The Revision Process: Rewriting with “Know-How”


Cover of "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions...

Cover via Amazon

By Linda Joy Myers

I’m pleased to present a guest blog post by Kathy Pooler. She has been in my workshops and is one of my premier blogger friends.

The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike say, a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile.” Robert Cormier

One of the greatest benefits of a critique group is receiving constructive feedback that enables you to take your writing to the next level. That can only happen if you allow yourself to be open to hearing from others what is working and what is not. I have been participating in Linda Joy’s Spiritual Autobiography and Healing Memoir Teleworkshops since January, 2010, where I have learned that writing is truly rewriting.

Revision is part of the process, as much as we’d like to think we can get it done on the first try.

Let’s face it, we all want our readers to fall in love with our little darlings. Our stories are our babies. We have created them with our own hearts and hands, but sometimes we are so close to our own words that we can’t see the discrepancies, missteps and omissions–the tweaks here and there that will make our stories and our characters become alive on the pages. Learning to self-edit is essential to our growth as writers. Read this excellent post by author, Nicola Morgan, comparing self-editing to weeding a garden.

Jody Hedlund, author of several Christian novels, Preacher Bride and The Doctor’s Lady, has an excellent blog post on her reactions to her own revision process “Getting Feedback That Makes You Cry.” About the “initial sting” of feedback, she states, “You need to give it some time and then come back to the suggestions with humble and objective eyes.” I really appreciate Jody’s honest sharing about the human aspect of receiving feedback.

The point is we have to be able to separate our emotions from the process of revising, and convince ourselves that revising will make our stories stronger.

We have to get over ourselves so we can go on to craft the best story in the best way.

“Writing is rewriting” is a common mantra in writing circles. In his book, Revision and Self-Editing, novelist James Scott Bell, talks about the importance of “rewriting with know-how” and lists the following tips in the revision process:

* Cool -Down …Take a break and walk away when your first draft is done.

* PrepareRead through your first draft completely for the first time.

* Print out and prepare a fresh copy…with red felt pen and notepad handy.

* Get ready to read your manuscript… in a couple of sittings.

* Use outside readers…for objective opinions.

* Analyze… Does my story make sense, is my plot compelling, are my characters believable? Think about the effect on your reader as you write and revise, particularly in the later stages. Then, there’s the idea of deciding when our manuscript is done–after we’ve rewritten, incorporated feedback, deleted, added on, transformed our story and owned it. Perhaps this is another topic for another time.”

It seems to me that it’s essential to accept writing as rewriting, and revising as a natural part of the process. Constructive feedback helps us to see our blind spots, and offers us a chance to see through another reader’s eyes. These steps strengthen our stories and give them every possible chance to get into the hands of readers who will devour them with the same gusto it took for us to write them.

Perhaps the real starting point is when we accept that our first draft is lousy and needs to be rewritten, revised, and reconstructed. In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott calls a first draft “a child who is let loose and romps all over.”

I’d love to hear how you feel about revising and editing your work.

Are you rewriting with “know-how?”

Any ideas on how to get through the revision process as painlessly as possible?

Linda Joy Meyers is the founder & president of the National Memoir Writers Association

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