Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Revision Addiction

I've been a little lax on my posts lately, and I apologize, but we've been getting ready for the Most. Humongous. Garage. Sale. Ever. (a tiny portion of which is pictured below - sorry Mom, the globe is going.)

So I thought I'd talk just a bit about writing, and something a lot of writers struggle with in their first drafts - revision addiction. And by this I mean the constant revising of what you've already written. I know lots of writers that go over and over and over their first chapters, trying to get them Absolutely. Perfect. And what happens? Months later, they still haven't got past their first few chapters. (Confession - this used to be me.)

I was reminded of this by a Twitter conversation this morning with agent-sister @MeganPwrites and our fearless leader @JoSVolpe. Megan made a comment "the worst is when I make a change that affects something earlier." Ah, yes.

It's bad enough that we want to make every sentence perfect as we go along, but then when we change the plot just slightly so that it messes something up that came before, what's a writer to do?

Press on, I say. Press on. In my latest manuscript I was hung up for something like two or three weeks, eek - WEEKS! trying to figure out the time line for two chapters near the end. I knew how I wanted it to end. I had a good inkling of the sequence of events leading up to the ending, but I couldn't get past the terrible conundrum of these two chapters.

Finally, I said heck with it, jotted a few notes to myself of what I need to fix, and pressed on. I wrote the exciting sequence of events towards the end, I wrote the exciting climax, and I wrote the ending. Happy and satisfied, I went back and fixed the two problem chapters and it wasn't really so hard after all. Hey, I had finished the book - what were a couple of problem chapters?

So my advice today, before I head out for another long day of pricing our wonderful junk (er, I mean treasures) is Press On. Finish the chapter. Finish the book. Your feeling of satisfaction and completion will give you renewed energy to go back and fix the things you need to - later.

Carry on, hope your writing flows, and don't forget to listen to the birds sing.

P.S. How do you handle revision addiction? Can you keep going, knowing what you've written is not perfect?


middle grade ninja said...

That's great advice. I had to learn this the hard way myself. Something else I'm often tempted to do is stop writing to go research something, whether it's a fact check or just something I need to check against an earlier chapter. After losing too much time to the internet or rereading my entire manuscript to check a character's name, I had to learn to simply make something up and keep moving. So instead of researching the year something happened say, I make up a number and put it in bold. When I'm done with my writing for the day, I go back and put in the actual info. Also, I revise the previous day's writing at the start of each new day, which gives me a chance to perfect things as I go while setting me up for the new day's work.

Laura Marcella said...

I always press on! For me, revising comes much easier if the entire story is written first.

Amy Lukavics said...

I also always press on, only because I think my brain would explode from all the 'changes to make'. I'd rather get through it, then make notes when I do a read through the second time.

Oh man, I'm going to have to do all of this soon. *daunting music*

By the way, I really wish that I was at your garage sale because I would totally buy that globe!!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I love this post! One of the most difficult parts of writing, for me, is getting the first draft done. I am always itching to revise, revise, revise. However, I will NOT let myself get into revisions until the first draft is done--for the reasons that you outlined. I'll write myself notes, but not major revisions allowed.
Good luck with the garage sale! : )

Linda Benson said...

Thanks for dropping by to comment. Yes, I tend to be a perfectionist, and always want to read back through my work making each sentence convey my meaning, each word sing. But it doesn't necessarily happen that way in first drafts. Part of growing as a writer is learning to let go and let it flow, because there will be many, many revisions down the road, and getting that major plot stuff down is the hardest part (for me at least.) So yeah, let go and let it flow (a poem) ;-)

Shelby Bach said...

Your post made me remember something about Kurt Vonnegut, and it took me a few days to remember where I read it (and double-check that I hadn't completely made it up): "Kurt Vonnegut, for example, rewrote each page of his novels until he got them exactly the way he wanted them. The result was days when he might only manage a page or two of finished copy (and the waste-basket would be full of crumpled, rejected page seventy-ones and seventy-twos), but when the manuscript was finished, the BOOK was finished, by gum. You could set it in type." (Stephen King, ON WRITING, pg 209)

Isn't that the oddest way to write/revise? Every time I think that I'm slowing myself up by revising too much, I remind myself that I'm not Kurt Vonnegut. :-P

On a more personal note, usually, with my manuscripts, the first draft comes all in one go, and the second draft is the one that I can't stop revising. Usually, I just tell myself to be patient and go with it until I get to the point where I realize I can't make it any better without help.