Re …?

birdscreamHere’s something you’ve read here before: REVISE.

The end.

Oh very well, there’s more.

Revise religiously.

There. Satisfied? No?

Amongst a lot of more inexperienced authors, there seems to be an almost overriding preconception that you write your first draft, send that off (sometimes without revision), and then when you get feedback, take that in and there, it’s done. The end. Happy ever after.

After, like, two drafts.

Uh uh. Here’s an example of the process required.

Step #01
After you complete whatever you’re writing, read straight through it. This is when your mind’s still buzzing with ideas, and when you’re likeliest to see any immediate issues it might contain – usually, where something needs to be fleshed out, or included, or candidates for deletion due to repetition.

An important sidenote: After you’ve read through and revised, you’ve (technically) gone onto a new draft. But guess what? Any changes you include are first draft. For example, if you included a whole new passage, that’s a first draft new passage, even though it sits in a second (or later) draft book.

Step #02
Repeat Step #01. Yes, right now. Not tomorrow. Not after you send it to your friends. Now. Reread!

A danger of revising is that changes (whether they be additions, deletions, or modifications) can look awesome in isolation, but fail to work in the greater arc of the narrative flow. You can only see this with a read from go to woe. Reading an individual passage in isolation shows you nothing (in this context) other than that individual passage.

Step #03
You might guess what’s coming now … but redo Step #01. And keep repeating it until you feel there’s nothing more you can extract (in terms of revision) from your piece. There’s no point sending something off for feedback, if you know the issues the feedbacker is going to cite. That’s just a waste of time (unless you specifically request of them solutions to an issue which has you stumped). You want feedbackers to cite what you can’t see for yourself, so address everything you can.

Important complaint: ‘Aw, but I can change things forever.’

What we’re talking about here is meaningful editing. If you’re changing

The chair was blue and gold


It was a blue and gold chair


It was a turquoise chair


It was a blue divan

well, that’s not all that meaningful.

Every writer needs to learn when they’re tweaking for the sake of tweaking.

Step #04
Take a rest from your story for a time – at the very least, a week. At the very least. It would be great if it’s for a month. For a book, even six months. You need to retreat from it, need it to fade from your mind (and imagination). The words which have been so familiar need to become like strangers to you, and only time can do that.

It’s amazing when you’re not thinking about it, how many ideas will occur to you. Surely, this is something you’ve experienced before. How many times have you sat at the computer, unsure how to phrase a passage, or uncertain what comes next, and then you take a walk, or are in the shower, or out shopping, and bang! There it is. That perfect phrase. The next idea.

We place pressure on ourselves to produce when we’re trying to write, and that pressure can be asphyxiating, so obviously when we’re not focused on writing, our minds are free to breathe and can realise what comes next.

If you do have ideas, record them. Bullet-point them.

Step #05
If you have bullet-points, knock those off. Then give your piece another read. Now that you’ve had some time away from it, you should be able to look at it with fresh eyes. Then reread and refine your writing until you can get nothing more (meaningful) out of it.

Step #06
Send your piece out to get feedback. This has been mentioned before: don’t use anybody whose constructive criticism amounts simply to, ‘It’s good’, or who’s negative (e.g. family) simply to be negative, or because that’s their way. Find people who can give you analytical and constructive feedback that you respect.

Another important note: Also, make sure you’re on the same page with them. Some people have a tendency to offer feedback as they would write your piece, rather than get in the vein of what you’re trying to do. It can be difficult to recognise when feedback is valid, or when somebody’s citing something which is fine, but they’ve highlighted it because if they’d written it, they would’ve done it differently. However, if you’ve got two (or more) people citing the same issue, it’s a good chance there is an issue, even if you think what they’ve cited just happens to be the greatest writing ever.

Step #07
Take in feedback.


Step #08
Reread. Reread. Reread.


Step #09
Repeat above steps as required.

How tedious is all this rereading, revision, rewriting and waiting?

When people think of writing – when they idealise it as a concept – they don’t consider all the rereading, rewriting, and revision that’s required, but that’s the reality of writing we all have to reconcile.

Some things you’ll write and they’ll come out so well, they’ll hardly need any work at all. Others will be a slog, to the extent you’ll contemplate they’ll need to be chopped and sewn together, like Frankenstein, or that they’ll be unfixable.

If you’re going to be a writer, though, just make sure you understand the work that’s required after you’ve gotten that first draft out.

You might think you’re producing gold first draft (hehe) or, screw it, there’s enough greatness in your piece that it’ll win over wherever you’re submitting it to and they’ll bow at the feet of your magnificence, but it doesn’t work like that.

Your market looks at your writing and, often, it’s easy to determine how much work has gone into a piece. If you want to give your writing the best chance, make sure you put that work in.


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