My friend Sean, who’s working on a novel, recently asked me how I go about rewriting (and he knows how painstakingly I rewrite everything). I’ve found that revision is probably the most important stage of the writing process, and yet it’s often the most overlooked. Why? Because it can be really horrible to read over something you’ve written and realize it’s not that great. Also, revision is hard — it takes a lot of time, a great deal of focus, and a willingness to sacrifice a few things you might love about your story (usually things you’ve spent hours and hours working on).
So why must we do it? Because it makes the difference between poor work and good work, good work and great work, or great work and brilliant work. Revision always helps.
Here are few revision rules to live by:
– Take one step at a time. Look at the big picture first — character, story, theme — before tackling your work scene-by-scene, or before worrying about comma splices. Once the overall story is flowing, then you can sweat the small stuff.
– Don’t be afraid to trim. It may be hard to cut sentences or paragraphs you love, but be ruthless and see what happens. You might discover wonderful results — and if you don’t, you can always revert to your original. But you won’t know unless you try.
– Revise when you’re ready. If you’ve got good momentum on a piece, don’t stop to reread it; just keep writing. Then give it a little space. Then go back and have a look with fresh eyes. This is the best time to start a rewrite, when you’ve got enough distance to ask yourself, What am I trying to say? and Am I actually saying it?
– Engage a friend, writer, editor — someone who will be honest with you and offer you constructive feedback. These people can be hard to find but are well worth having in your writing life.