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Revising your first draft

#1
Hello everyone,

I disappeared for a month or two but I'm back now.

Does anybody here find revising/editing/rewriting their MS harder than actually writing it in the first place? I'm not talking about the editing of one's previous day's output (which I find to be both satisfying and a natural part of the writing process), but rather the editing once I've finished my first draft.

The reason I ask is because I find it horribly difficult for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I don't have enough separation or distance from the work to view it in its entirety. Ideally, when it comes to revising my first, second or third draft, I would like to feel I was hovering in a helicopter one hundred feet above the ground and could see the whole MS mapped out below me. Unfortunately I seldom (if ever) have this sensation.
Secondly, after the hundredth time of reading and editing my own writing, it all feels stale. The freshness has gone out of it and it is difficult to know whether my amendments are actually making the text better or worse.

Thirdly, as a result of the first point (too close to the MS), I find it easier to make changes at a micro level (i.e. sentence by sentence) rather than have an overview of issues such as character development, tone etc. which might need to be worked on in greater depth.

Summarising, I really get into the writing process but I find it far harder to be as absorbed in one's work during subsequent revisions.

For all the above reasons, I find the editing process unsatisfying as it tends to engender more questions in my mind than it ever seems to answer!
 

Rich.

Guardian
Staff member
Patron
#2
I find your problem interesting because my problem is the exact opposite. I find writing the first draft is like mining clay with my fingernails, whereas editing is like sculpting the refined product.

The only things I can think to suggest are to give yourself more time before coming back for the revisions – that way you might find the distance you're after – and to limit yourself to one structural and one line edit before you throw the work out for beta reading.
 
#4
Like @Rich. I enjoy the editing process. I agree with him that it's a good idea to leave a reasonable amount of time (a month or two? more? it depends on the writer) before tackling the first redraft. I currently have Book Two of the series I'm writing in a metaphorical drawer waiting until I feel ready to revisit it. Meanwhile, I've plotted and started Book Three. After all, if revisions I make to Book Two impact on Book Three, it's easier enough to make amendments in these days of word processors.

I paid a professional editor to appraise the first draft and subsequent redraft of Book One and I'm so glad I did. (Well, I hadn't found Litopia then...) I learned an enormous amount about every aspect of the writing process and as a result, redrafted Book Two to a point when I feel it was massively improved as well. I think, like the initial writing process, redrafting benefits from practice.
 
#5
The first pass of revision is like being able to get to proper gardening after the jungle clearance of drafting. But after that staleness sets in progressively and I also find it hard to keep track of structural changes. Does this character already know about that? I’m confused by my own flashbacks.
If it gets bad the only solution is a second opinion, or putting it aside till you can give your own second opinion (say two or three years? ;)).
 
#6
I always think of the first draft as building a boat: you shape the hull, step the mast, lay in the sails, set up the rigging. Revision is taking it out to sea and finding out the sails are badly cut, the rigging needs to be changed and the mast moved a couple of inches forward!
 
#8
When I complete a first draft I put it away in a draw for about 3 to 6 months and then take it out to revise and edit. After that time away it feels a bit more distant and thus "fresher" to read. I also find that I can now see the forest and not just the trees.
I also find that writing a full synopsis (about 3 or four pages) helps to view the whole shape of the story.
 
#10
Often when writing the synopsis I find that I have missed out a whole chunk that I had "been going to write" and then somehow forgot in my haste to get to the end of the first draft. I write the synopsis as I read through the first draft, rather than from memory, that way I catch any spurious happenings that I had forgotten. If it is hard to hold the whole story in your mind, the synopsis gives you a route-map to work from.
You can even turn it into a full chapter by chapter index.
 
#11
Often when writing the synopsis I find that I have missed out a whole chunk that I had "been going to write" and then somehow forgot in my haste to get to the end of the first draft. I write the synopsis as I read through the first draft, rather than from memory, that way I catch any spurious happenings that I had forgotten. If it is hard to hold the whole story in your mind, the synopsis gives you a route-map to work from.
You can even turn it into a full chapter by chapter index.
Yes I like this idea. I was starting to do something similar and now I will definitely follow your advice
 
#12
Yes I like this idea. I was starting to do something similar and now I will definitely follow your advice
Some people use scene cards. A set of index cards, one per scene giving vital info on each scene.
Then you can play around with the whole story by just moving the cards around.
I've tried it and it helps a bit but it may not be for everyone. It depends on whether you have a logical mind or not.
A Scene index, as in a list of scenes, is also another useful tool and helps you position key scenes within the story line.
 
#14
You´re not alone. I have those exact same issues. The only thing that seems to work is --as mentioned a couple of time already--is to put it away for at least a month. BUT not too much! because then you lose the passion for the work. I´ve heard from professional writers ( on their blogs and stuff) that they absolutely need to finish a novel within a certain time period, else the magic fade away.
On the other hand, there are people who are doers and like to start things, but not finish them, others prefer to pick up where others left off...so maybe you work better as a team?
I have adult ADD so it´s difficult for me to follow through with long activities as I bore easily, so what I do is I work on several different WIPs at one time. So, when I go back to a text, it doesn´t bore me. Sometimes it´s a visceral feeling where just the thought of sitting down to work on a certain project makes me sick. That´s when I dig out the really old stuff and work on that. Seems to work!
 
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Amber

Benefactor
#15
Well. Find what works for you. What @Rich. says is interesting. Also, putting it away for a short period of time seems like a good idea. But you probably won't be doing one pass at your manuscript anyway.

My best advice is to find someone whose writing you like, someone you consider successful, and then stalk the hell out of them. Study them like they're a lab rat. Then incorporate what works for them .... and see if it works for you.

I'm mostly kidding.
 
#16
Yup, I agree with a lot of the above. My own bugbear is time: with a long piece, I need a day to get through it all in one sitting while making comments and fixing issues. But I only get a couple of hours every now and then, and that's only when things are working out (which they're not at present, frankly). So I am continually nibbling at the editing step, rather than just consuming and digesting it. Let's stop the metaphor there. The point is, it's difficult to fit a substantial edit around dayjob, family, etc. Think I will just have to take holiday to do it.
 
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