Monday, April 1, 2013

5-step writing process: revising

Step 4: revising. Keep in mind, I do editing and revising at the same time.  However, they are different processes that happen at the same time.  I think many writers combine the editing and revising into one step.  But, for this post, I am going to talk about revising.  To see my thoughts on editing, check out my post on that topic.

After finishing my drafts, I spend a significant amount of time away from it, letting the chapters cool.  Later I can come back and look on it afresh. I alway read over my own writing before showing it to others.  Reading aloud helps me hear the flow and voice of my novel.  Getting other writers to critique my work is invaluable, but, as the author, the revision decisions remain solely my own.

If drafting is about daring to suck, revising is about daring to cut.  I hear writers talk about works as if they are their "baby." Revising is about improving your baby and making it grow and develop properly. I think the baby analogy falls a little short, though. Writing is like gardening. Brainstorming is when you pick the seeds at the garden store.  Drafting is planting those seeds.  The real work in gardening is the editing and revising. This is when you prune excess words. Weed out unnecessary adjectives. Water and cultivate the strong shoots until it flowers into something beautiful.

Consider how the flow and rhythm of the words effect the tone, mood and voice. For a scene with fast-paced action. Shorter sentences give a sense of movement and urgently. Something I've learned in the revising process is not to stop and describe what the sea monster looks like when it is about to crush my protagonists boat.  One word or phrase can create an image in the reader's head without going into all the grisly detail.  Sometimes time feels like it's slowing down for my characters. During these times I might linger on details creating a slow and easy feeling.

One part of revising is looking at the big picture. I can't be afraid to prune entire sections of my work.  The first thing I wrote when I started my novel was, unsurprisingly, the prologue--which I was absolutely in love with.  After three different beta readers told me it didn't add anything to the story.  I cut it out completely and reworked chapter three (a flashback) into the new prologue.  Amazing what linear story telling does.  That fixed several problems. The new opening is far more intriguing and there isn't a flashback scene breaking up the action later in the book.  I wove some of the original prologue into the rest of the story, but I cut out most of it because it wasn't necessary to tell the story.  It was necessary for me to write it as part of the process because it jumpstarted my creativity and because I learned to let it go.

Revising is about worrying over every sentence. I ask myself if every adverb and adjective is necessary, or is there an rich verb or noun that can say the same thing in one word. Example sentence: Stella walked slowly through the small city looking for a place to spend the night. Example revision: Stella meandered through the village in search of an inn. I received some advice once to never use the word walk in writing. Adjectives can tell us the manner in which the character walks, but a strong verb can do the same in one word. Meander replaces "walked slowly." Ambled or wandered work as well. each word tells us more about the manner of walking than saying "walked slowly" ever will. "Small city" doesn't tell us much, but using town or village gives a better sense to the reader about where there character is. Something that has helped me is the Roget's international Thesaurus.  I mean an actually book, not that thesaurus app on my phone. Roget's is organized by category. Pursuing the section on movement, for example, gives me choices that may not be an exact synonym for the word used.  Can you think of a different way to revise this sentence? Leave yours in the comments.

Once the first revision is complete, the process starts over again.  Editing and revising are both repeatable steps in the writing process because books are never done. In her poetry handbook, Mary Oliver talks about revision. "In truth, revision is an almost endless task. But it is endlessly fascinating, too, and especially in the early years it is a process in which much is learned" (p. 111)


Oliver , M. (1994). A poetry handbook. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Co.

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