On Revision

I really struggle with revision. My favorite part of the writing process is the initial draft, where I learn about my characters, shape the narrative and discover what the story is about. I have a harder time with the next steps: the re-working, the polishing, the tweaking. I think it’s why I gravitate toward flash fiction. My flash pieces are short enough that, when it’s time to “revise,” I can open up a new document and write the story again from top to bottom. But when I work on longer pieces and projects, starting over completely is often not an option.

I thought I’d offer some of my revision strategies here for anyone else who might be struggling.

  • Focus on the first half. Because we all learn about our stories as we’re writing them, sometimes the back half is richer and stronger voiced than the beginning. When I find this gradation in my work, I read the last few pages to get their “voice” in my head and then rewrite the first few completely. Once that’s done, I can usually just do a bit of tweaking on the rest to get the language to shine.
  • Take it a piece at a time. For longer projects, I often get overwhelmed thinking about the amount of work my manuscript needs. To make it manageable, I look at one scene or chapter at a time. I try not to think about the rest of the story, I just focus on the part I’m looking at right then.
  • Revise in layers. If there are specific issues present throughout the whole manuscript, you can instead go through the manuscript a few times, addressing one problem on each pass. For example, you might go through once looking at all the dialogue. Then again focusing on the actions of a single character. Breaking it down like this can make a big rewrite less intimidating.
  • Save multiple drafts. When I’m making big revisions, I always save my work draft by draft. This helps free me up to make big changes, because I know I can always go back to a previous draft if something isn’t working.

What works for you?

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