Revision: It’s a real pain, but it’s worth it

“It doesn’t do enough. It does what I intended, but it turns out that my intention was all wrong….”

When I read this quote from author Alice Munro in the first part of chapter nine in our book Writing Fiction it really hit home for me. This has been right where my thoughts are every time I reread the rough draft of my current short story. What did I do? Where do I go from here? How do I fix this mess that I once thought was a brilliant idea?

The authors of this book suggest that the first step is to make a commitment to our story and not just give up and walk away, even if at first it seems like it may be a lost cause. This part is honestly the hardest part for me as getting over my own critical thoughts about my work tends to be like fighting a war on the inside of my brain. I feel like so often the criticism we give ourselves is not very constructive at all, however, once we get over our own misgivings and decide to keep going we can dive into the next few steps the book mentions.

After you commit to reworking your piece it is important that you reread it several times, studying each part closely, and that you also have a few trusted readers go over it for you a few times as well. It is good to write down your new ideas and revisions and the critiques they make as well and to go over your story again with these things in mind. You want to “see again” before you remake and chisel away. This rewriting process may need to take place several times before you get it exactly right, and that is how it should be.

I like what the book says about what you need to do for the first round of rewrites:

“Focus for a while on what seems awkward, overlong, undeveloped, flat, or flowery. Tinker. Tighten. Sharpen… Then put it away.”

It is important not to worry over a story for too long in one moment. You want to rework what you see is wrong, step away for a while and give your brain enough time to process what your story was and what you just did to change it, and then give yourself a while to recover and come up with new ideas. Often times, as I learned in this chapter, we may not know what our story is actually about until much later in the revision process. It is just like the beginning of any great idea; you must work hard to flesh out that idea and give it strong foundations in order for it to become a reality and not just stay a great idea with no legs to walk on. Anything like this involves a lot of trial and error because you will not know how that idea best works until you experiment with it and look at it from every angle.

Looking at it from every angle, as I said in the beginning of this post, includes trusted readers and their critiques on your piece as they can often point out things you may have missed or things you may have thought you could get away with. It also involves asking yourself questions like, “What is the theme of my story? How do the characters and setting support that theme? Is my story clear, original, self-conscious, and the right length?”

All of these things are important in the process of revision according and even though it can be incredibly long, hard work to accomplish it will be worth the effort in the end.

The only thing I will add to these things from my own personal experience is to take time to read other author’s work during the moments you walk away from your own. You can often gain a better understanding on how to write well in certain areas and it is a good way to spark new ideas and get inspired to keep writing.

Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep looking for inspiration. Keep looking for and listening to constructive criticism.