Happy New Year! I hope 2018 is a year full of joy and peace for all of us!
Like many others, around this time of year I find myself thinking back on the last year, thinking about what worked out well for me, what turned out…less well, and how I would like things to go better in the future. It recently occurred to me how similar this approach to my life is to the act of revising.
Now, I have always preferred drafting to revising. I love the freedom to do whatever I want in a story, to go wherever I want with it, and that push to get the words on the page. But revision? Not so much. I’ve struggled to know how to approach revision and what to even do with my words once they are on the page.
In the last couple of years, I’ve pushed myself to try to learn to revise better and, although it’s slower than I would sometimes like, I am making progress. Good progress.
There are several similarities between making goals and progress in my personal life and making improvements to a manuscript. Here are three of the ones that have really stood out to me as I’ve tried to learn to revise better:
1. Slow down and take time to think.
I draft pretty quickly. I get the words down on the page in a happy, slapdash sort of way and don’t worry too much about whether a scene needs to be in the story or if the motivations make sense or any of that.
When I revise, though, I need to slow down and take a more thoughtful, deliberate approach. Same with making life goals. If I decide I want to exercise every day, I need to figure out how that will fit with the rest of the moving parts of my life. If I decide to add a scene or a character or a subplot to my story, I also have to consider how those changes will affect the rest of my story. I can’t just bulldoze my way through without taking the time to think or I end up with the same problems with my next draft.
2. Look at the whole.
When I decide to make changes in my life, I have to step back and take an honest—and realistic—look at how I’m doing. Both the good and the bad. Maybe I do need to eat more vegetables and eat less sugar and drink more water…but I’m also doing great at working out every week. Making sure to recognize the good in both my life and my story helps me to keep going and to not give up in despair because, frankly, I don’t particularly like most vegetables.
Sometimes it’s so easy to look at a project that needs revising and make a seemingly endless list of everything that’s wrong with it. But there are good things, too! There always are. Look for them, for the places where your writing does what you wanted it to, and try to bring the rest up to that level.
3. Remember it’s your life/story.
One of the hardest things for me to learn—and remember—in life and writing is that I will never be able to make everyone happy. Just as I can’t base my New Year’s Resolutions on what my neighbor needs to do, I can’t revise based on the issues I see in someone else’s book. And just as I shouldn’t base my goals on what I think my neighbor thinks I ought to do, I shouldn’t revise my story to fit someone else’s notion of what my book should be.
In the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice, the director chose to show in-scene a small incident between Elizabeth Bennet and Maria Lucas. Maria was so undone by Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s insistence on the only right way to fold clothing that she tried to repack all her boxes. Elizabeth responded by telling Maria that it was her luggage and that Lady Catherine would never know.
It’s your book. Revise it to match your image for it, not Lady Catherine’s.
Happy revising in 2018!
What about you? What tips do you have for approaching a revision?
Jenilyn Collings loves to read and is always looking for books that will make her laugh. She is currently working on an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She enjoys watching Korean dramas, BBC period pieces, and thinks Avatar: the Last Airbender is the best show ever made.