The Art and Craft of Revision

When approaching the next draft of a novel, it's important to read and reread the manuscript until you develop a vision of how to move forward. We often become so deeply engrossed in writing the first draft that we lose sight of how the story is being perceived by readers. When writing a first draft, it's important not to preordain too much of the action, to let the characters move and speak with a life of their own. When writing a second/third draft, the writer often must take more control, consciously shaping the story toward a vision of what it needs to read like.

When approaching a revision, it’s important for the writer to "re-envision" the plot, characters, and story. One of the primary reasons first books fail is because the writer has welded her vision to a flawed first draft so solidly that she can't see how to make significant changes, or is afraid to make significant changes. When this happens, a writer fiddles with a sentence here, or tweaks a scene there, but never sees or understands how to address the story's problems. Sometimes it requires great courage to change a story in order to make it work, because the writer is so familiar and comfortable with the existing version that the idea of making significant changes, and all the work and uncertainty required, is terrifying. The writer is afraid of taking the story apart and then putting it back together, because even though they know the story doesn't work well enough to be published, they're comfortable with its flaws, and worry that they won't be able to put it together any more effectively. But they've learned how to write a book, so when they launch into the next story, they aren't welded to a flawed way of seeing story and characters, and carry the energy of the new into the project. 

Several writers have brought flawed first drafts to my workshops, and after rewriting and revising and rewriting again, have published those stories. Others have gone on to publish their next manuscript. Every writer is different.