thoughts on revision. and omelets.

A week ago, this draft was an egg. It had a beginning, middle and end. It had a structure and rising action. It had character description and setting. It had these things, but I knew that I could make it better. There were things that could be revised, other things to be cut entirely.

The first step to revising a full draft is to break that egg. Yes, it’s messy. I have to tear down the structure to discover its weaknesses, figure out a way to fix them. Along the way, bits that I really liked – descriptions, character details, creepy scenes – don’t work anymore, and need to be cut. Sometimes the cutting is refreshing, liberating. Other times I wince, back off, second-guess myself. Am I really taking this in the right direction? Do I really need to get rid of everything?

The answer is, quite often, yes.

And what am I left with after all of this messy shell-cracking, scrambling business? Something that looks a lot more rough than this novel did a week ago. But in spite of the roughness, it has greater potential (I can hope): the stakes are higher, the main character more interesting and complex, the tone a bit edgier, the plot more quickly-paced.

I’ve broken a lot of eggs. It’s a part of the writing process. Aside from the pain and difficulty of revision, isn’t it hopeful to know that all can be improved, mistakes mended? I’m willing to deal with a little mess to write a better book.

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 2:29 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. Greetings Alisa,
    I wish I had your decisive courage on the editorial front. One thing I learned through the progression of writing is the ‘surgical’ day to day decisions we make on a daily basis of what to keep and what to omit. Who makes ‘the cut’ and who gets ‘expelled’.

    I use the medical term to drive home the point of a writer’s fear of making a costly mistake. It seemed particularly apropos for this occasion; like a surgeon erroneously cutting a main artery that causes hemorrhaging. What if it’s a damaging, consequential mistake that brings massive hemorrhaging to the storyline? One that I didn’t originally foresee?

    I recently faced this quandary, and used this figure of speech with a fellow writer to express this innate fear.

    Some writers are more adept, more intuitively aware and cunning at making these decisions, but as an apprentice to the craft, I find myself belaboring these points. So I devised a trick I call the ‘Linus van Pelt’ (from Charlie Brown) method.

    I always keep the original copy (printout and jumpdrive) as a backup before I begin pruning the manuscript to make editorial cuts. It’s a safety blanket is all it is. And it gives a false sense of assurance that allows me to say “Okay, I can always go back and retrieve it if I need to,” when in reality, I’ve committed myself already to moving forward. Some people may or may not agree with this method, as the caveat can be the risk of turning back. But so far, it has helped to get me started. I do hope that I can abandon this method as my confidence continues to grow, but just thought I’d share this method.

    • Yes, editing/revising is a bloody business! I wholly agree with this approach of saving previous drafts before you edit – it’s nice to know that you can always go back. I also applaud your Linus van Pelt reference:)

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