The Only Way Revision Works (For Me)

keep-calm-and-revise-revise-revise-4We talk a lot about the rituals and habits of writing.  It’s the same for just about every blog, website, magazine or class that I’ve had experience with.  What time of day should we write?  Do you write every day?  Do you journal?  Don’t edit while you write.  Write by hand.  Don’t write by hand.  Caffeine precedes inspiration.  And so on.  And so on.

There are powerful reasons for this focus.  The processes of inspiration and creation are hard to talk about because the act of creation has never been well-understood.  So we talk—sometimes, talk to death—the minutiae that surround the process, because it’s too scary to tackle the real issue head on.

However, more often than not, advice surrounding the process of revision sounds remarkably similar to the instructions on a shampoo bottle….Revise.  Repeat.

Revision is never that easy.  Any writer who’s ever clashed with their editor, but had trouble expressing the reasons for their objections can attest to that.  Likewise, how many of us have moved a paragraph or two earlier in the manuscript, only to move it back when we second guess ourselves—only to move it back again…and so on?

While revising is not, strictly speaking a creative process, there is undeniably a creative aspect to it.  After all, revision is not just removing.  If you decide that a certain scene needs a little more detail—or more emotion—to feel genuine, you have to create that detail.   But the analytical aspect is at least as important.  It takes experience and judgment to know what’s going wrong in your story.  It naturally follows that if revision is partially a creative process, you may still need some of those same tools you use to create.

In the last year, as I analyzed my creative process, I’ve learned about my revision process as well.  I write by hand.  Maybe it’s because I learned to write just before computers were everywhere, but I’m just more creative with a pen than I am with a keyboard.  Then I use the process typing my story into the computer to revise.   But in the last year I’ve learned I have an extra step.  My first revision works best on paper.  I’d rather move a paragraph by circling a paragraph and drawing an arrow to its new location than by using my word processor’s cut-and-paste.  It’s just easier for me to read through it and try the story out both ways.  It’s less permanent.  It’s less of a decision and more of a question.  Then, when it’s time to type it into the computer I’ll make my choices.

I write better at night, but I edit better right after work—maybe because my job is analytical.  I write better in slightly-noisy venues like coffeehouses and restaurants, but I edit better in comparative quiet—maybe a radio or TV playing softly in the background.

What about you?  Have you ever thought about how you edit?  Do you know what works for you and what doesn’t?  Let us know in the comments below…

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4 thoughts on “The Only Way Revision Works (For Me)

  1. I like to write by hand, but I find that I’m faster on the keyboard, and my typing can better keep up with my brain. As to revision…well, I do sometimes revise as I go, or re-read and revise the previous section before I start writing the new section of a book. It slows me down somewhat, but helps me get back into the story when I write. My writing is full of fits and starts. Over the last few days, I’ve only written a total of three pages, but have spent hours doing so, and I’m still not happy with it. But I’m determined to try to ignore it this time and move forward. I’ll come back later and revise.

  2. The quality of my writing is better when typed out, but the impermanence is an obstacle. I start nitpicking and in the end I get nothing done. Writing by hand now and then helps me brainstorm by forcing me to at least put something down, which I can then flesh out properly in Word.

  3. That’s remarkably similar to my writing/editing process—right down to the café/restaurant noise for writing and the quiet for editing.

    I also have a pile of notebooks filled with circled paragraphs (of various colours) with arrows leading to their new location either earlier or further on. It’s nice to know I’m not that strange after all ☺

  4. Dale, I admire you for writing by hand – it seems more organic, at least in theory. But my achy hands now function better with a keyboard. So in my case, practicality wins the day and the computer gets my personal vote.

    I save an original copy of my work so if I want to return to the way it was written a year ago, I still have that.

    But I only speak for me.

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