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Surviving Revision Hell

“Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.” ― Patricia Fuller

Since I don’t ever plan to waltz out of my house in my underwear (especially in January in Iowa. Brr!), This week I have undertaken the task of revising my manuscript.

I finished the first draft a few weeks ago and have myself a little break from it and now the real ‘fun’ has begun. That lovely thing that many writers refer to as “revision hell.”

The first thing I did to prepare for the revision process was print out my entire manuscript. yes, i know. Bad for the environment. I love trees, but I get eye strain when I read too much on a computer screen. Besides, I catch more errors looking at a hard copy.

After printing it, I read the whole thing in its’ entirety. Reading your own book can be an eye-opening experience.

For example, I knew I had a problem with one of my point of view characters being weaker than the others, but I didn’t realize to what extent until I kept track of all the POVs as I was reading. I also realized what a scene-stealer one of my characters is (Devin, I’m looking at you)! I don’t mind her being a scene-stealer. It’s basically her story, and I think she’s a compelling character.

I do have a lot of work ahead of me to flesh out that other character more, though. Reading through the book and taking notes while I did allowed me to notice problems like that and put together a plan of how to fix then.

In addition, there were some late-in-the-book, unexpected plot developments that came up, no doubt the result of being a pantster rather than a plotter and never outlining anything. Now I have some changes/additions to make to the first part of the book to make sure those twists at the end don’t appear to come out of nowhere. I have always been more of a ‘putter inner’ and my second drafts tend to grow quite a bit in terms of word count.

The revision process isn’t all about adding things, though. There will also be plenty of eliminating unnecessary words, like the ones I have a tendency to overuse in first drafts. ‘Had’ and ‘that’ are words that tend to be a recurring problem in first drafts, and even though I am always on the lookout to eliminate them when I critique others’ work, they do still find their way into mine.

I also have a bad habit of starting too many sentences with ‘But,’ although I think I’m getting better about that, thanks to one of my crit partners hitting me pretty hard about it.

Then there is ‘just.’ Boy, I never knew realized how useless that word is, or how much I overuse it, until one of my other crit partners got hold of my work and began shredding me mercilessly every single time she saw it. Well, I have my red pen and the delete button handy now!

I can do this!

The key for me in surviving revision hell is to break it down into manageable blocks, such as a chapter or two each day. If I try to too much, too fast I risk burning myself out and hating everything about my book to the point that I never wanted to see it again. I’ve made that mistake before and ended up abandoning the project for too long.

I think I have a better sense of balance and pacing now and am not likely to repeat that mistake. So far, I have revised through chapter 3 of my manuscript and am still finding myself enthusiastic about the book and energetic about the revision process. Hopefully I can sustain that for thirty-seven more chapters.


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