Tuesday, November 1, 2011


What is revision? It's a pain in the ass quite honestly. However, it is every bit as important as writing the first draft. Nobody gets a story right the first time, no matter how much some might claim. Revision is a different side to writing. Revision is kind of like restoring an old classy car. It's covered in dust, has junk on the inside, and rust in some spots from sitting for so long. What do you do? You take it out, wash it up, vacuum the inside, and treat the rust. In many ways, revising a story is like restoring that old car. Except with writing, you aren't done after you've restored it.

Revision doesn't start with the first read. When a writer finishes a story, the first thing he/she should do is stow it away for a while. I go by the suggestion Stephen King said in his book "On Writing" which he said a story should sit for at least six weeks. Personally, I have let stories sit for as long as six months. When you have forgotten about a story, and you find it locked away in a drawer, or a file on your PC, and you realize you've forgotten all about it and can't remember what you've written. You're ready to begin.

The first thing that comes with reading through the first time is gauging the quality of what you have. The first read should consist of mundane activities, cleaning up grammar, fixing possible misspelling, fine tuning sentence structure, and cut, cut, cut! No matter how much you like that particular line, it probably doesn't have anything to do with the story and needs to go by the wayside. Some people prefer to print out their material and edit the manuscript manually. This is fine, but it leaves an extra step in transferring the changes to your PC/MAC that I don't think is necessary. I do everything digital. I do enjoy reading a hard copy of my work and destroying that unneeded line with a big black marker.  But the transfer process makes me want to pull my hair out.

When you get to the second read. This is where you see how things are structured. Why is the MC doing this particular action in this particular scene? Does everything connect? Is the antagonist's/protagonist's desires/needs/motives fully developed?  Does every side character have a role and purpose? Some would say this is something a writer should do through the first read, but I prefer to stick with trying to get the little things out of the way and build up from there.  Even if the story telling is good, a bunch of little mistakes, sentence structure, grammar, etc. (the foundation of a story), can add up and disrupt from a good read.  While working through this part, this is when I also ask: "What am I trying to say?" Every story has a subtle meaning underlying it, a metaphor if you will, that will carry through the tone of the story. This subtle meaning comes up in the ending, and should leave a resonance in the reader's mind. It's what makes the reader think about the story after he/she has finished it. It's what makes the reader mention the story to others. This is a sign of great story telling.

So your grammar is up to par by your eyes, your story flows like water, and it has meaning. Now you share it with others willing to read your writing. No matter how good you may think the story is, there is always going to be something you'll miss, especially if you've been staring at the piece most of the day for the past week. Writing is a form of communication, if you don't want to share your piece; then what are you doing writing anyway? Getting as many fresh eyes on your piece/story/novel is critical in making your writing as good as it can be. For me, when I send my stories to others, I'm usually trying to get help with details. This is were I'm weakest. I can develop an idea with the best of them. It's why I find myself buried in idea concepts, but struggling to get the damn ideas out the door and feeling confident about them as a finished product.

You've sent your story out, and now you've got feedback. First off, understand that everyone is going to have a different idea of what you're trying to do with your story, especially if you shared your piece with someone you haven't shared with before. There may be some people who won't like your story, it's happened to me.  There may even be those who send you feedback saying the story isn't very clear, while others will say the story is great the way it is. The key is looking at who's advice you take with most merit.  Personally, I tend to take advice from those who I've known for a while, and those who've read my previous pieces. These readers are going to have the best understanding of what I'm trying to do, and will give suggestions that fit my overall vision for the story. Say you sent out a story to a couple beta readers, one likes the ending but the other doesn't. What do you do? I prefer the Stephen King rule on this as well.  When in face of a tie, decision point goes to the writer. However, if you have two, three, perhaps four people mentioning there is something wrong with the ending, or a particular scene, you should look it over.

After this entire process, weeks, months, perhaps years depending on your available time, your story is polished and revised. I tend to (because I'm an anal freak with writing) read the story out loud, cheesy voices included. I try to do it in an entire sitting to help carry the mood. When you read something out loud, you will catch things that you would so easily miss when reading inside your head. You know what you want to say in your piece, but that doesn't mean that's you've written. And even after you've shared your material with a bunch of people, there are bits that will be missed. I personally hate this process, I hate the sound of my voice droning on for hours at a time, but I want to make sure the piece is ready to present.

So you're ready to submit! Go get that first rejection letter! If you've already gotten one, got get that first acceptance letter! Don't be afraid to look over a story after it's been rejected a few times. It never hurts to look over a story again. A piece of writing is never done. However, I believe there is a life span that pieces should endure before they are finally put to rest. To spend too much time on a particular piece, or multiple for that matter, can cause creative constipation, leaving it difficult to get fresh ideas out.

Revision is vital to writing. It improves your basic writing skills, it helps you understand what needs to be said and what doesn't. Revision, in my honest opinion, is what separates the amateur wanna-be writers from those who take it seriously. If you can't take writing seriously enough to go through the revision process, then you shouldn't be writing. Do something that requires less time, maybe polish that freshly restored car.

Keep Writing.


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