correct, and I notice a line of dialogue that would sound better like this instead of like that. Now I'm happy and can move forward again from page 130 -- only to realize on page 183 that it would be even better for the step-brother to be a half-brother, at which point I have to do the whole stop-and-start thing all over again. By the time I finish the entire first draft, it's taken me twice as long as it would have to write straight through, and I've also built up a profound familiarity with all of the passages that I've revisited time and time again, so that it is impossible for me to ever see them with fresh eyes.

In contrast, it is highly liberating to write with the intention of never looking back until the draft is done. Perhaps I'm stuck on the description of my heroine on page 3. So what? Instead of pulling my hair out trying to envision her perfectly for the reader, I write a mundane, easy description that I'm not thrilled with and move on, knowing that she will be far more richly detailed in my mind when I return to page 3 to revise it a year later. Additionally, I will have another year's worth of practice as a writer when I reach the revision stage, so I can be confident that my replacement description will be better than whatever I come up with on day four of the first draft anyway.

By refusing to go back over the work in progress (and by putting the whole thing in a drawer for several weeks or months between first draft and revisions), I find that I'm able to gain an experience of the novel closest to that of a first-time reader. I can see it with the most unbiased eyes possible, which allows a lot of the issues to leap off the page at me. And because I've already prepared myself for the need to do major re-imagining and rewriting, it's a thrill to have those issues leap at me instead of wondering and fretting over whether I really need to make a change.


Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013 11:25 AM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438


"I will have another year's worth of practice as a writer when I reach the revision stage, so I can be confident that my replacement description will be better than whatever I come up with on day four of the first draft anyway."

Herb, I love this!
I think many writers overlook the fact that the time they invest in a project is never wasted; they might not finish it, for example, but it will nevertheless bring them closer to the ultimately goal--becoming a better writer.


Herb Mallette
Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013 12:35 PM
Joined: 6/28/2011
Posts: 188


Thanks, Nevena. My high school self would have been horrified at the prospect that his two finger-crippling, longhand-written novels would never end up being published. Even to this day, I still sometimes muse on the possibility that the second one might be worth trying to rewrite. But at this point, their primary value is the learning experience they provided me -- well, that and the fact that I later got to have a brief but hilarious exchange with Michael Moorcock about them.

Rob Kennedy
Posted: Saturday, January 19, 2013 8:34 PM
Joined: 1/19/2013
Posts: 1


Absolutely. Revision is about making things better, I can't agree more. Everytime I look at my words I can make them better, because everyday I learn something new.

Cheers and Thanks