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Revision, Changing the Way You Write

Group of lettersIf you didn't already know, I'm revising. It's what's on the brain. A couple days ago, I tweeted this, "Now that I know what revision is REALLY like, I suspect I'll be first drafting differently. Did anyone discover/do the same?"

Everyone who replied said they they did, and I felt like I'd reached an unexpected milestone. 

I'm learning a lot from revision. If you've been running from it like I have (I'll admit it, I have), I encourage you to dig in and push yourself to do it.  Even if it's a manuscript you don't expect to pursue publication with.  Why?  Because this tearing apart, restructuring, rewriting, tightening, tweaking, etc. I'm doing on my MS is informing my writing more than all the first-drafting I've ever done. 

I'm astounded. 

So, all you veterans out there.  Did this happen for you as well?  What have you learned from revision?  Any words of wisdom?  Please share! If you're busy revising like I am, what are you learning?  What has the experience been like for you?


  1. I really love revisions! As much as I love the first draft I do like to go back and make it talk pretty to me!!! ;)

  2. Revisions haven't changed the way I write. I always considered the rough draft phase as the chance to get the story out. The revision phases are for filling in some of the plot holes, adding depth to the characters, and tying everything together into a neat little package. I find if I try to self-edit during the initial writing phase I sort of stifle my creativity.

  3. Revising is rewarding, but it's really hard work. I find that if I'm not sick of rewriting, then I haven't done enough and the piece is not finished!

  4. As much as I dread revisions because they're so much work, I think revising is actually my favorite part of the process. It's so exciting to actually see your work getting better! It might take a lot of messy cutting and reworking to get there, but it's fun to go back to the original version and see how much clearer and stronger the story is now. Sounds like you're doing great - good luck!

  5. I wouldn't say I'm loving it yet, T. Anne, but I'm loving everything I'm learning!

    Interesting, Scott! I'm not saying I'll self-edit more in the rough draft, if that's what you thought I meant. I'll probably do it less, actually! I'm just saying that my approach to first drafting will be different. I have a feeling I'll write quicker, more skeletal first drafts since so much is developed and changed in revision (at least for me!).

    Thanks dj and Anna!

  6. I am watching and listening and taking notes.

    It just sounds so exhausting!

    I better find a way to learn to love it with a passion.

  7. I'm definitely finding it challenging and exhausting, Teri. I have so much more to do. I hope I survive!

  8. I love revising. And I've learned that it's incredibly difficult. Cutting a passage or a page or a chapter can be like chopping off a limb. But it's through careful pruning that the tree fills in and thrives and produces delicious fruit. Good luck to everyone pruning.

  9. That's why blogging is good while revising. Writing fresh and being creative, instead of rewriting. I enjoy rewriting but it is hard work. Good luck.

  10. Thanks Buffy and Laura! I need all the luck and encouragement I can get.

  11. When I started revising my first novel, I hated it, thought revision was tedious and boring. All through school I'd gotten away with turning in first drafts, received "A"s, and liked it that way.

    After revising two novels at least ten times, I've come to LOVE revision. In fact, I'm having a rough time laying down the first draft of a new novel. My desire to revise is slowing me down and hampering the joy and creativity I felt before I became a revision addict.

  12. Ugh. Revising is a whole lotta no fun. I feel like I've been doing it f-o-r-e-v-e-r. Seeing progress, both in terms of tightening my prose and improving the story, are keeping me going, though.

  13. I've discovered that I am doing better with my second novel now that I've spent a lot of time rewriting and revising the first one. It's nice that we do get better.

  14. ahh revision hell. :) I like to do it, I always see the rewards of it...but sometimes it seems like it will never end.

    And yes...we get better each time, don't we?! :)

  15. On sections that need a lot of revision, I open a new document, lay it side by side to my original and literally rewrite, pulling over scenes or paragraphs I want to keep. It helps fill in the open space between scenes that need further development and gives me a fresh way of wording something that isn't my favorite. If I have to retype it or make the effort to click over to the other document to copy and paste, I have to love it.
    I also pay attention to what I read. If the writing is beautiful or the description concise or whatever it is I like about a book, I keep it in the back of my mind while going over my piece to emulate what I admire about other authors.
    When you a section you've been struggling with finally clicks, it is the most rewarding part of writing. Good luck with your revisions!

