I don’t really like to distinguish between writing and revision; to me they are one in the same. The word revision itself leads us to believe that our work is done and we’re merely giving a little polish, when in fact it is the very opposite – we are just getting started. Many new writers also confuse the revision process of writing with editing.
Revision involves analyzing the larger picture of your story. In the early days of writing and revision your focus should be wider; you should be looking at the structure of your story, the shape of your piece, the image, idea and theme. It may be more appropriate to call revision re-writing and this re-writing may happen multiple times. It often could include stopping and starting many times to cut out scenes, add new ones, to include more research and social history but regardless what we call it, it is very much writing.
Editing involves looking at each sentence carefully, and making sure it is well designed and serves its purpose. Editing happens long
after you are satisfied with the shape and structure of your story.
Proofreading involves checking for grammatical and punctuation errors, spelling mistakes and is the final stage of the process.
Every paragraph you write, you will rewrite a dozen times or more, and even a first draft will be rewritten several times before I will even give it the privilege of calling it a first draft. In those early stages of revision ask yourself the big questions and focus on the larger picture.
- Does each scene serve the story?
- What is the real subject of this story? Is the theme visible to the reader?
- Where does the story ring out?
- What seems superfluous and does not enhance the story?
- Does your back story get to the point, is it necessary to the story, or does it arrive too early?
- Is the beginning, the ending?
- Is the beginning deadweight, does your story start several hundred or thousands of words in?
- Are your characterizations strong and does your ancestor act with purpose?
- Does your plot make sense? Does everything lead to the climax?
- Are the stakes clear, do they create tension and hold the readers interest to the end.
Revise your story in manageable chunks. Look at one thing at time either by chapter or the entire book. Certainly, you will find yourself fixing your prose as you go along, but the smaller edits, word choices and sentence structures should be saved for future edits after the story structure is solid. Stephen King says it best in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
If you find it difficult to cut out scenes, paragraphs and sentences, consider cutting and pasting them into a file for future reference, name this file, Fragments or Bits and Pieces or Story Starters. These may serve you later in another story or as inspiration. If you struggle with deleting scenes, this process can sometimes helps writers to ease the pain of cutting those darlings.
Revision should not be looked at as a chore, but writing itself. What you wrote in those opening days of was necessary, not a waste of time, because it cleared the way for what is to come. You must walk through the fire of that ugly first draft and subsequent revisions to get to the other side. There is just no easy or fast way around it.
It is the revision process that I find the most rewarding. I look at my first draft like a lump of clay and the revision as the point in which I mold it into a beautiful shape. The revision stage is the most liberating part of writing for me, my story becomes clear and has purpose and takes on a life and a meaning. While many of you may think getting those initial thoughts down were difficult, it is in the revision where the real work begins.