I’ve been in the throes of revision for some time (and will be for some time to come). Recently, I was stuck on something my development editor told me to do: shorten the first three chapters by combining them in two. When I looked at the material, I saw she was right that the chapters were too long, and I deleted without qualms about 3,000 words—one-third of the material the editor thought needed to go. But how to combine the chapters? What else had to be cut? I didn’t see a way.
Enter Jilly. She read the pages and offered some great suggestions. When I looked at her comments, all I could think was, why didn’t I see that?
Revision is hard, maybe harder than writing the first draft. And lately everyone seems to be doing it. Jenny Crusie is in the midst of a big revision, and her methods are engrossing. She assigns a word count to every act of her book, and sometimes every scene, to increase the tension. But revision isn’t easy for her, either. You can read about her latest edit pass here.
Then when I was bopping around the internet, I ran into this post by Harrison Demchick, which appeared here on The Creative Penn. He has four ideas that might make the revision process easier. Who knows, I thought, they might help me. So I read on, and here they are for you, just in case you’re also stuck in a revision quagmire. (The text has been shortened, rearranged, and sometimes paraphrased [hey! I revised it!] from the original post.)
If you revise with a mind toward changing as little as possible, the quality of your manuscript won’t change much, either.
Of course, small edits can have a big impact. If you need a compelling payoff late in the story, an additional line or two early on can make a big difference in establishing the setup.
But if your book has logic issues or it needs major changes to character arc, then surface-level revisions won’t cut it. The driving force of narrative is cause and effect. Nearly everything that happens in a novel, every plot beat, is the effect of what precedes it and the cause of what follows. So when you change something, that change has ramifications. The next scene might not play out the same way, or it might not happen at all. And that, in turn, has its own repercussions.
You might not need to dip below the surface as you revise. But you must be willing to do so.
Revise like a renegade
One challenge of revising is shaking the idea that it should require less work than writing the first draft, because writing a first draft feels a lot like finishing a book.
Sometimes you really are finished. Often you’re not.
If the best route to the changes you need to make is to blow up the whole thing—or at least major portions of it—then that’s what you need to do.
Revise with care
But don’t blow up things just for fun. Before you tear up your previous draft, make a plan.
Take a step back. Consider what you want to do and why. It might be a good idea to write a new outline or examine each character for motivation and character arc. Figure out the big stuff before you start on the details.
You’re not starting over
Even if you literally rewrite the entire manuscript, the rewritten draft couldn’t exist without the one before. Revision always moves forward, even when the twists and turns feel like you’re going back.
Revision is every bit as important as writing the first draft. If you give the revision process what it deserves, you’ll be rewarded with a completed draft that reflects your best work.
That’s the end of the Harrison Demchick post. As a practical matter, his ideas wouldn’t have helped me turn three chapters into two—I needed Jilly for that—but I’m happy to report that I’m not afraid to blow things up. In fact, I relish it.
So, how are your revisions coming along?