Guilty Secret: Revision is Not My Favorite Thing

Guilty Secret

Revision is not my favorite thing.

September 19, 2019


Some people adore revision.

Theyo talk excitedly about belching out their stry in a rush of words and then relishing the time put into turning that rush into something a reader can love. I can admire that viewpoint and I wish I worked that way, but I don't. I actually kind of hate revision. And so belching out a loose mass of writing with a story buried inside is a problem for me. It wads up the part of the process I find most unpleasant into one spot. And that's a recipe for procrastination. It’s caused more than one work in progress to remain in progress for eternity—at least for me.

So my guilty secret is that I hate revision. And that translates into being rotten at it. But I also recognize that turning in rough prose to editors will mean I don't make a sale. Or in the case of an assigned bit of writing, it can mean I don't get asked to do the job again. And that's not something I want either. So my revision process is basically about sneaking revision in all along so that it doesn't turn into such a horrendous trial all at once at the end.

Step One: Preplanning Saves Revision Hours
One of the reasons I love outlines and other pre-writing acts is because it saves me revision time later. When I preplan the plot, I'm assured that at the end of the writing process, my plot is going to work. I won't be looking at a meandering mess of action, some purposeful and some not, and trying to figure out what to cut  (or add) to make the plot work. It means I won't have pointless dialogue. It means I won't have pointless scenes. All of that cuts my revision time considerably. Now I know some folks are very organic writers and rejoice in just letting the words take them where they will. I respect that (mostly because I certainly couldn't face the mounds of revision they're going to have to do at the end) but it doesn't work for me. So if you're an organic writer then I suggest you learn to love revision a lot. For me, I'll keep preplanning.

Step Two: Revision as Warm Up
Now no matter how much I preplan, I'm going to have to do some revision. Sometimes the words that sounded so good in my head will turn out to be awkward or confusing upon later consideration. Preplanning does not make me a perfect writer. So each day I begin my writing session by reading and revising the work from the day before. This kind of revision is basically about making the prose smoother and error free. It's also the time I take notes of the major plot points I covered in the previous writing session so I know where I'm going as I write today. This kind of revision actually primes my storytelling pump and helps me have a more successful writing time each day. And it also lessens revision needed at the end.

Three: Revision as Procrastination
Often in a story, I'll hit a spot where I'm struggling. No matter how carefully I preplan, there are those spots where it's simply not a joy to write. But I have a very serious writing schedule. So on days when my creative self is simply refusing, I give it a break and spend the day revising instead. I'll go back to the beginning of the work in progress and begin revising from that point, making sure everything is smooth and the plot at the beginning of the book still works with the plot later on. I'll also sometimes spot what I'm doing that is creating the obstruction. But even if I don't, my task-master self gives my creative self a break while still working. And since this kind of revision is actually procrastinating, it actually feels much less painful, because I love procrastinating.

Step Four: The End Revision
Once a book or story is done, I still have to do revision. I have my revision plan that I work every time. The plan includes proofreading and typo correcting and removing overused words and continuity checks and making sure every scene and character is doing their jobs. But since I've been revising all along during the writing process, my prose is actually fairly smooth when I jump into my revision check list and I'm not trying to chip a sculpture out of a block of rough stone. This makes my revision passes quicker and more efficient and lets me see the light at the end of the revision tunnel. With my plan in place, I'm checking off items and moving toward a clear ending to the revision, which makes the difficult process much easier.

So that's how I chop up (what is for me) an odious task while still making sure to get it done and get it done well. After years of perfecting this process, I can almost say "I like revision" without having to cross my fingers first.


How about you? Are you a revision lover or hater?

Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor.

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Ramona Boldsen
September 27, 2019

Thank you, Jan, for your great insight. I am S...T...I...L...L (!!!) working on my book that I started in lesson ten of the ICL course that I took YEARS ago!! It's been an off-and-on-again process, I think partly because I didn't do much pre-planning. I had a general idea of the story, but NO idea whatever about how it should end! I tried to do somewhat of a summary outline, but it didn't help a lot when I got into the real meat if the story. I got bogged down several times and put it on the back burner (well, behind the "stove" completely!) several times for loooong stretches of time because I just didn't know where to go next. And now I'm TRYING to write the ending and still don't know if it's going to end with the WOW! factor that I'm striving for. I've always been a "pantser" for short stories, but I've learned this is probably NOT the way to go in a novel!!! I'm now questioning what I need to remove (and hopefully NOT add!) when I start the serious and not-looking-forward-to REVISION process! Not sure I want to tackle another novel in the future. I love writing short stories. THIS book has turned out to be MUCH longer than I anticipated. Thanks again for for your great and much needed words of wisdom here!

Jan Fields
September 23, 2019

Carol, Inga, and Dixie. I've always been a revise as I go girl. The one time I tried to do a book the way friends told me would result in a great book, I got a mess out of it. Not all roads work for all people. So we'll just keep on down the road less traveled by. Carol: The only way I can do marketing without it knocking me down is to work at it constantly even when I don't have a project. I am constantly adding knowledge about publishers, reading Publishers Weekly, reading stuff online. Studying books coming out. All of that helps me zero in on the publishers most likely to work well for me. Then when I have a book, I can make wiser choices about where to send it because I'm not starting from scratch. Though I'll still procrastinate the actually sending sometimes because I'm a mess. :)

Jan Fields
September 23, 2019

Sue -- I hope you have fun at the Highlights Workshop. Those are great and so packed. You'll learn a lot.

Dixie Matthews
September 20, 2019

I was thankful to read that my preferred mode of operation is an acceptable procedure used by a successful author. Thank you, Jan for sharing your secret. I hope you will no longer feel guilty about it. I find I work best when I stay in the framework where my brain works best. What a relief, to avoid the overload!

September 19, 2019

Glad to hear I'm not the only one making revisions all along. I like my storyboard for my plot planning.

September 19, 2019

I loved this. I've been told over and over - get the story (or whatever) down and then shape it - revise, revise, revise. I like revising as I work, but admit if I don't know where I'm going, I get stuck and end with a pretty good first part and lots of question marks. So your advice hits me right in the gut. Plot first, revise as I go, and clean up after. Now could you give some marketing (which stops me cold) advice? ??

Sue Reichard
September 19, 2019

Jan, I have just written my first attempt at a picture book for older readers. I am attending a HIghlights Workshop in October. I know it needs professional "help". I am so glad to hear about your "secret". I feel like I have done my best work. Not publishable, I am just a beginner. It is the best work I can do until someone helps me with pieces I must learn how to do. Pacing, "show don't tell" writing with illustrations in mind, etc. I have read all of those articles about revising 10 + times. I don't see how one can do this. At some point, one must just say, "I'm done" and let the cards fall where they may. Thanks again! I always appreciate your postings.

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