The hardest revision is the one you don’t think you need.
It’s a common pitfall of writers to think that every word they write is pure gold. I admit I used to be that way. In Creative Writing classes I’d even work backwards from my story to fake a rough draft because I was certain that I didn’t need to edit.
“Boy, was I wrong.”
The funny thing is, I was so convinced that the things I wrote wouldn’t – or couldn’t – be changed that I balked at rewriting details, even while I was still working on the piece. We’ve all done it; when we change our minds about someone’s name or hair color or even a plot point.
But, for some reason, I was determined that once I typed something it was as good as true, and no written fact could change. Call it a God complex.
I quit writing for a while. When I took it back up, I still had the revision problem. The writing groups I joined were big on saying that we all needed to edit, but not big on actually helping anyone edit.
They managed to convince me that I should try revising, but their suggestions were the lukewarm words of people too busy with their own writing to really delve in. Things like “make it more suspenseful” or “less/more description over all”.
National Novel Writing Month came and went, and I wrote a story.
The writing groups had pretty much dissolved because no one had time to do anything except post their own things and walk away, and friends and family balked at reading my work. Then one day I posted a random chapter on my blog.
A friend there not only read it, but liked it. In fact, she liked it so much that she offered to help me revise it. Joyfully, I sent her the document and waited to hear the praise roll in.
Then I got the first revised chapter. Wow. There was a comment after almost every sentence with suggestions to combine this, eliminate that, shorten this, reword something else and more. I can laugh at it now, but at the time I was furious and took every criticism as a personal affront.
On an unrelated scenario, I had a fight with another friend who told me that I was an egotistical human being who would never get anywhere because I refused to put out the effort to “polish” what I thought was already polished.
So, I decided to show everyone that they were wrong and I was right. The manuscript was better the way I had it! I’d written it that way on purpose! I started at the first comment and rewrote everything exactly as suggested.
After each rewrite I read both my original and the edited version out loud to my husband and demand which was better – never telling him which was mine and which was revised. Every time he agreed with the edited version. By the time I finished the first chapter, I was in a blind fury. He obviously had no idea what constituted good literature!
“And then I reread them both, back to back.”
The edited one was better. A lot better. The annoyance began to fade as I realized that maybe, just maybe, I really had a lot more issues than I thought.
It took several more chapters before I started to really notice what those problem areas were; my tendency to never use contractions, my love of passive tense, my absolute wild abandon when it comes to commas and my tendency to write really, really long sentences.
And don’t forget that little deal with things being “written in stone”. No longer did I have to do strange things, like give a lengthy explanation as to why my character had no coat in December, I could just skip back a chapter or more and write “she put on her coat.” Instead of veering off to force the past to make sense, I could just change it when it became apparent it wouldn’t work. It was a whole new world.
As my writing problems, or weaknesses, became easier to recognize, I soon found myself catching them not only in the chapters of the book, but in my other writing. As my novel improved, so did everything I wrote; from short stories, to blogs, to posts in my role playing group.
And the more revising I did, the easier it got. Revision went from a painful hideous torture to an important part of the writing process.
It wasn’t just the revision that got easier. I also got better at taking criticism. No longer did I fly into a “Bah! No one appreciates my genius!” rage, but instead I thought, “You know, I bet she’s right.”
Both of those skills have served me well since. Now I write a piece, let it sit for a few days, or hours if I’m in a hurry, and then revise. And revise. And revise. With each pass I rewrite here, tweak there and combine unnecessary paragraphs.
Then, it’s perfect.
Well, almost. Because I’ve learned that nothing is ever perfect. It just shows what one can accomplish once they can get over their ego.
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