Monday, July 25, 2011

7 Things I Have Learned About Revision

Last month, I completed the first draft of my novel-in-progress, The Power Club.  I have spent the last three weeks revising it, and I figure I’m about two-thirds of the way through.  Here’s what this process has taught me:

1. Write every day.

Writing every day builds momentum.  It keeps you from starting, stopping, starting, stopping . . . a process of cold starts that is bound to kill creativity. 

2. Keep a regular schedule.

A blog post I read recently said that you can become a professional writer by writing for three hours a day.  I decided to test this theory by revising for three hours a day.  This means that for most of that time (see below), my butt is planted firmly in my chair, my computer is on, and the latest chapter is up.  If I’m not actively working the keys, I’m either re-reading what I’ve written or reading comments from my critique groups.  I AM NOT doing the laundry, fixing lunch, checking email or engaging in other time wasters that kill writing.

3. Write at the same time every day.

I haven’t always kept the same schedule, but most days I’ve started writing at 10 a.m. and finished at 1 p.m.  Sometimes, I’ve begun early (and finished a corresponding amount of time early); once I began and finished an hour late.  But writing at the same time every day forces a mental discipline on me: that time is set aside for writing and nothing else.

4.  Use an egg-timer to take scheduled breaks.

I’ve discovered that, after 45 minutes of continuous writing, I begin to revise the same sentence or passage over and over.  Having a consistent break time means I don’t have the luxury of niggling.  When that egg-timer goes off, I stop typing for ten or fifteen minutes.  THEN I get to fix lunch.

5.  Revising is not drafting.

You’ve already written a rough draft to get your ideas down on paper.  Now it’s time to look at it again and see how it hangs together.  Revising may very well mean that you will be rewriting huge chunks, as well as adding and deleting material.  But it could also mean that you got certain passages right the first time.  In other words, resist the urge to rewrite EVERYTHING.

6. Treat writing as a job

. . . which it is, even if you’re not being paid to do it (yet). 

7.  Keep track of your progress.

Keeping track of your word count or page count can actually encourage you to keep going as you see how much you’ve already accomplished.  I’ve revised an average of six or seven pages per day, which does not sound like a lot, but, over three weeks it’s built up to about 135 pages or 30,000 words.

The process I’ve described above may or may not work for you.  I’m not even sure it works for me.  As I become more proficient at novel writing, I may spend more hours revising.  (And, if you don’t have other considerations such as a regular job, a family, or a life, you may want to work even longer.)  But for right now it works for me, and I’m pleased with how my novel reads.

You’ll figure out the revising regimen than works for you.  The important thing is to begin and don’t stop until you’ve finished.

What is your revising regimen?


Dave Whitaker said...

Greg, as I've already expressed to you, I don't work well on a regimen. However, you acknowledge it may not work for everyone - but it is solid advice for those who need the structure. The key to your piece, in my mind, is all about discipline - write and write regularly.

Greg Gildersleeve said...

As long as you're getting the work done, Dave, you have a regimen.

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