Jade provides tips for writers every week.
You’ve written your novel. FANTASTIC! You might have started your writing journey thinking you’d never reach the end. I remember the first book I wrote and how proud I felt when it was done. It felt like I’d lived a lifetime in the pages. When I wrote it (this will give you an idea of my age, if you didn’t already know), I would write by hand in a spiral notebook at night and then, for an hour or two during the day, I’d type it out on an electric typewriter and put each completed sheet of paper in a folder, face down. It didn’t impress me or freak me out as I filled up more than one spiral notebook or as that ream of paper dwindled from one stack and began thickening the stack in the file folder. All I knew was that I had a story to tell, and I had to make my way to the ending somehow.
Well, a few hundred pages in, I had real life obligations to return to (my second year as a college student!), and I didn’t completely finish writing that book (I had a couple of chapters to go) until a few years later, and then I put it in a trunk and didn’t look at it again for a very, very long time. When I picked it up again, years later, my beloved novel…wasn’t so great anymore. When I’d first penned it, I’d thought it was so good and, well, the story itself wasn’t horrible, but it needed some work. Okay, a lot of work. I even began to think it needed to be scrapped.
I like what Heather Sellers, author of The Practice of Creative Writing: A Guide for Students, has to say about revision. She says that it’s the act of re-seeing (“re-vision”) your work. You’re looking at it through new eyes—or you should be. Many others have said that the best way to revise your work is to look at it like a reader. I’m not telling you today how to revise but, rather, convincing you that it is a necessary evil. Had I published the book I told you about without revision, I never would have published again (or, rather, readers wouldn’t have returned for more). It wasn’t good enough. Don’t get me wrong—the grammar, punctuation, spelling, word usage, and all that jazz were fine. The story was decent. There were no continuity errors or things like that.
It just needed work. A lot of it. And, at the time I wrote it, I was too close to it to know it. Looking at it later, though, I could see everything that was wrong with it (things my friends were maybe too afraid to tell me). Some of the characters were two-dimensional and many of them were so similar, it was hard to tell the difference. My lack of experience in a lot of things also showed (although research and real-life experience can make up for that problem). The fact that I hadn’t done much writing was also apparent, because I hadn’t developed a strong “voice” yet. I also hadn’t learned that it’s okay to leave some things out if they’re not essential.
But revision is important for other reasons as well—I’ve found that revising helps me tighten up my story and clarify things that might have been a little fuzzy on the first go round. I also sometimes “know” my characters better by the end of the first draft and can even improve on that aspect of the story. Revising is simply making your story better for readers—and isn’t that what you want? Happy readers? Of course, it is…so don’t you dare write your story and declare that you’re done. Revising is a necessary part of the writing process. If you’re not revising, you’re not ready to publish.
Got a writing question for me? Post below and I’ll be happy to answer it either here or in a future Saturday blog post!