What I Love About Writing, Part 5: Revision

One of my writing fantasies is dreaming up a complete plot and typing it into my computer, full-blown like the birth of Venus. Maybe that happens for some writers. For me, the reality looks nothing like that—and I’m not alone.

The only kind of writing is rewriting. Ernest Hemingway

In writing, you must kill all your darlings. William Faulkner

Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon. Raymond Chandler

Revision is not going back and fussing around, but going forward into the process of creation. Mary Sarton

I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil. Truman Capote

One of the best quotes about the process of revision came in a Facebook post last week from a very fine writer indeed, Louise Penny. She’s about 20,000 words into the first draft of her next Gamache book. Her first drafts, she says, are “huge, soft and smelly.” Yup. She went on to describe the process of writing in a way that inspires me:

            First draft is about experimenting, exploring, being bold. Subsequent drafts are about honing, clarifying, simplifying. Deodorizing.

Penny’s words give me courage. Okay, my first drafts are crap, but they’re more than that. They’re about “experimenting, exploring, being bold.” I can dream big, make mistakes, create huge plot holes, mess up timelines, create story lines that won’t eventually work. What I’m doing is producing raw materials I can work with later. As I write, I create a list of problems. “I can fix that,” I tell myself.

I’ve often described the first draft of my debut mystery, A Dream of Death, as a huge, shapeless blob. In the process of revision, that blob became a story. Characters were written in and out, story lines were added and eliminated. At least as many words went into my outtakes file than remained in the manuscript.

My struggle with writing first drafts is producing something that stinks—and letting it lie there until I’ve gotten to the final chapter. I hate that. But revising too early, before the draft is complete, is usually a waste of time.

Some writers think of revision as copy editing, filling plot holes, correcting pacing, tweaking language, eliminating overused words. All that is true. But to me, revision means exactly what it says: re-vision, seeing the story again with new eyes. I don’t actually know what my story is about until I’ve completed the first draft.

That’s when the fun begins.

This week on Miss Demeanors I’ve been sharing what I love about writing—creating a world, creating characters, weaving a plot, romancing the words

All that and more happens in revision.

What has been your experience?

Do Louise Penny’s words give you courage?

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