  16. I love revising because it allows me to go back into the world I've created and make it even better...stronger. And, oh yeah, I learned a heck of a lot after writing and revising my first novel. The revision process taught me how to catch the holes as I write.

    p.s. you have an award waiting on you over at my blog...

  17. I hate revising but I had to work on that this past week as I was trying to polish a piece for a contest. Eghk! But now I'm kind of in the mood...should I go with it? Eh.

  18. I've spent most of my time revising and I've found each time that my plot and character development has been strengthened. I'm hoping I've learned a lot from the mistakes in this first one so that the second one takes much less time, like how about not years. Now I'm going to focus more on weeding out those redundancies you talked about yesterday.

  19. Revising has helped me understand my writing process better. Everyone has always said I needed to outline, and I pooh-poohed it. But after Book #2 took some thirty revisions to finish--just to put the story into the story--I wondered if they were right. So I tried various forms of outlines. Nothing worked. Book #4 was written in 30 days without an outline, and then when I started revising, I ended up doing an outline for the second draft. Not a fancy outline, but just a bulleted list of the important things that needed to happen in the chapter. That still wasn't quite right, and I still spent a lot of time fixing problems in the story.

    What I hadn't quite paid attention to was that I need to be able to throw paint at the wall for the first draft and see what came out. Then I could revise until I started feeling like I needed guidance. That's when I do the outline, but the bulleted one I'd used didn't do the one thing I needed. It gave me things that should happen, but not the story goal of each chapter. Instead, I needed to write one sentence about the story goal for each chapter.

    Part of revision is listening to what it's trying to tell you.

  20. I'm not a veteran but I've learned that first drafts are easy and fun, while the hard work is done in the revision stage. I've loved watching my book evolve into something I'm so proud of. Now back to polishing...

  21. Casey--I don't know yet--but I know that I had a breakthrough this week with revision. I definitely got to the next level. Which is good. But now, I'm wondering, how many levels are there? I was holding myself back, but didn't know it (when do we?) and now I'm wondering what else I don't know. I guess I'll find out...

    So, it's very possible that my next first draft will go differently.

  22. I am definitely not a veteran, but I was amazed by the revisions process. I was dreading the whole thing and now I see how amazing it is. The best thing I learned was that the 1st draft does not have to be so laborious, because that's what editing is for :-) I will approach first drafts very differently now. Mainly, just GET IT OUT without hesitation, and know that it can and will change. :-) Good luck with your revisions!

  23. Revisions are exciting but also the most difficult.

    The first thing I would say is to work on the big issues first like structure and plot flow. Then look at your subplots and see how they are flowing as well. Then get down the language and grammar.

    I'm about to start revisions too! Revision buddies!

  24. I used to think that revision is something for writers who don't know how to tell their story. My oh my, was I wrong. I did very little revisions, even after I got my agent.

    Then, I joined Holly Lisle's "How to Revise Your Novel" course and discovered how awful my not-properly-revised novels were. I'm now half way through the course and discovered that I am quite good at getting my characters right and consistent throughout the story. My plots, too, can stand up. These are probably the reasons why I managed to get an agent.

    BUT (and that's a big one), although my worldbuilding is extensive, very little of it shows up in my novels. That's a lost chance of grounding my readers and help them to suspend disbelieve.

    Also, I discovered, how much fin revision really is. It's like visiting friends and helping them turn their messy living room into the comfortable heart of the house you had imagined it to be.

    I can only recommend revising.
    Oh, and my agent said that my novels improved considerably since I've been taking Holly's courses.

  25. Awesome responses everyone! I'm finding your stories and methods really heartening. Thank you!!

  26. After having to cut so much from my first book, I decided I was going to outline every future manuscript. It helps me determine which scenes to write in order to build the plot and helps me avoid writer's block.

  27. I love revision. I can't really say it has changed how I draft, which I tend to do slowly. But to me, the draft is discovery, so I like to keep my options open there (I'm a pantser, not a plotter)and then do whatever needs to be done in revision once the story *exists*.