BY LAURELANN HEATHER EASTON
No matter where you are in your writing process, revision will always come around. It creeps into your thoughts and makes you question if your writing is good enough, or if you should even keep going if the pages behind you are trash.
You can’t let the fear of the pages being polished enough stop you from finishing the draft, though. I have a friend who has been obsessing over the first two chapters of his novel. He’s been going back and revising those same pages, nitpicking at commas a conjunctions and descriptions, for over a year. I’ve been fighting with him to get him to just keep writing. At fifty pages, he was hardly moving forward. I encouraged him to push past that because there’s always time to revise. You can’t revise what you haven’t written, either (obviously), so it makes more sense to ride out the writing process across the finish line.
It might be okay to go back and revise before finishing your draft if the plot needs fixing earlier on, though, especially if it affects how you’d write anything subsequent. If you feel that something is structurally wrong, as in the house will topple if you don’t backtrack, then go forth and backtrack! It will keep you from any potential writing blocks to work out these kinks sooner rather than later. In my personal experience with a novel I started a few months ago, I received recommendations from my mentor to really get the world-building in it solidified, whatever that would look like, because the larger mechanics of the world weren’t really in place yet because I hadn’t made the hard decisions. These revisions of adding in world-building throughout the first thirty pages made it necessary to put off writing the next set of pages to instead edit and add in new details. I also ended up changing the timing of a key event in my narrator’s life, which would have also severely affected the following pages, so this is one of those types of adjustments to put off future writing for. It would suck to write more new pages and then delete most of it because you changed something earlier in the story.
It’s possible that the revision process will still lead to a lot of deletion. Don’t be afraid of that either. Some parts that you loved in the story may have to go because they don’t fit in with the rest of the plot the way you had wanted them too, but in the end that’s a good thing. It keeps your novel focused and clear!
So, some of you might be thinking, “Great ideas, but how do I stay in love with this story while tearing it apart?”
The thing is, you have to not view it as tearing it apart—unless you’re the type of person who hardcore gets a kick out of that sort of thing (like me). Consider it more like nurturing the piece to its best potential. The best comparison I’ve ever heard about what a piece of writing is like, is that it’s like a deformed baby. You love it, in all its ugliness, yet somehow you’re compelled to keep taking care of it. Your short story, poem or novel is your baby. It might not be the prettiest, but like the ugliest duckling, it has a lot of potential to be something amazing. Keep the love alive!
To help that, try to approach your work at a new angle that still keeps you excited and maybe digs deeper into things. The most interesting suggestion my mentor have me was to consider how much my narrator remembers of her traumatic experience. Playing with knowledge, and who knows what information, can be a lot of fun—challenging, but definitely fun. My mentor pushed me to delve further into her psyche and explore the darkness there. Remember, too, that your characters are fascinating people. You wouldn’t have chosen to write about them if that wasn’t the case. So see what’s there inside of them that you can pull out to keep you excited about their story!
Here’s a link to one of my favorite lists. It provides so many ways to revise and reconsider your writing! There are also a lot of exercises here that may just be helpful to get you out of a writing block!
LAURELANN EASTON grew up in Oswego, New York, but now lives in and attends collegein New Hampshire for a degree in Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University. Her work has appeared in the last two annual publications of SNHU’s literary journal, the Manatee. Outside of writing and reading for fun, she enjoys hiking the peaks of New Hampshire and dabbling in the fine arts of painting and jewelry making.