Thanks to Molly Cook for her comment on my last blog post. Molly said, “All writers need to go through the revision process – looking at the manuscript again and reworking it – before even considering an editor. “ And I couldn’t agree more.
The revision process is an essential phase in the job of crafting a well-written work.
If you’re like most writers, you started your project with an idea, vague or specific, that guided your first draft. You may have wanted to tell a love story, to share your grandparents’ tale of traveling west on the Oregon Trail, to give readers a peek inside a working coalmine, or to inspire them with your personal transformation from carnivore to vegan. Whatever your initial idea when you began, chances are that idea morphed in some way as you wrote. There is nothing wrong with that, it is part of the process of writing. The meaning of our work often does not become clear to us until we have written that initial draft, and more often, not until we have rewritten it.
Once you’ve completed your first draft it is imperative that you go back over what you’ve written and check in on that meaning. As you wrote you were immersed in the world of your book; you focus was tight and narrow. Now, you need to take several steps back and open up your view. If you are going to be able to effectively evaluate your own work, you need to first distance yourself from it. As Susan Bell says in her wonderful book, The Artful Edit, “You must achieve a transparent view of your material that derives from having emotional and psychological distance from it.
Here are a few ideas for creating the distance needed to shift your perspective and to see your work with a critical eye.
1) Time: Give yourself time. Put the manuscript away and don’t look at it for several weeks. When you pick it up again, you’ll be less familiar with it and more able to read it with the surprise of a first time reader.
2) Mode: Do your revising in a different mode than you did your original writing. If you’re a pen-and-paper writer, type your manuscript into a document on your computer and do your revising there. If you wrote your first draft on the computer, print out the pages and do your revising by hand on a hardcopy. Or, if you are reluctant to print out the full 350 pages of your manuscript, considerer changing the font to give the whole thing a different look. If you created the work in Times New Roman, revise it in Calibri or Arial; your writing will seem less familiar. By giving your words a different physical setting, you can change your relationship to them.
3) Space: Change your physical location when you revise. If you have one space in your home or office where you write, that may not be the best place to do revision work. Find somewhere else that has a different ambiance, perhaps different lighting or sound, so that other parts of your brain are awakened and you can nudge yourself out of any ruts associated with your work.
Once you’ve gained some distance from your work, you will be ready to begin the re-visioning process.