Thursday, April 24, 2014

Revising Your Manuscript Is Like Fighting With Yourself

I’m in the middle of revisions right now (seems like I’m always in the middle of revisions) and though I’ve been reasonably pleased with my progress, it’s still a frustratingly slow process. For me, revising often feels like sculpting a block of metal by striking it repeatedly with a large hammer while blindfolded. Subsequent revisions involve repeating the process with successively smaller hammers. Not an elegant process by any definition.

Still, I’ve come to the realization that a significant portion of my editing amounts to moving blocks of words from one part of the page to another. I may still need to tighten up dialogue or add more descriptions or squeeze in a few more interior thoughts, but my first editing pass (or three) usually involves massive rearrangements of my words. I may know everything that has to go into the scene, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that I rarely know the order in which the words should appear on the page—at least at the beginning of the revision process.

For example, I've struggled with a piece of dialogue for days, desperately trying to make it seem like a natural part of the conversation, and then, in a moment of inspiration, I realize I could move it somewhere else in the scene and suddenly the dialogue fits like a piece in a puzzle. Arg! Mindnumbingly obvious once I think of it, but hard to see initially because my brain had already decided it knew how the scene should unfold.

So basically, I spend most of my revision time fighting with myself.  That's why I have critique partners—to stop by every once in a while and referee.

Do you struggle with this, or does the order of your words just come naturally to you?


  1. Striking metal while blindfolded - I laughed out loud at that. Describes how I feel about first drafts.
    I don't think I've ever moved a large block of text before. Deleted, yes. Might be a little rearranging going on in my current one once it's done. Just hope my brain can handle that.
    Keep working on that puzzle!

    1. It really feels that way at times. It would be wonderful if the words just poured out of me, or if I could immediately recognize what's wrong with a sentence or paragraph, but that's never going to be me.

  2. Moving chunks around is one of my favourite parts of revisions. I like that sound they make when they fit nicely into their new slot (occasionally takes a few bangs of the hammer to get them in there).

    Moody Writing

  3. Usually, yes, but sometimes I can't solve simple problems that are obvious to everyone else. Thank goodness for critters! :)

    1. PS - What I usually find myself doing is taking exposition and turning it into action and dialogue, not so much moving it around.

  4. Good question. I wrote a nice chunk of dialog for an author a few weeks ago because she didn't get what I meant until she saw it and liked it enough to keep it. For myself? Hmm. I think I do a lot more moving like you do. My critique partners all said that my biggest weakness is story structure, and I know they're right. I really need to write something and let you help fix that, and I'll help fix your dialog. But I have a big hole in my kitchen floor and need to move more stuff to make way for the rest of the remodeling, mostly floor patching now.

  5. Oh man! I do this too! Often when I revise, I end up moving whole chunks of text to other portions of the MS...why can't we just write it right the first time around?? ;)

    Good luck with those revisions!!


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