At some point, you’re going to have to revise your writing. If you think you don’t, that you’ve produced something flawless, well, you have work to do on your attitude before you even get to your writing.
You will need to revise. It’s inevitable.
A big concern is you know your work too well. You become so immersed in it, you lose objectivity. If you were aware of the issues you were introducing, you wouldn’t have introduced them to begin with. So where do you go? What do you do? How do you see your writing with new eyes?
Fortunately, there’s a few tricks that’ll help with revision.
When you finish a draft, reread, revise, reread, revise, reread, revise, ad nauseam …
The first draft should be a spill. Everything should come out. Problem here is that while you might get everything in your head out, it’s bound to be splotchy – that means there’ll be holes in the plot, in the characterisation, in the pacing … well, all of it.
This is why it’s important to revise immediately. Flesh it out while it’s fresh in your head and your imagination’s firing, offering solutions to plug those holes. And keep doing it. Do it until you feel you’re not getting anything more out of it – here, it’s important to be mindful of whether your changes are meaningful (and thus significantly improving the story) or meaningless (it doesn’t matter one way or another if the changes are implemented or not).
Put your writing away
If you’re working to a deadline, this can be hard. If you can, put your writing away for a minimum of a week. If no deadlines are looming, put it away for as long as possible, e.g. six months. You want to go back to it with a fresh perspective.
Repeat the ‘reread, revise, etc.’ step. However …
… assign each edit a different role. Your first pass might address structural issues. Your next edit might be dedicated to line-editing, e.g. poorly-phrased expression, repetition, overwriting. Something I find helpful with the latter is to read a chapter twice – the first time to familiarise yourself with it and see where things are going, the second time because you’ll now know where things are heading, where they’ve been repeated, where they go on, etc.
As an aside …
If you have more than one computer – e.g. a desktop and a laptop – and you do all your writing on one (e.g. the laptop), trying revising your work on the other. It’ll force your mind to process the information differently.
And on that …
If your writing isn’t reliant on font choices – e.g. you might have the narrative in one font, letters from a character in another, quotes from somebody else in another – change the font. Change the font colour also. Again, this forces your mind to process what it’s reading differently to how it’s done it before. If you do multiple revisions (as you should), change the font and/or the font colour each time so you’re always seeing it differently each time.
Get somebody else to read your writing
This doesn’t mean a partner, a family member, or a friend with some qualification that you correlate to writing, e.g. a Year 10 English teacher. It’s likely these people will either tell you that your work is good, or you’re wasting a time – neither are constructive comments that can help you address issues in your writing.
If you have writing friends, try them. If you can, join a workshop group. If you can afford it, get your manuscript professionally assessed by somebody trained to identify and articulate any issues, and possibly suggest solutions. The key here is finding somebody who’s going to be valuable to you.
This doesn’t mean all these people are infallible. You still need to find somebody you’ll click with. If you’re writing fantasy, and you have a (writer) friend and all they read and write is romance, they’re unlikely to gel with your work. They might. Some writers operate fine outside their own genre, but others are constricted by it. So find somebody right for you – somebody who’ll be detailed, objective, and constructive. Additionally, you wouldn’t believe the errors those seemingly qualified friends can introduce (I’ve seen this repeatedly).
Apply changes where you see fit
You don’t have to implement every bit of feedback. Remember, reading is subjective. You could bring up a plot point with ten people and get ten different opinions. You have to weigh up what’s right and going to help your writing get to its destination. Having said that, don’t be precious either. If two or more people say the same thing, there’s likely to be an issue, no matter how much you disagree. Don’t be precious. Try to genuinely appreciate what somebody is saying. If you’re not going to address their concern, have a valid reason other than, ‘You don’t get it’, or, ‘I think others would understand what I’m doing.’ Yes, there is a (remote) chance either of those rejoinders might be valid, but be as thorough as you can in that examination.
Go through the other points again
Yes. Again and again and again and again and again and again and again. Obviously, you can do this ad nauseam, until you are performing meaningless revision, e.g. swapping one adjective for another. But the more you practise editing and revision, the more you’ll grow to understand and recognise when you can consider your manuscript complete enough to send out into the world.
In summing up …
… writing isn’t meant to be easy. It’s not a pursuit where you can spew gold. Or where one reread addresses every issue your work contains.
It doesn’t happen.
The best writers aren’t the confident ones, but the insecure ones. The confident writers believe they’re infallible, their minds closed to the possibility that their writing could be improved. If there are queries, these writers don’t consider for a moment that they might be legitimate and worth exploring, but that the reader just doesn’t get it. The truth is simple: if a reader brings up a query, they’re likely going to be reflective of a readership.
The insecure writers know and understand everything that could be wrong with their writing, and strive to address and correct it over and over and over, until they get their writing the best it can be (and, even then, they may still be doubtful).
Which writer are you?