Do the difficult thing

I’ve been thinking a lot about revision lately, mainly because I’m in the middle of a big one. When I do my revising, I always start with a hard copy. This is probably old-fashioned—really, I’m not a Luddite; no, I mean it, stop laughing—but it serves a purpose, I’ve discovered. First, I think it allows me to step back from the actual process of writing. When it’s literally on paper, I treat it differently than I do when the words are on screen. You’d think I’d approach them with a greater sense of finality, right? I mean, it’s concrete when it’s on paper.

Instead, I end up doing things like this:


I can see the bigger picture when it’s on the page. Literally, I spread out several pages at a time and can see more of the whole story than I can in the rectangle of text viewable at any given time on the screen.

But something else happens when I transcribe those handwritten edits into the file. I rethink, second-guess, mull things over, undo my changes combine chapters, and sometimes, I’ll delete entire pages at one time. That one revision step, then, turns into two or three or, sometimes, more. So, for example, while I’ve made revision notes on the manuscript up to chapter eight, I’m also working on transcribing chapter four, after deleting half of chapter three with a plan to cut down chapter four and combine the two. Because what I noticed as I was revising is that the pace needs to pick up, a lot.

I don’t know if I would have recognized that if I was strictly working on the screen. Maybe I would have, who knows? All I know is, this works for me. Because it’s the way I make myself do the hard revisions. The things where you’re looking beyond just moving a sentence, deleting a dialogue tag, or fixing a continuity error.

And sometimes, something will come at you right out of left field—or maybe right field, depending. It’s been a while since I played baseball in Little League. Anyway, my point is, as I’ve been working my way through the edits I’ve made so far, I hit on an idea for my main character that would change how much he knows (or rather, how much he doesn’t know) at the start of the book. It would really put him in the soup, which would be a lot more interesting, I think. However, it would also put me in the soup, as it would require rewriting everything I’ve already revised.

I’m going to at least try it, because I can’t know for sure if it’ll work until I see how it works out on paper. If it makes a big difference with the first couple chapters, I’ll know it’s worth going to the effort the rest of the way through the book. And I think it’ll pay off when I get to the middle, which is always the trickiest part of a book for me.

Wish me luck.

3 thoughts on “Do the difficult thing

  1. This is exactly the process I use as well – for my longer works, at least (as opposed to the whimsical nonsense I post on my blog). It is tried and true for me. The reason I think is, as you suggested, there are two different people approaching the work – the one who writes it at the computer and the one who edits the hard copy. I believe the editing in a different medium allows for much greater detachment and therefore, objectivity in that process. For whatever reason, when I don’t edit a hard copy of what I’ve written, and only edit on-screen, I find I have become too attached and invested in the material. I never seem to cut as much when I edit on screen. I find it really difficult to cut out what more readily comes across as chaff upon reading a hard-copy of the content.

    • Yeah, me neither. I can make the big changes more easily on hard copy. I don’t think I see them as readily when editing on screen. The amount of paper I use in revision is definitely worth it!

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