Revision Process

[I may have told this story here before, but it’s on my mind, so I’m going to tell it again, anyway.]

I’m working through a revision right now. It’s the kind of revision where I go through every scene in my book, take it apart, and then put it back together in a better, stronger, more structured way. When I’ve got all the ideas straight in my head, I love this kind of revision. I can’t do very much of it in a sitting because of the way it scrambles my brain. Seriously. This is your brain. This is your brain while revising.

But it makes me think about the way my process has changed. I made this mistake for many years–I was afraid of revising. See, writing a book is so. much. work. I felt like, after I’d done all that work, I ought to have something in front of me that was good. I was convinced that if I just kept writing books, that my skills would improve to the point that I’d be writing books that were good enough. So I wrote seven books.

And here’s what I finally discovered: my first drafts need work. They aren’t very good. In fact, they are always a mess. Which means that after I have done all. that. work. I still need to do a whole lot more work. What I’d done by pushing through book after book was, in effect, give myself five books that were only 25% of the way done. (The first two aren’t worth going back to.) Oh, and I’d already done the part that I knew how to do, and would have to learn all new processes to get the manuscripts the other 75% of the way there.

That realization was slow in coming. I ran away from it for a really long time because I didn’t want to have to admit that the work to write a manuscript was only 25% of the work. I didn’t want to *do* the other 75%. And when I finally bit the bullet and started to really work on honing my revision skills, it was hard and long and there was no end in sight.

These days, I still see finishing a first draft as an accomplishment. But it’s only a 25%-of-the-way-there kind of accomplishment. I don’t get to tell myself I’m done. Not by a long shot. There are still many, many drafts to go. Maybe half the words that are in that first draft are actually going to survive. (Maybe.) So I let it sit for a while, get some feedback from readers, and get to work on that other 75% of the work. My books are much better. I’m happier, because I know I can fix the problems that need to be fixed. And I fix them in the kinds of ground-up ways that make my work stronger. I’m still far from where I want to be, but I’m getting better all the time.

The book I’m working on now has been fully rewritten once, and revised maybe five or six times. But many of those times were the old surface revisions that I used to do, where I was trying desperately to cover up the problems so I wouldn’t have to dismantle the book and restructure it. That’s the one part of the work I’ve found I can ditch–the avoidance. I used to work really hard at avoiding all that work.