A New Way to Revise

By Renate Hancock

You’ve finished the rough draft. You congratulate yourself on typing The End. Whoo hoo! Break out the champagne! What a feeling of accomplishment. You bask in it for a quick minute, then recognize precisely what that means. Next step: revising. Ugh. Your jubilation fades. How are you ever going to get through it?

If you’re like me, revising is the most daunting part of writing. It’s not exciting, and that oh-so-addictive feeling of flow is not as present.

Another reason could be that I still need to settle on a revising method that works well for me. I’ve found several ways in my search for the holy grail of revision techniques. There are as many methods of revising as there are for writing.

In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all. And I have yet to find one that seems tailored for me. As with many aspects of writing, the main thing holding me back is not the technique. It’s the way I think about it.

If I’m honest, I must admit that infatuation is the underlying cause of my dread of revision. I fall in love with what I write. I love the characters, the scenes, and the way the words sound in my head.

Unless I can find a way to approach revising without feeling intimidated, I’ll just keep procrastinating. 

It’s hard to discard what I’ve created. It’s not the re-writing as much as the deleting that I shy away from. To get past my problem, I need a new mindset about revision. 

In his book Fearless Writing, William Kenower says, “When I stopped differentiating between writing and the rest of my life, when I came to understand that what it takes to write the book I most want to write is also about what it takes to lead the life I most want to lead, my whole life became writing practice, [emphasis added] and my writing improved noticeably.”

So I’m searching for concepts I’ve learned outside my writing life to change my attitude about revising and editing. Here’s what I found so far:

For accessibility, less is better (again!) 

In my work as an elementary school librarian, I found that overfull shelves are a turn-off to my students. If a shelf is stuffed to capacity, kids bypass it in favor of a shelf with comfortable spacing — regardless of the quality of the books on it. 

I wonder whether packed shelves are visually overwhelming or if removing the books is physically strenuous for them. But that doesn’t matter. Limiting the amount on each shelf makes a difference to our target audience.

Trimming the excess from our writing makes it more accessible to our readers. 

 Delete the dead weight.

Every okay book on our library shelf is an obstacle between a child and a great book. We regularly scour our library shelves to remove books that need to be improved.

We replace some that have lost their shelf appeal with newer copies. Their covers may be tattered or feature outdated artwork.

Others simply need to be removed because they aren’t being used. They could be written better. Many of the stories are good enough. But if they never leave the shelf, they’re dead weight. It’s all about attracting readers.

The overall result of conscientious weeding is a higher circulation rate. More than that, the entire library appears newer and brighter. It’s more vibrant and enticing.

We need to scour our writing, too. Consider every humdrum word, mundane section of dialogue, and meaningless scene as dead weight. Deadweight turns off our readers.

The result of deleting dead weight? Clearer, cleaner, captivating writing.

Organization and structure are key to the desired effect.

I learned the value of rethinking organization and structure from my garden. Not the library.

That could be because it’s my own creation. I imagined it for a long time before I built it. I laid the rock walkways and planted my favorite drought-tolerant perennials. I created unique beds for my favorite annuals — colorful pansies, petunias, and snapdragons.

Before long, my garden grew far beyond my initial vision. It took on a life of its own — which is what I hoped for. But the perennials spread until they obscured the annual beds. The bayberry’s thorny branches extended into the walkway and snagged visitors.

It’s hard to get rid of something healthy and beautiful. But I must transplant, trim, and reconfigure to achieve a harmonious design. I have to give careful consideration to each plant and space. Every component needs to contribute to the whole effect.

My rough drafts have a tendency to do the same as my garden. Characters spring to life and head in unexpected directions. My ramblings lead to conclusions I don’t foresee.

Alone, each might be beautiful — a beautiful scene, a splash of color, a moment of growth. But the words have to contribute something specific in that particular space. Otherwise, it’s overgrown chaos instead of a beautiful, cohesive structure.

To create the effect I’m hoping for, each component has to interact with the others in a specific way.

How do you approach the revising process?

Every writer’s experiences spill into their voice and shape their writing practice. You might not relate to my observations from the library. And playing in the dirt might hold absolutely no appeal for you. You may instead think of your writing as a massive block of marble, with your masterpiece hidden inside.

Whatever way you need to picture it, consider revising as the step that highlights the heart of your writing. Then grab your hammer and chisel. Let’s get to work.

Have ideas about revising and editing you’d like to share? Have you found the perfect answer to my issues?

Revising Your Novel

Successful Revisions

Organized Revision

Published by Writing Heights Writing Bug

A blog by writers for everyone interested in books, reading, writing, and just about everything in between.

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