Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes
This post was inspired by an article that will remain anonymous, as I disagree with many of the points presented within. I may have possibly misinterpreted the article, but what I ultimately took away from it is that re-writing (revisions) is an antiquated concept. It’s not.
As a writer, I LOVE revisions. It means being able to step back from the initial draft I wrote and thinking of a way to make it much better, which, more often than not, includes re-writing and re-structuring much of the book. And that is exactly what revising means–it is the next step for many writers after they have written the first draft. Does this mean scrapping the first draft entirely? No. Re-writing, AKA revisions, doesn’t mean that at all, and that is a mistaken belief among newbie writers–I’ve made this mistake. What it does mean is looking at everything in your first draft–plot, characters, sub-plots, story arcs, ect.–and finding ways to make those things much, much better. Sometimes this means deleting scenes, deleting chapters, axing characters entirely, re-writing chapters, adding in more chapters, and so on and so forth.
It doesn’t mean having to re-write your entire novel, but what it does mean is that you NEED to look at your book and find ways to make it much better than its current condition. This usually involves stepping away from the draft for a little bit–a few weeks maybe–and then coming back.
People seem to dread revisions because they believe they’re scrapping their first draft entirely, so they see no point in revising. Why do all of that hard work of writing a first draft if I’m just going to have to re-write it anyway? That was my thinking when I was twelve. Large portions of a draft might need to be re-written. Query Quagmire has a fantastic explanation on the process of revision.
It is a RARE writer who does not need to essentially re-write his or her draft. Even Stephen King, as experienced as he is, still revises. He doesn’t write a first draft, then jump immediately to edits while foregoing the process of revisions entirely. Maybe his rough drafts aren’t as rough as a newbie writer’s rough drafts, but he also realizes that a first draft is just that, a first draft.
When you write that first draft, you’re excited by it, so you go into it with your heart on your sleeve and write every idea that comes to mind, put in every character that you want in your story, every plot thread and scene, and so on and so forth. Then you get done with the draft. But wait? Don’t touch it immediately. Either send it off to a beta reader if you can’t afford to wait, or just distance yourself from the manuscript for a few weeks and maybe start on something else before getting back to it. Either way, revisions are unavoidable, so don’t get this mistaken impression that revisions are something you can avoid. Re-writing isn’t some myth that your English teachers or college professors throw in your face because they want you to do more work.
Not at all.
Your English teachers had to go through the process of revisions for their essays in their English classes. Your professors are still having to go through revisions on their essays that are published by elite academic journals. They do not skip the process of revisions, because revisions always make a book better–or essays, in the case of teachers and professors. It is a RARE writer who can may not have to revise, but don’t get this mistaken impression that revisions are something frivolous, that once you’re as big as John Green or whatever, that you’re too experienced to not have to go through that process. That isn’t so, not when those experienced authors don’t skip revisions, either. Did you know John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars actually started out as a story involving cancer patients who would meet in a cave outside of their hospital? And now look at TFiOS today. His critical acclaims ride on the fact that he took the time to write the best dang book possible, and even if he avoided revisions, his agent won’t let him. His editor won’t either. Perhaps each manuscript will come back with less and less edits, but that doesn’t mean HE avoided revisions. He just knows how to do them on his own (or will eventually), but he still does them.
Some authors do revise as they go. I BELIEVE Ernest Hemingway was one of those writers (correct me if I’m wrong, please). However, that is still revising and still re-writing. It may be on a first draft that he is doing this, but he is still revising and still re-writing. He knows that he can’t avoid this. I, on the other hand, word vomit with my first drafts. I don’t care about how nice my first draft looks. Some first drafts are crummier than others, but a first draft for me exists to get all of my ideas down. Then I distance myself from those ideas in order to think about making those ideas much, much stronger.
Take my contemporary fantasy, for example. I’ve been away from it for a few months because I have been doing edits on The Stars Are Infinite, sequel to When Stars Die. I AM going to have to do revisions and re-writes for this novel. I want to introduce the antagonist later. There is a character I want to ax. There is a concept I need to re-do. There is a romance I want to strengthen–and much, much more. Am I getting rid of the story itself? No, but I have much better ideas to make the story stronger, and I know this because I do consider myself an experienced writer, even though I only have one work published. I am also an editor, and whenever I edit a book from a client who has never published before, I generally have to tell them to re-structure their book, even if this is something they already have done. I AM AN OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE.
Today’s publishing industry isn’t the publishing industry of just even ten years ago. Writers want to make more money, so they try to write their books as fast as possible. Either they forego sleeping to get revisions done, or they forego the process of revisions entirely and skip this step. Oftentimes it shows for prolific writers, where readers are able to compare their newest books to their oldest books (my personal assistant used Dean Koontz as an example. He tried to do this, but his newest works were weaker than his oldest works). Sometimes it doesn’t show, but more often that not, this is a case where readers have nothing to compare your work to. However, if you’re a new writer who skipped revisions and your readers love your book, I have no right to downplay what the rating of your book may be. However, as a new writer, your readers don’t think they can get any better from you. Readers aren’t editors. Readers are sharp, don’t get me wrong, but they point out only flaws in the book. They don’t suggest ways to fix those flaws like editors can do.
I do have one question though: If you essentially took the time to revise your novel, don’t you think you would be delivering a much stronger book to your readers so that way you’re not shortchanging them, inadvertently making them believe this is the best product you’ve got to offer?
I consider myself a very ethical author when it comes to my readers. I want to make sure they receive the best product possible, so I will revise every book I ever write. The first draft is writing for yourself. Revisions and edits thereafter are for them–not you. You’re not the consumer of your book. They are, so make the strongest book possible, and in order to do that, yeah, you’re probably going to have to re-write some things.
If you don’t feel like it needs to be re-written, then don’t do it, but don’t assume this AFTER you’ve written your first draft. EVERYONE needs a second pair of eyes, even if it’s just one person. Libba Bray certainly did, and she’s published about six books, I believe. She is also not a one-book-per-year author.
So please don’t go around thinking re-writing is some myth teachers pound in your brains because they want to give you more work. Many know what they are talking about because they’ve been through that process themselves.