Friday, December 23, 2011

Revising Gently

I love revising.

I'm one of those writers that can't leave a piece of work alone. I have to change this, fix that, try something else, until I've kneaded all the life out of my prose.

Earlier this week, I printed out all twelve versions I could find of the first two pages of my current project. I was trying to solve a mystery. When I wrote the first draft two years ago and took it to a workshop, everyone liked it. When I took my most recent draft to a workshop last weekend, it got torn to shreds. My daughter helped me read through all twelve drafts, trying to figure out where I went wrong.

"Your first draft is rough, but it's all alive and sparkly. And your most recent draft is polished, but it's dead."

Aren't teenagers wonderful?

So how do I make my words alive, sparkly, AND polished?

Maybe I need to learn to revise gently.


  1. This is a timely post. I polished the heart right out of my first novel. Good luck with your light revisions.

  2. Polishing the voice (or life) right out of a chapter is certainly possible. I can just picture you sifting through all those pages! I know you'll find the answer!

  3. Elaine, what did you do? Bury it in a drawer, or go back to draft one and start over?

    Thanks for your encouragement, Sue.

    I'm experimenting with re-typing instead of just revising. That way, I hope to keep a sense of life and flow even though I'm making changes. Think of it as a repeat performance.

  4. Well, that's an interesting comment on your work!

    I also revise the heck out of my pieces -- and especially the opening pages! I think my opening pages get re-worked more than the rest of the pages put together!

    The path to the best version is not always a straight one. Sometimes I do produce awful, lifeless ones before I find my way back to a combination of voice and polish (I hope).

  5. I think you're right, Dianne. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. It's a little like surgery. It always hurts worst right after the operation.

  6. I'm having the same problem. Grrrr. If you come up with an answer let me know. Sigh.

  7. I'm a big fan of redrafting rather than revising. It gets me much more in the zone. I think, fwiw, that it's a matter of making the piece look and feel better to you - forget about what other people have to say about it unless it's something structural like, "I didn't get what happened in this scene." In the end of the day, what makes the sparkle is the love you have for what you do and if you lose that, it doesn't matter how technically competent the final result is.

  8. When I went to Orson Scott Card's boot camp, he said something that stuck with me: that as a writer you HAVE a style, you don't create it. But you CAN kill it, so you have to be careful. I remember thinking, "but what if I don't like my natural style?"

    I think the dead drafts come when you kill your style to please someone else.

  9. I like the idea of re-drafting, Emily. In fact, that's what I've been doing. I sat down with my very first draft on one knee, my most recent draft on the other, and referred to them both as I re-typed.

    Those first few pages are killer. You want them to be so perfect, but they have to be alive.


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