I’m working on revising my latest novel at the moment (ninth published, thirteenth written). One thing I’ve noticed, as I’ve matured as a writer, is how much better I’ve gotten at revising. I’m much more willing now than I was when I first started writing to view absolutely nothing as set in stone. Plot, characters, subplots, scenes — everything is up on the chopping block when it comes to making my story the best that it can be.
This has had the added benefit of allowing me to be much more free in my first drafts. I feel like I can throw everything — including the kitchen sink — in my first drafts now, knowing that I’ll be able to excise it later if need be.
Some writers are like this from the very beginning of their career — they innately understand the rules like “kill your darlings” and “writing is revising” and “you can’t fix a blank page.” My path to this has been a little more serpentine, and I find I still struggle with it. I’m one of those writers who would far prefer to “get it right the first time” because even though I’m getting better, I still find it difficult to reconstruct my draft and then sew the pieces back up, Frankenstein style. I look at published novels of mine and I can still see the seams, even if no one else can. The original draft still lies underneath, a palimpset only I can see, in say, a line of dialogue that had a special resonance with a cut scene or a character description chosen to contrast with a character who no longer exists.
But I know these are things only I see, and that the total good of the changes I’ve made far outweigh any imagined loss. The other thing I’ve noticed is that the more I embrace no-holds-barred revisions, the less I’m bothered by anything that remains. Maybe I’m just getting better at realizing that first drafts are written on sand, not stone. Maybe, as I get older, my memory is failing me.
Whatever it is, I’m certainly noticing this time around that nothing is sacred. The old me would have looked on in horror at the things I’ve changed in the last few days, while the new me shrugs and moves on to the next chapter.
What do you think? Are you one of those writers who embraces revisions, or, like me, did you have to learn to love it?