Revision: Starting Over

In revision, I’ve noticed many writers get sucked into what they wrote on their first draft. It’s as if they believe that because they wrote it down a particular way the first time, it must stay that way. This is not only wrong, it’s a huge problem.

Revision should be when you look at your story as a whole and decide what you’re trying to say. Each subsequent draft is a time to completely dis-associate yourself from your work and decide if what you’re doing is effective. Some examples:

  • How would a different setting change the story? What if it was in a forest, a city, a small town, or a desert?
  • Is every character needed? Does every character serve some higher purpose?
  • What does each scene do? Is it really essential?

MOST IMPORTANT: What am I trying to say? Is this story merely for entertainment, ala Dan Brown, or am I trying to show people something?

To further drive the point home, here is an excerpt from an excellent book called “Art and Fear“:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

In a first draft, it’s impossible to know all of your story. So, when it comes to the second draft, don’t try and build onto the flawed first draft. Take what you did well from the first, save it, and throw the rest away. Start over. You’ll remember the important things, let go of things that were holding you back, and the story will be better for it.

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