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Revision Real Talk

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A little while ago (read: three months ago) I finished the first draft of my first novel and to be honest, it was highly anti-climactic. There was an initial sense of relief because, finally, I had finished something. Actually finished something! I started it as my senior thesis last year and thought, well, I’ve got fifty pages, might as well see this thing through. I told myself it would be done by the end of the summer. Then by the end of October. Then by Thanksgiving. Finally, shortly after the new year began, it was done.

But not really.

I think that a lot of people, particularly people who don’t like to write, don’t really give much thought to the revision process. I had a writing professor in college who used to say she had boxes full of drafts for just one novel, which was a work in progress for nearly ten years. If I take ten years to finish something you can take away my internet, or desserts, but I get her point: writing something worth reading takes time. That doesn’t mean what you wrote is bad – it just means it could be better.

I’ve found that getting myself to sit down and revise is harder than getting myself to sit down and write ever was. I’ll set aside a few hours to write and then, what’s that, you say? Downton Abbey comes back on tonight? Well okay, I guess I can watch.

Then I’ll be sitting down again a week later and oh, what’s this? My friends are going to that tasty little taco place with the yummy mojitos? The revision can wait.

Basically, I’m the type of person who (when it comes to writing) is prone to distraction, especially when things don’t necessary need to get done. As a result all I have is a bunch of post-its scattered around my desk that say things like “dream sequence – car crash?” and “Melinda – zany but confidante” and “buy more chips – not the lame kind.”

That’s hardly the next Harry Potter.

What works for me, and what I’ll recommend to you, is this: Tell people what you’re working on. Not just random people who don’t care about you. Real people, like your friends and your family. The thing about people who like you is that they take an interest in the things that you tell them about, and they’re likely to ask follow-up questions. If a month after you’ve finished your first draft your dad asks you when he gets to read your book and you have to swallow your chocolate chip pancakes and make up a lame excuse, then you aren’t getting any work done, honey. Not that I’ve ever done that.

So I sent my manuscript to two friends – two friends exactly. Ladies who studied writing with me at Barnard, who I knew had been in writing workshops before and who I trusted to be honest, but not soul-crushing. Once I have their notes it will be time to sit down and get to some serious revision business.

And then I’ll really have to figure out what’s next.

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One response »

  1. I still haven’t accepted that rewriting is writing. It’s so much more fun to get new ideas on the page, and so hard to revise a piece based on the sound advice of your critiquers. I have two very carefully critiqued drafts sitting in my revisions box, that two trusted readers took a lot of time to make thoughtful, constructive comments about, and I just can’t figure out how to weave their ideas in. I know the works will be stronger if I manage to do execute their suggestions, but I’ve been shocked by how much more difficult it is to rework an existing piece than it is to write a brand new one. Consequently, there they sit, two months later, and I think you’ve hit on an important reason why – I am not accountable for finishing them. I love your idea to talk to people about what you’re working on – that makes you accountable and will keep you on task. I’m going to borrow that idea and maybe I’ll make some progress. Good luck to you with your revisions, and congratulations on completing your first draft!

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