Unexpected Bonus of Revision
By J.A. Marlow
Copyright © 2009 by J.A. Marlow, All Rights Reserved
The revising and
polishing of a novel can be as harrowing as writing the first draft. The
hemming and hawing is over. It’s time to make the tough decisions and
make the final choices on what direction the novel needs to take. Plot
elements and characters need to be cut and added, refined, redefined,
fine-tuned and made to live!
This is a process
that can take a lot of time, thought and effort, depending on how much
needs to be changed and/or adjusted. The process moves the story from a
pile of smoldering goo into something elegant, polished, and hopefully a
story that a reader can’t put down. It’s the process of moving the story
into something salable and something that the author can be proud of.
The entire process
can also tear down the author, bring on feelings of despair and
inadequacy and can cause them to throw a draft into the back of a dark
drawer for years. Some writers avoid this by writing only the first
draft and then moving immediately to a new project.
But, there is an
added benefit to the process of revision many forget. It all comes back
around to the rough draft, that pile of unmentionables that makes all
perfectionists and internal editors cringe and groan in pure pain.
said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” There are many other
authors who have made similar quotes. The rough draft is where we work
out what the story is really about, and it isn’t meant to be pretty,
fashionable, or even coherent. Definitely not perfect. They are far from
And that's okay.
Typically I write
sparse first drafts. The first drafts are about the big events, the
clues, the main character developments, and finding an ending. Exact
descriptions, emotions, gestures, and thoughts come in the revision.
“Books and stories
aren’t written—they are rewritten.” - Barnaby Conrad
December of 2008 I brought out the Nanowrimo 2007 novel and worked on it
through May of 2009. Polishing, rewriting, editing, adding to and
deleting. It grew from 50k to 91k and turned out to be a book I was
extremely proud to present as an example of what I could produce. It
sure didn’t start out that way, but it ended up as something lovely.
Fast forward to
July of 2009. A group, inspired by the November Nanowrimo, have set up
July Novel Writing Month (link: http://julnowrimo.com/). The idea is the
same: write 50000 words in 31 days. I had a book I needed to completely
rewrite from scratch, so I jumped in.
And an amazing
This book had a
lot of new material to write for it. In essence, passages of a ‘first
draft’. Only these passages didn’t look anything like the writing from
November 2007 or 2008. This draft had descriptions, emotions, gestures,
and thoughts included in the first draft right from the start. The
scenes made sense and had inherent conflict from start to finish. The
dialog flowed. The action sequences made sense. The motives and
locations were full and rich.
All since last
difference had been the massive revision done between December of 2008
and May 1, 2009. Seeing and picking apart the prose, fixing, adding, and
working the words until they shined. Forcing the characters to prove why
they were there. Critically studying and working with each aspect of the
The writing muscle
had been exercised and strengthened, and I learned a valuable lesson.
Revision isn’t only about turning a rough draft into a finished
manuscript, it’s also about teaching yourself the craft of writing. What
is learned flows over into all aspects of writing, including the ugly
Each stage of
writing is valuable to learn from. Those that only write first drafts
and then move onto the next sparkly idea are denying themselves an
extremely valuable learning tool. Let your mind pick up on the tools it
needs to use. What goes in will come out. You, also, might find an
unexpected dividend in better first drafts.