Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Psychology of Revision in Writing

How many opportunities do we have in life to start over? In my opinion, revision is the greatest thing in the business of writing, because you get to take a rough idea, and hone it until it shines.

Could you imagine if the De Beers dug up a rock of a diamond and secured it into a setting? Who would make a fuss over a dirty, uncut, unpolished diamond? But give the jeweler some time to do the work, to make all the necessary adjustments, and that diamond becomes a gorgeous work of art that people drool over.

Your novel is no different. I’ve never gone on a diamond excavating trip, but I imagine it must be exciting to pluck such a precious gem out of the earth. You might hold it up and admire it.

The same thing happens when a concept for a story flashes through your mind. It is exciting. You’ve gone and done it—come up with an original idea! You rush to the computer or your notepad and jot it down as it pours out of you, inspired. You jump up! It’s done!

Not so fast, you have plucked a dirty gemstone from the earth, that’s awesome—it’s a diamond! However, don’t set that cloudy thing into a ring just yet. Now that you have your raw clay (yes, your first draft should be thought of as raw clay), think about what you want it to become. Think about all the new scenes you could add to up the stakes, add texture, tie up character threads, can we add in some surprises?

Examine your character arc, does your main character change in the most satisfying way? Have you left any story unfinished among the supporting cast—they are people, too. So many considerations. Plus, there’s fixing and catching grammatical errors, spelling, format problems, and structure.

What a freeing feeling to know that there is no rush to get it right the first time. Enjoy the revision process and ask yourself, How good can I make it? 

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