Take Care When Revising Your Story…You May Break It
Every writer does it. Professional authors are not an exception either. Just because we’ve been in the business for a few years, that doesn’t mean we aren’t just a little stupid sometimes.
Besides, the temptation is simply too great…you’re working along at your normal writing speed of 5,000 words per hour and write a line. That line makes you think of a passage someplace earlier in the book, so you go back and make some changes there. As you do that, you remember that this change impacts some other place in the book, so you go to fix that. And it turns into a big domino-effect of never-ending changes.
Like I said, we’ve all done this.
And as the vaudevillian physician once said…
Don’t do that!
Rest assured that if you fall into this trap, the odds are very good you will irreparably break your story.
When it comes to the point of view of the author and in the time before the story is in the actual publishing process, there are two phases to writing a story…
First of all, we have what I like to call “Writing The Story.” OK, it ain’t all that great of a name, but it works. This is when you are actually creating the story, characters and all. As the creative juices are flowing, your mind is in just exactly the wrong mode to deal with details. You should just write when in this phase. Don’t worry about details like spelling, punctuation, grammar, and all the rest. In fact, don’t get too hung up on internal consistency, either. Just write. Get the big picture down on paper, and do it without interruption as much as possible. And when it comes to breaks for eating and sleeping, remember that you’ve wanted to lose a few pounds anyway and you can sleep when you’re dead.
Next we enter the phase I call “Revising The Story”. I know…still not a great name, but it tells you what you need to know. This is when you sweat the details, particularly internal consistency and characters. Do settings used in the story always look the same? (That is, was the light switch on the left side of the door EVERY time the character turned on the lights?) How about the characters themselves? Is their hair the same color all the time? Do things make sense within the context of the story? Your brain is in a very different mode now, and you can focus on the details.
If you try to revise when you should be creating, things will get hopelessly tied in knots. The odds are you will end up just deleting the entire work and starting over.
Don’t do that!
Take things in order…write the book, and then revise the book.
And remember what Hemingway said: “Write drunk. Edit sober.”
But, there is something else here I need to say, especially to the budding writers out there…
At some point, you are done writing, revising, and editing. I can’t tell you when that is, but there will come a time when you just need to stop. The story and the mechanics are as good as you can make them, and it’s then time to submit the work to the publishers.
I bring this up because I know dozens of wannabe authors who have been working on the same book for more than a decade. I would bet they will still be working on it ten years from now. Just start shopping the thing around, for crying out loud!
Note that I am not talking about the projects that most authors have that have been pushed so far onto the back burner that it fell down behind the stove. That’s something else we all do, but it’s different. These things are being left to sit and not worked much, if at all, because of other concerns. Like deadlines.
The books that end up in infinite revisions are usually an aspiring author’s first book. They fear the rejection, and I can assure you that a lot of that will be forthcoming. They also fear that the editing process will change their book…actually, they see the book as their baby.
It happens to all of us. Get over it, grow a pair, and move on.
All stories need revision. And I am being absolute here…there has never been a story that didn’t need revision. Ever.
Just be careful that your mind is in the right mode before you start your revisions. Make sure that you don’t break the story because you are making changes as opposed to revisions.
Revisions make things consistent and logical while changes create a new story.
Or as I tell high schoolers, since my degree in teaching English includes a special emphasis on teaching writing: “Barf it out quickly, clean it up later. ” They always laugh, which is the whole point, since it means they’ll remember it. As you say, you should NEVER interrupt the creative “flow” to edit. Anyone can help you edit–help you with grammar, inconsistencies, etc. But NO ONE else can reach into your head, a la “the penseive” in a Harry Potter scene, and pull that story out of your head. That’s the part that you and only you can do.
Awesome. Great advice.