Coping with the Revise
This article belongs to The Writing Life—The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly column.
Coping with the Revise
Up until a few years ago, a revised piece meant that I had read it over twice and double-checked grammar and context. Blame it on my high school English teachers. Then, I began working on a novel and realized—wonder of wonders—that so much more is needed to make a creative work flow. Those of you who have long mastered the art of revision may be smirking, but better to learn late than never, right? And on the chance that there are writers still out there that are stuck on how to revise—or those who have revision down to a science but are looking for new ways to approach this subject—I thought I would share some pearls (or Cubic Zarconia) of wisdom.
Have a Read-Aloud
Remember when you loved having your parents or teachers read to you? Now it's time to get out a tape/voice recorder and do yourself the same favor. At first, it may seem odd to hear your story, and if you live with someone, s/he may think you have started talking to yourself. But, in the end, it's worth it. Listening to the words allows you to determine whether your piece flows or has you stumbling. This new method of rereading also alerts you to grammar mistakes you may have missed. And, you can multitask too. Just turn the recorder on the next time you're in the car, and you have your own book on tape!
You have friends who are great listeners, others you like to party with, and those you call to discuss the latest Grey's Anatomy or Lost episode. Now you need to get yourself some writer friends. By this I don't mean people who will read your work and tell you it's perfect. No, what you want are other writers who know how to critique. These chums will tell if a scene is not working or if they don't buy your character. They'll read between the lines and discover themes both intended and not. They will provide positive feedback so you don't feel that your months of writing was in vain, but they will also tell you what you can do to make this the best novel/short story/essay it can be. If you don't know where to begin this search, check out local bookstores or coffee shops for signs or post some of your own. Ask other writers you know if they're in a group. It's all about connections.
Cut and Paste
These suggestions bring you right back to grade school, don't they? But, one of my friends swears by this tip, which is perfect for all you visual learners out there. If you have to rearrange pages, scenes, and/or paragraphs, print out the entire document. Then, grab a pair of scissors and a roll of tape and cut and place the scenes where you want them. Yes, you can do the cut/paste thing on your word processor, but seeing the changes in front you can often help point you in the right direction. Plus, you won't have to scroll back and forth trying to locate a specific chapter. It will be at your fingertips—literally.
Make a Plan
I admit it. I'm a planner and always have been. I've let some of my rigidity go as I've grown older, but there's something about a list that's just so comforting. This is especially true when you have to revise both your plot and characters. When this happened to me, I just stared at my screen like it would somehow tell me what to do. (It didn't.) The whole process was just so daunting. So, after I finished crying and throwing things (no worries, just a few soft, unbreakable items), I broke down the process into steps. As tempted as you are to tackle everything at once, it can't be done—not if you want to remain sane as well. Pick your poison, list the scenes that beg the most work, and do one or two a day. This way is a lot easier than chucking your whole document.
This will sound contradictory, but it's not. Now that you know what you want to revise first, gravitate towards the scenes that inspire you. Don't worry about going in order. In other words, if you are working on character development and the feedback you have been given points to making a character stronger, meeker, etc., work on ideas as they come to you. You don't have to do a line by line edit. In fact, doing it this way may be too cumbersome. Instead, take a scene that's pivotal to your book and play with it. How can you change it so the character possesses the right qualities? Dealing with plot issues? Usually, there are a few scenes that truly make the plot. Figure out how they can be changed, moved, or chucked, and listen to that voice in your head that paints the story.
Now that you're all psyched to revise, get moving. You never know when the enthusiasm will go away. If you're still not in the mood, do a grammar check again. At least you will feel somewhat productive.