The number one thing I had to learn about revision is patience. Patience is something I have in spades, but patience and focus are a bit more challenging for me.
The process of revision is different for every writer. Some revise while writing. I recently took a class given by Shonda Rhimes and she said she revises while she is writing her scripts. I’m not able to do that. I need to get the whole story out and then take a day or two of separation before I revisit it with fresh eyes.
Writing is challenging in that you have to use your endurance. Revision is difficult because it is repetitive and it requires you to be objective in reading your own writing. I had to learn that to revise my work that I can’t be too in love with any part of it. I have to look at the characters like strangers and the prose through the eyes of a reader. Being someone who is an avid reader of other writers helps because I can read my work with the same distance but reverence. There are literally times where I say, “I wrote that?”
When I am revising my work, I save each document with a number. It will be saved for example as: “Title rev 1“. And, each subsequent revision will get a new document and the corresponding number. I have done up to ten revisions or sometimes more, so this is really a process. The first thing to review in the revision process is spelling. Spell check can help with much of it, but sometimes, you spell the word properly but it’s not the word you meant to use. Grammar has to be checked. Syntax has to be checked. Punctuation has to be checked. And, each revision can reveal mistakes no matter how far you think you have gotten in correcting your manuscript.
- Another great editing tip I received was to use your Find/Replace in Word. “That” is a word we tend to overuse. In every instance where you say, that, read the sentence and see if you can cut it. You will find 90% of the time you don’t need it.
Your eyes get used to seeing the text and your mind corrects it before you see it. It’s called perceptual blindness where the mind assumes it sees what it believes to be there rather than what is actually there. To combat this, I change the font or the font size. It forces my eyes to really look at it and process it rather than the mind assuming it is the same.
I have told other writers that the story isn’t created when you write it, it is created in editing/revision. Editing can be challenging. As the writer, you don’t have to do it alone. You can hire professional or semi-professional editors to review your work and make suggestions. But, if you want to do it yourself, then you have to prepare to be ruthless. You can’t have loyalty to your characters or your wording. You have to be like Game of Thrones, anyone can die if it serves the story. One author said if you are especially in love with a line, cut it. It’s probably not necessary.
What you want to look at when you are editing is pace, is there anything that doesn’t serve the plot and slows down the pace. There is no point in boring your reader if you are giving them some information that doesn’t matter to the character or the plot. You want to look at timelines to make sure you are consistent. You don’t want to have your character being divorced in Chapter 1 then married again in Chapter 2. Are your timelines realistic and humanly or emotionally possible? Check dates, settings and make sure there is continuity in what your characters are doing and where they are. Make sure names match throughout the story. Don’t have a character named John Smith in the beginning and John Sams by the end. These seem like small things, but they can easily be missed.
And, then there is the story itself. Make sure you are telling the story you want to tell. The surprising thing I find while writing is I may have an idea of what I think the story is when I start but it can change by the time I am done. While revising, I have to make sure that the story that was birthed is being told in a way that is enjoyable to the reader. The hardest thing to revise should be your beginning and your ending, but it is necessary. You want to hook your reader in the beginning and satisfy them in the end. If you care about your reader, this is where you will use your writing magic. Tie up all your loose ends.
And, then when you have done all of that, revise it again.
Keep revising until you can sleep at night knowing that version is in the hands of people and affecting their life. For some writers, it’s not easy to stop revising. If you find yourself rewriting the whole book or story, you are letting anxiety and insecurity revise your book. Be confident in your story and be able to walk away from it. Sometimes, I have to just pull the trigger and pray.
If you have questions about revising, contact me and I will respond in the blog.
Now, let me revise this before posting. 🙂