The necessity of revision

Recently a friend of mine emailed me a couple of really great questions. She’s also a writer, and so I really enjoyed answering her questions. I thought I’d share one of my responses – about revision – here on the blog. 

When you were editing your books, did you have to change A LOT and basically re-write the whole book with only a few sentences from the first draft here and there?

I was 12 and 13 when I wrote my first book, and when I finished I gave it to my dad to read. He sort of became my editor. At that point, he didn’t believe in revising the story to shreds, or tearing it apart. I think he thought it might have ruined my motivation. So, no, I did not change much of the original story at all. There were, however, several rounds of edits, during which we found many grammatical errors and typos and run-on sentences and things of that nature.

That said, let me tell you what I would do if I wrote that book today rather than several years ago. Now I know that first drafts are far from perfect, and that there is typically a long way to go between draft 1 and a finished product. And I’ve realized there is a difference between revising and editing. The revision process comes first. That’s when you reread and decide your protagonist is too whiny, or that you introduced a subplot that you forgot to resolve in the end. Revision is cutting unnecessary scenes but figuring out where to add better descriptions or dialogue. Editing is rereading to catch your grammatical errors.

When you’ve finished your first draft and you’re ready to take on revisions, take a moment to remember one thing: you’ve finished a first draft, and that takes guts! Do not forget to congratulate yourself and celebrate this accomplishment. Then, and only then, should you move on to revisions. I say this because revisions can be exhausting, difficult, and discouraging. Many writers give up at this point because they think, This is terrible. Why did I ever think anybody would want to read this? I don’t know if you feel this way, but if you do you should know it’s completely natural. And so my advice is, if you are truly rewriting the book, DO NOT delete your original draft. Keep it in a file/folder somewhere, but DO NOT delete it, even if you think it’s completely unusable. You may go back later and realize there’s something you want to save or reuse. Either way, it doesn’t hurt, even if it sits there collecting dust. (And you may have already done this, but I thought I’d warn you just in case.)

I’m glad I didn’t revise my books when I was 12/13. My dad was probably right in that it would have crushed my spirit, and I might not have written books 2 and 3 if I continued to rewrite book 1. I look back now and am thankful for the entire experience, because it’s what solidified my belief that I wanted to be a writer. I learned so much by writing those books, including that revision is necessary.

But those books were stepping stones for me. Research any published author and you’ll find that their debut novel was NOT the first book they’d ever written. Almost all published authors have first and second novels locked away. So, I guess what I’m saying is this: revision is necessary. Revision is probably the most important part of the writing process, because it’s what takes your mess of a first draft and turns it into something that makes sense, refines it. And if you find you have to rewrite the book, that’s okay. But DON’T get stuck in a rut where you continue to rewrite over and over again, because it’s a pitfall for us writers. Be confident in your story. (Again, I am not saying this is you. Just a warning because it sometimes happens to me.) I really hope this answers your question. Sometimes I can be a bit long-winded. 😉

*Thanks, M, for corresponding with me! Questions/comments are encouraged. 

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  1. Pingback: July Rewind & Review

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