Thursday, February 25, 2021

Tackling Revisions

Since I'm currently revising a paranormal romance novella under consideration by one of my publishers (addressing changes the editor requested), naturally I've been thinking lately about the process of revision. Professional advice about revision and rewriting varies widely; writers can find many different approaches and suggested procedures. There's an often quoted precept to the effect that, "Writing is rewriting." One of Robert Heinlein well-known rules for writers, however, states, "Never rewrite except to editorial order." He seems to mean that it's better to devote time and energy to a new project than to undertake a massive rewrite of an old one. (I assume he doesn't include as "rewriting" the unavoidable polishing on the sentence level.) At the other extreme, I've read advice from a bestselling fantasy novelist that assumes a fledgling writer should expect to produce multiple, extensively overhauled drafts before allowing a work to see the light of day. That expectation risks the author's turning into one of those aspiring writers who spend years on a single novel in a quest for perfection and never get around to submitting it, much less starting any other work.

Among many resources about revision available online, here's one example, very lucid and detailed:

8 Awesome Steps to Revising Your Novel

Some of the advice strikes me as well worth following, such as setting the book aside before one starts to edit (although not everybody has the luxury of "stepping back" for the month or more this article suggests) and then doing a preliminary read-through to list problems that stand out. Overall, the questions suggested for interrogating the work are definitely useful, too. Some of the recommendations, though, seem mainly directed at "pantsers." When the article explains how to evaluate such elements as plot complexity and consistency or character arcs and motivations, I instantly react with, "Why didn't you take care of all that in the outlining phase?" To me, "pantsing" would feel like an exhaustingly time-wasting method of producing a book, although I realize many writers can't work any other way. Stephen King and Diana Gabaldon, to name only two bestselling examples, demonstrate what amazing creations sometimes result from that approach.

Some writing-advice articles explicitly recommend a separate read-through for each element of editing (e.g., plot, character arcs, grammar and style, spelling, etc.). If I tried to do it that way, I would get sick of the story long before completing the process, as well as getting so familiar with it that I would probably cease to see errors. Also, the not uncommon advice not to bother with minor corrections during the first editing pass, because you may scrap or entirely rewrite that scene anyway, doesn't apply to me, for two reasons: I've already planned the story or novel scene by scene in the outline, so if a particular section didn't fit, I would have noticed before writing a full draft of it. Second and really primary, I'm constitutionally unable to read a chunk of prose without noticing and correcting errors as I go. No doubt that's a side effect of having worked as a proofreader for over twenty years.

Anyway, all writers, after seeking out and absorbing the advice most relevant and helpful for their own temperaments and stages of growth, develop their own individual revision processes.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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