Revision: Not as Orderly as You Think


I recently wrote a post over at The Wild Writers about preparing to revise a manuscript. Now that I’ve clawed my way out of revision hell, I have some further thoughts.

It’s fine, perhaps essential, during the revision process, to use a favorite checklist. It may be one handed out at a conference or workshop, or found via the internet, through a friend, or suggested by a mentor. Many of us have created our own, based on all those we’ve looked at over the years, seasoned with our own experience. Checklists usually are comprised of a series of questions the writer asks herself about the manuscript during the revision process. They may relate to setting, plot, style, theme, and POV. Or to the subtleties of good fiction, such as emotion, tension, pacing, and voice; the raising of the stakes, and both character and narrative arcs.

All the analytical minds out there will probably be outraged, but here is the epiphany I had after this last round of revision: No matter what checklist I’m using, and how religiously I’m following it, a large part of revising is instinctive. Intuitive.

I’m not saying to dump the checklist. I’m simply saying that one read-through of the novel should consist of the writer listening to her own work, in her head or out loud, or a combination, without thinking of much else besides the story. In my mind, that’s the best way to judge whether a major plot twist occurs in the right place and if it’s authentic. Is it the right moment for the little boy who couldn’t speak to suddenly find his voice? For the vague threat against the protagonist to become real and specific? For the protagonist to learn something vital that changes everything? Is the story moving along at a decent pace? Does the dialogue ring true? Note that these are all substantive questions rather than issues related to editing, although a read-aloud will make those stand out as well.

Don’t get rid of your checklist, but have faith in your instincts. When all the steps in the revision process are complete, send it out to trusted first readers and critique partners. Because there’s always a point in revising at which the writer can’t see clearly anymore. The book requires fresh eyes to pinpoint the details the author somehow, after reading the manuscript dozens of times, missed.

Do you have a tried-and-true revision process?




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