In his closing address to our Sirenland workshop, Jim Shepard said a few things about revisions that have really stuck with me:
- Be aware that your first impulse will always be laziness, you will hope that what you have on the page is enough, you will pretty much always be wrong
- You have to do the work, you have to do the revisions
- The process of revision is how you find out what you really mean, who you really are, who you can be; the refashioned and more fully considered version of what you have written can be a more, even better version of self, you can be the very best version of yourself.
“You have to do the work.” Annoys the hell out of me, but it’s true. On the upside, I am continually amazed at how the work will be elevated by the smallest of changes, and that even in a fifth (or 500th) draft, I can be surprised by what happens in a scene as I open it out in the revision process. So there is a payoff.
And, as Jim posits, in real-life if you could go back and deliver the perfect statement in conversation, wouldn’t you?
What to revise
I remember Jim asserting that it’s all there in the work, that our intuitive minds as writers are much smarter than we are, so to look for what is there and needs to be dug out and exposed. Lisa Cron also says that the best solutions come from within the framework of the story, so to look there first. The story might have problems, but it is also likely to house the answers.
I have also found it useful to remember that nothing is precious. When talking about revisions, from a Freefall mindset, even Barbara says to “change anything.” Just because a scene was hard to write, or you really like it, if it doesn’t service the story it doesn’t stay. Nothing is really wasted, all of it has helped you to understand the world, the characters and the writing and, will give depth to the next draft.
There is also the whole literary camp of analysis of plot, character, themes, point of view, structure, narration, timing of the narration, tense, exposition, the language you are using and subtext in everything. There are definitely writers who start from the outside and go in, but, perhaps because I didn’t know any of this stuff when I started writing, I’ve found it more useful to think about in later drafts. Character first. Then make sure there is actually a story. Then look to the toolkit to pull it into shape and give a spit and polish.
I found the Faber Writing Academy, writing a novel course helpful all the literary stuff. They pitch it as your MFA without all the annoying assignments, and it really is. To get meaningful feedback on your manuscript in the workshops, I would recommend being at second or third draft when you do the course.
How to edit
I might have been looking in the wrong places, but among the countless articles on writing asserting the importance of rewrites, I did not find advice on how to edit. Until I found the Curtis Brown Creative Edit & Pitch Your Novel course.
I cannot recommend this highly enough.
This course gave me the toolkit I needed to really shape the story, and to develop confidence that it was ready to be sent out to the world. For me, it pulled together all the things I had been learning over the years in a way that made editing suddenly become a practical and achievable task. I could suddenly see the gaps and overflow, of an already fairly well developed work, in a way that made it exciting to cut and rewrite and develop missing chapters.
The course was designed to be delivered online in six weekly instalments. While access continues for 6 months, if you can clear the time, I found it really beneficial to be following the process and doing the work each week as the lessons became available. Curtis Brown Creative foster a very engaged group of writers and I got as much out of the interaction with other writers via the forums as the course itself.
While I feel the materials have given me everything I need, the course was so rewarding, I will consider enrolling again when my next manuscript is at editing stage.