Revising from notesJuly 12, 2008
At my critique group a couple of weeks ago, someone asked me what I wanted to achieve in my revision of my middle-grade novel, if I had specific things I knew I wanted to do.
During my break, I had thought about this a lot — anxious to start working on the novel again and get back into that world. But even before I had finished the book, I had plans of what I wanted to do when I got around to the revision.
When I started writing the novel, I would revise as I went, a habit brought over from two things: a) being an editor in my day-job, and b) being used to writing shorter pieces, short stories, articles, etc. But the problem was, I found that I wasn’t getting anywhere. I spent six months, probably, writing and revising the first three chapters (there were originally six, maybe seven chapters that got condensed down to the first three). On the one hand, doing that early on, I think, helped me get a good grasp of the characters and the foundation of the story. I wrote so many scenes and so much background that ended up getting cut, but they were still in the life of my protagonist, they still shaped his character, and because I know they happened, I know him so much better.
However, because I wasn’t moving on, I was getting frustrated. So one day, I decided to finally follow my husband’s advice — he had been telling me to stop revising and just move forward for ages; why don’t we listen? — and just get to the end of the story. Revision would come later.
The novel moved much faster after that, and I felt much more freed creatively to just let the words flow and not worry too much if they weren’t the right words. Somewhere in the middle, I realized I had gone astray a bit with the plot and needed to go back and fix some things so that new things would make sense.
I contemplated doing those revision immediately but finally decided against it. I didn’t want to get caught in that cycle again. I was on a roll, and I just wanted to get to The End. So, I instead made notes, lots of notes, for what I had to do when I started to revise.
Those notes are now my bible. And as I’m revising back at the beginning, I’m seeing little details that I had added with the plan of having them pay off later, little harbingers of things to come. Only they were dropped somewhere along the line, forgotten in one of those times when I took a hiatus from writing the novel. (Another good reason to write every day, or as close to it as possible.) And those harbingers are going into my notes now too, so I can now have them pay off when I get further into the book.
What are you trying to achieve when you’re revising?