Babysitting 22 month-old twin grandsons sort of prevented me from posting yesterday. A classroom presentation got in the way of posting earlier today. But, except for distractions of preparing dinner and folding the laundry, I'm ready to give some thoughts on today's subject - revising.
Hemingway said there are two processes for writing. First you get it down, then you go back and work on getting it right. It is not a matter of polishing the manuscript by correcting misspelled words, eliminating adjectives and adverbs or tinkering with flow. Instead, consider it as creating and refining thoughts. Many authors spend countless hours, days and years perfecting a manuscript. James Joyce spent 20,000 hours writing Ulysses and 17 years on Finnegans Wake. No wonder they are classics.
Another author answered a question about how much he rewrites with "Writing is rewriting."
Rewriting is more than crossing out the adjectives and adverbs. You replace them with nouns and verbs that that better express your meaning. You catch mistakes. You punch the prose. While you correct the small things, keep your mind tuned to possible radical improvements. Toss the first paragraph, page, chapter if it doesn't truly begin the story. Perhaps the middle drags. Punch it up by thinking of new directions, conflicts, or characters reactions.
Look at revision as re-vision. Go in new directions or change the structure. Sometimes it takes hiding the manuscript under the bed, in a drawer or the trash can. Starting over combines your original idea with more momentum, new directions, new perspectives, and a higher quality of writing. That first draft acts as the foundation on which you build a better product. It reminds me of looking for a lost object. I may overlook the thing several times before I find it right in plain sight.
During the rewriting process, take yourself away from the manuscript for a hour, a day, or a month - whatever it takes to look at it with new eyes. Your new vision surprises you with easy fixes.
When does rewriting end? Sometimes you'll find it hard to cut your beautiful words. However, will you remember what you cut in a few days? Make sure everything fits with the story. Take out those "show-off phrases" you love. Listen to reader feedback. You are not obligated to change all to please your critique readers. However, take their suggestions to heart, consider if they make a manuscript better or just become their writing voice.
An author discovers she/he can always tweak their work. It never seems perfect. Realize at one point you must print the document, cut the apron strings and let the baby go.
You may find a guest post I did for Patricia Stoltey's blog, interesting. Named "Publication and Promotion: They Go Together," the post sums up my publishing path for HOW THE WEST WAS DRAWN and some promotion tips I've covered in this blog.
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