Writing, Revising, Revising, and Revising

In a lull between jobs, around six or seven years ago, I decided to take a writing course at a center for creative writing in my city. It was something I enjoyed in my school days. Though I hadn’t thought it about it in years, unemployment created a good opportunity to create a personal development “bucket list”. First stop: creative writing.

Since that first class in 2017, I’ve taken countless in-person and virtual classes, attended several writing conferences, participated in multiple critique groups, and read many craft books. I completed what I believe can be called first drafts of two books – one of autofiction drawn from my sister’s childhood illness and another of a memoir that takes place in Prague shortly after the fall of communism. After the writing, then comes the revising, revising, and more revising to get it in a form that might be looked at favorably by agents or publishers.

Image by Arman Parnak via Pixabay

One observation I’ve made on my journey learning the art and craft of creative writing is that there seems to be far more material out there on the writing than on the revising.

After completing the Prague memoir, I returned to the beginning of the manuscript and proceeded to delicately line edit the whole piece – an activity I later learned was a poor use of time, as I could have and should have been doing a major revision. I sent the manuscript to a book coach who, after complimenting my good “first draft”, said that I’d missed capturing the setting, which was a key part of my vision for the book. I plan to write a future blog post focused on how to capture setting, but in the meantime here is my post focused on this setting.

The draft book about my sister I also painstakingly line edited and then workshopped chapter by chapter with a critique group over a year and half. After a year and a half of incorporating everybody’s comments – and line edits – I took a large step back and felt that I was looking at essentially the same manuscript. I’d made no discernible progress developing my characters, their relationships, or the story beyond the situation. I had the feeling the whole time that the writers critiquing my chapters did not particularly like my book. Wrong crowd? One piece of feedback I received regularly was that they did not feel any sympathy for my characters, despite the major life struggles they were going through. To address this, I applied what I’d learned in one conference workshop and added additional sensory details to the scenes. The chapters were still not landing. Then I listened to a podcast about interiority. I had heard the term before at a writing conference and was perplexed. As with all professions, writers have a tendency to adopt craft terms, or jargon, to be understood in writerly conversations between writers. For the first time, I began to understand that In order for the reader to connect emotionally with a character, they need to hear what’s going on in their heads. I had managed to miss this important concept.

I expect I will discover more things as I continue to study craft. For now, when I go back for my next revision round on each of these books, I have a strategy, whether it’s setting, sensory details, character, or interiority. I have lots of work to do. I wish you good fortune in your journey to discover what you need to learn to improve your own writing.

Image by Ria Sopala from Pixabay

3 Comments

  1. I believed that one wrote, revised, polished and sent one’s work to an editor. I engaged an editor, and took note of his comments. When I thought I’d fulfilled his wishes, I took on some (paid) beta readers, and took on board their (varied) views. I tried to please (and appease) everyone, while all the while, my bank balance and my confidence in my work depleted.

    I reached an unhappy point: I wasn’t sure that the work was any better than when I’d started. Wrong editor, obviously; too cheap, obviously. I spent more, went to the top of the tree, hired the best. More changes. More beta reviews, again, mixed.

    And then I had an epiphany. All I was achieving was writing by committee. Of course, any one person would word things slightly differently, any one person would approach in a different way, with a different voice.

    I need to re-find my own voice, and stick with it, let it shout loud and clear, and hold confidence in my work. I must self-edit, and trust that I could. But I also needed to learn craft, the craft of story-telling, and not expect an editor to put that in for me. So I did. It took four years.

    I began again, and my new story came out far, far better. Self-editing seemed to work, too, as long as I let the book lie fallow long enough between editing bouts.

    Many, many ‘experts’ range themselves in front of budding authors, offering ‘essential’ services. I believe they’re best ignored. Get on with your work, until you’re happy you’ve done your best.

  2. Rachel, I hear you. I learned that lesson – finding your own voice, sticking to your vision – the hard way too after incorporate everyone’s comments. At least half must be discarded, but the trick is to find the right ones. I suspect we will continue to learn more hard lessons along the way and continue to improve our writing. Best of luck to you!

  3. It’s a good point – only take act upon suggestions for changes that chime with you.

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