I love to draft stories. I love the freedom to play with ideas, to go wherever my imagination takes me, and the lack of pressure that comes with that messy first draft.
Revision? Yeah…not so much.
I expect my first draft to be terrible, so I’m not undone when it isn’t amazing. When I revise, though, I start to expect that the story is going to be good, but it often isn’t, at least not right away, and I get all dramatic and woe-is-me about it.
Lately I’ve been working on revising a project. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever worked on, but it’s also taught me a lot. So even though it often feels like this revision is going to eat me alive, it’s been a very valuable experience.
What I have learned so far:
1. Don’t give yourself an out
As soon as I tell myself I don’t have to do it or I let myself start to dabble with that shiny new idea, I’m lost. The shiny new idea takes over and soon I have another messy new draft that needs to be revised and the cycle begins again. I can’t let myself even think about not finishing or I won’t do it.
2. Break it down into manageable parts
One of the biggest problems I faced with this revision was knowing where to even start. There was so much that needed to be fixed that I was completely overwhelmed. (And, yes, there may have been a couple of days of sulking.) I finally identified a couple of the bigger issue things that were, in my opinion, the most important to fix and started there. When I get ideas for one of the other issues I still need to fix, I write it down, but don’t stress about getting it done yet. This allows my brain to focus on solving the problem at hand instead of bouncing all over the place.
But, seriously, write the other ideas down. I’d forgotten about a couple of things until I found notes to myself on what I wanted to do. They were good ideas, too, but ones I never would have remembered had I not written them down.
3. Point out what is working
Often in a revision I spend so much time looking at what is wrong that I forget to think about what is right. I get caught in a negative spiral and soon I start to wonder what’s the point of revising. I mean, the whole thing is so terribly, irredeemably awful, so why bother trying?
It’s not a helpful mindset.
Instead, when I come across a sentence that flows well or an idea that I like, I try to acknowledge it and that positivity helps me keep going.
4. Don’t be afraid to tear it apart and put it back together
One of the hardest things for me is the fear that I’ll make the WIP even worse through the revision. I’ve done it in the past and revised the life out of a piece, so it’s not an unreasonable fear. But it is one that haunts me and keeps me from moving forward. With this revision, I made a copy and then deliberately messed it up. I changed things around and then left it like that for a while to see if it worked. And it did! But more than that, by ripping part of it up, I freed myself from the fear of making it worse. It wasn’t perfect, but I could see that it was getting better. This fear was holding me back, making me afraid to even start, but by messing it up on purpose, I was able to acknowledge the fear and work through it.
I’m fortunate to have a due date for this revision and knowing that someone else is expecting to see a revision and will hold me accountable makes a big difference for me. If you don’t have an agent or editor or professor or whatever, find someone who will hold you accountable for getting the revision done.
And, yes, when all else fails, I resort to bribing myself. The hardest part of a revision for me is starting it. After that, the second hardest part is finishing that last 15%. When I’m so close that I can see the end, I find myself doing a slapdash job just to race to being done. But that’s not actually finishing, not when it’s a revision. So, yeah, I bribe myself to slow down and do it right.
What about you? Do you prefer to draft or revise? Do you have any other revision tips you can share with me?
Jenilyn Collings loves to read and write things that are humorous or romantic (preferably both). She has worked as a dental researcher, a florist, a martial arts instructor, and a tracker at an alternative high school (she’ll leave it to your imagination what that entailed), but she’s now focused on writing and child wrangling. A long time resident of the Mountain West, she recently moved to New England with her family where she is gaining an appreciation for umbrellas, fall colors, and turning lanes while driving.