I just realized that I’ve gone nearly to the end of the semester with nary an entry from the MFA pit. Shame on me, as I’ve certainly disseminated some classic advice, but I’ve been so busy with my own revisions, that I’ve completely forgotten. In any event, I’m sure you’ve been hankering for my next gem of wisdom, so here’s one on the fine art of revising. In case you’re foggy on what that is, it’s after the first draft is finished, when the real writing occurs. It’s when you correct, edit, fill plot holes, omit needless words, flesh out characters, add tension, fix continuity, hone the conflict, and otherwise tweak the hell out of your ms. until it’s pink and screaming. But beware: one revision often begets another. Because the only time you’re truly finished revising is when you received the printed copy in the mail or the ecopy in your inbox. And sometimes not even then, sigh. So, without further ado, my comments on one of my grad student’s frustration with the whole process. Will it ever end? they mused. Well…
A comment on revising: take my word on this—you can drive yourself insane with revision. Truly. The way I work a first draft is I write, moving forward, and then in my next writing session, I scan what I wrote the session before, do some mini-editing, then keep going. As I write, I keep a journal with all my characters’ names and descriptions, a short (SHORT) synopsis of main plot points—usually the opening, the conflict, the dark moment, and the ending—and changes/edits I’d like to put in the next draft. I make sure that I date every change I want to put in, because after you begin your edit, you’ll see changes to the same scene, and I usually want to use the latest one. I also put in this journal those tidbits of info you hear/read/dig up that you may want to use later, which also includes lines of dialogue. I am a big fan of Post-it notes, too and I have them all over my laptop and the bulletin board I have by my desk. But the journal is really helpful as it’s a handy reference for continuity, and it keeps you writing, helping you to resist the urge to edit over and over. I started keeping a journal because somehow, I’ve collected a ton of these things. Gifts from other writers, from writers conferences, freebies from publishers. But I like this spiral-bound journal I have, and I’ve used it through three books now. The spiral binding is handy for keeping it open, and keep the pages flipping. It’s also a great place to store your Post-its after you’ve moved past that plot point.
That’s it! Now are you ready to start your revision?