I read somewhere that revising is actually completely different from editing. Editing, they said (and I wish I could remember where I read this), was taking what was there and making it better; revising was totally reimagining what was written. I think they said something to the likes of, if you’re not rewriting 60% of the book, it’s not revisions.
I’ve understood this idea theoretically, less practically. But after last year I think I have a more hands-on understanding.
(Caveat: this, like all writing advice, you have to take with a grain of salt. I used to be a serious pantser, which made this advice make sense for me because I had to write the book before I understand what the book is, then go back and make it all work together. This may not be the best advice for you. It’s also not a rule. Just something to ponder in your revision journey.)
Throughout most of 2019, I rewrote a manuscript that I’ve been working on for years. (This is the one that was picked up by a small press for a while without publication.) I talk about the beginning of this rewrite here, and my success using Google docs here. As mentioned, I changed a lot in the manuscript. I went deeper. Interrogated my plot and character decisions. Threw away anything that didn’t make me excited.
(Then I sort of fell off the face of the blog-planet there but we’ll just ignore that. Blame bad depression episode and #because2020)
Usually I started by taking a section I didn’t totally love, created a new file, and then free-wrote, started in a totally new place, or really anything different to try to change things up. Most of time, I ended up hitting on something better. Or maybe it was something that could be merged with the original scene in a way that brought out what I was really trying to say.
During this whole process I specifically did not look at word count. I’m wordy and I knew that if I paid attention to how far over I was, I’d just be paralyzed. When I finally had the manuscript is one piece and fairly coherent, then I finally looked at my word count.
And realized I needed to take out about 40k-50k words to be within publishable limits. THAT amount of extra wordiness I was not expecting, and I entered a whole new phase in the manuscript revision process that was more intensive and time-consuming than I expected. So 2020 became the year of “is this scene really needed” and “how do I say that but short.” (If you’re interested, I really got into Instagram stories and you can watch more of a play-by-play of what I did here, though the first several slides are just pictures of computers and coffee. Hm. Maybe I should turn all that into a blog post.)
In narrowing down the amount of words, I was able to clarify the main thread of the story, too — which also meant it wasn’t the end of the rewrites. The last fourth of the book I pretty much completely threw out and redid. And I’ve rewritten my opening scene and last chapter about a hundred times now.
Throughout all of this, I have changed more than I thought I ever would. I figured the “redo 60% of the book” was more a guideline and not a rule. And I’ve found that I’ve probably either lightly or totally redone probably closer to 80% of the book. But this wasn’t all at once, and not all of it was drastic. I still believe the core of the story is there. The heart of the story may even be better, in fact. My craft as a writer has improved a lot since the manuscript was held in contract, and even more since I completed it, closer to year 2015. Most scenes had to go through an update process now that my skills have improved.
I think what I’m trying to say overall is that don’t be afraid to change things. Sometimes our first instinct about a scene is right, sometimes it’s wrong. I had to get very critical in order to start cutting or changing scenes (and when I say cutting, I mean copied nicely into another file, I rarely ever totally delete anything). And you know what, my manuscript is so much freaking better because of it.
And I know that instinctive fear a lot of us have, to change anything drastically or cut a scene we love or even shift tone, when it might change too much. It’s okay. You can always go back. Even the act of just trying something new may bring to light something you didn’t even know to think about. So. If you take anything from this. Don’t be afraid to try new ways of writing something!
My hope is, going forward, that I’ll get better and faster at this whole revisions thing, and it won’t really take this long every time! This was really my first endeavor into *this* kind of serious revising. There was some pitfalls, then depression, and then 2020 — it took longer than expected, but I learned a lot.
It continues to surprise me, how much I still have to learn. I suppose that’s a silly thing to say. But it’s so exciting. I think I have a decent understanding of something, and then find out there’s so much more to know. To learn. To experience.
ANYWAY. At this moment, my manuscript is out for some initial beta-reads. Right before the holidays, I hit a bit of a wall. I think I still need to take out about 10k words, and I definitely wasn’t seeing the story clearly anymore to know what I could take out, or what needs to be done. So I decided to get feedback on the manuscript as a whole, to guide me on the (hopefully) final changes to this manuscript. I’ll be talking beta-reading here soon.
While I wait for feedback to return, I’ve been reading, working on other writing pieces, and, hopefully, I’ll be getting back into the habit of blogging.
Until next time!