March 30th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Notes from the Revision Cave

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?

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5 comments to “Notes from the Revision Cave”

  1. Tiff
     · March 30th, 2012 at 10:45 am · Link

    So glad to know it gets easier and you can learn to love it. I’m definitely a kitchen sink writer, but I just ripped out 500 words and it was SO painful. I knew it was necessary, but I really liked those words…I’ve saved them in a separate document. Maybe I can salvage them for something else?

  2. Maureen McGowan
     · March 30th, 2012 at 1:23 pm · Link

    For me, it still varies book to book. I used to consider revisions my favorite part. And sounds like I came to that “it can all be changed later” place sooner than you did. BUT… with the book I’m just finishing my revisions on right now??? The revisions just about killed me.
    It’s not that I felt anything in the first draft was cast in stone, it’s just that I had so many different little threads and ideas and had so much trouble untangling them all to weave something that resembled a coherent story.

  3. Anne Velosa
     · March 31st, 2012 at 11:30 am · Link

    The revision process is my LEAST favorite part, it just seems to drag on forever. Not that I feel the think any part of my stories are precious, but that I was brought up to do the job right the first time. I apparently embraced that mantra too closely, and now its embedded in my skin.

    But as I’ve only written 4 novels, all still unpublished, I suppose I’ll get comfortable with the process. And that’s the biggest question for me … what is the process? As a former engineer, knowing the process is big deal for me. So, I’m still discovering how to see the strengths and weaknesses of the story and know what to do to weave a tighter story.

  4. Laurence Maryanne King
     · March 31st, 2012 at 12:40 pm · Link

    Great post, Diana! I so had to learn the art of revision because I have a pesky inner editor who likes to have it right the first time. I eventually learned to let go on the first round, knowing that until it hits the printing press everything is up for change.

  5. A. McKay
     · March 31st, 2012 at 12:49 pm · Link

    I just finishied my revisions for my 1st novel that will be published soon. It was hard but I had to change the main plot of the story. It was there but hidden, so I fixed it. I didn’t see it before, but then I found out he was fighting for love and family. Before it was a run for his life story, which had me turned down by publishers.

    Now though like I said the sory will be published soon


  1. Diana Peterfreund Blog | Today at Genreality: Revisions

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