In my writing group, my inbox is always open to writers. All of the ones who reach out to me have expressed that they are very unfamiliar with the revision process. They, of course, understand how to revise or the idea behind it, but a common theme keeps popping up:
- Not sure when a draft is done
- Don’t know where to start
- Unsure of the steps
Not knowing when a draft is done is the biggest concern I hear from writers, in and out of my group. It’s understandable. Professional career writers who have been working in the field for decades don’t even have an answer for this. There are some writers who strongly believe that drafts and stories are never finished.
Even after printing, stories live on in the author’s psyche, continuing to grow and change.
I know that doesn’t bode well for the writers who are really trying to grasp the revision process, but I say it because it’s an important truth. For some, and you might be that some, drafts are never done. Stories never die.
The issue then isn’t really knowing when a draft is done, but understanding when you are done, when you have put your all into a piece and there isn’t anything left for you to do—that’s when your draft is done.
Maybe you’re thinking, what’s the use of revision if I’m never going to be sure my story is ready or good enough. That’s what this article is for. Learn the importance and necessity of revising so you can make your story the story you want it to be.
Your story is the best thing to come around since The Alchemist. It’s raw and emotional, borders the land between fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
10 out of 10 would recommend.
But it’s a choppy mess of broken dialogue, unedited syntax errors, and would make an editor cry tears of blood and acid, ruining your AMAZING manuscript.
Revision saves your story. It makes it easier for readers to understand what you are trying to say and tell in your story. Without revising your work, you leave yourself open for having your amazing story misinterpreted.
Revising your fiction, nonfiction, or poetry is the least you can do for your story. You spent days, hours, weeks, years, decades all trying to tell this story that’s unique and special to and for you. Of course, you want to show people what you’ve created, but if they can’t understand it, they won’t read it or get the point behind it.
This is what they’ll say:
“Oh my god you wrote a book that’s so cool!”
“Finally finished your book? Awesome. Congrats.”
“Wow a book! Look at you!”
What they won’t say:
“Your book really changed the way I view life, love, and friendship.”
“The way your characters act was so relatable and funny. I never wanted to stop reading.”
“You are my new favorite author.”
They won’t be able to say all that because the book you shared with them, the one that didn’t have any editing or revising done to it is so illegible and hard to comprehend that your readers/family & friends never read past the first line or page.
Where to Start
Now that I have convinced you that your work needs to be revised, let’s get into where and when to start. The other day on Quora, I answered a writer’s question on whether or not to revise while writing.
My answer essentially said to focus on cleaning up the simple and easy errors like spelling mistakes and the like, but I caution writers to leave the big structural and content edits until the end of the draft.
Only after the story is all out, can you really get an idea of what is working, what needs to be heightened, which characters to cut, etc.
Don’t dive right into revising as soon as you’re done a draft, though. Step away and rejoice in the fact that you finished something. More writers than you or I will ever know never finish a single draft.
Give your story time to breathe and yourself time to grow. My professional advice is to spend the time away from your draft doing three things:
- Starting a new story
- Reading/consuming media or writing related to your story
Starting a new story and resting keeps your creative juices flowing so that you can continue creating for as long as you like. Spending time consuming stories related to your story will make it so that when you return to your draft, you not only have fresh eyes, but you have a strong knowledge and base to stand on.
You’ll be coming at your story like a pro, not like a love sick pup — which is what all of us writers are toward a draft when we finish it.
After that time away, start by simply reading through your story without making changes. Keep an open mind and an open ear to the story that you are telling. Jot down notes or make comments, but save the big editing until the end when you have the whole story fresh in your mind.
Save your big changes and developmental editing for after this stage. You’ll save yourself a lot of pain and work by holding off on making edits until after your first reading.