You haven’t lived until you are revising a story for the uptenth time in the back of a double deck bus with a deadline two hours away.
And there’s no wifi. Even though there was promise of it.
I recently took a more than year old short story and decided to give it a old college try for some publications I was looking at. As I’ve written before, revision isn’t my bag but it was something that I wanted to work on this year in my writing.
What I’ve learned so far is that everyone has their own way of revising. After talking with a couple of writer friends quickly about their process, I’ve come to the conclusion that…I’m kinda on my own with figuring stuff out.
Yeah, thanks guys. Thanks a lot.
So back to this revision on the bus. I was on my way home from visiting family when I was toward the tale end of the revision. Once I submitted my story I finally said to myself .. that’s what revision is! Seriously?
It was tough but enjoyable and I know my story is before it.
You can’t revise something that doesn’t exist.
I’ve said this before so many times, even to myself. But this time I proved myself right. This story was in my story bank for more than a year. It was complete, meaning it had a beginning, middle, end, albeit not in the right order. I could see the story better and I knew where it should go and what needed to happen to get there. Once I realized that, I took out what didn’t need to be there (easy) and create what did (not so easy).
Make notes to yourself
It’s like talking to yourself but no one needs to know. In my Scrivener file, I made myself harsh notes about scenes or parts of scenes like “this doesn’t make sense” or “this character jumps the shark here”. These notes, I learned, became like a checklist. After reading things over and over and over, this was my notes saying that things needed to change with sections, especially if I had cut something out earlier. As I resolved each note, I’d make more like “not sure this does what you want it to do” or “you go it just right.”
Make a stylesheet
I’ve heard this advice before from another reader but this was a beyond good idea for this particular story. I don’t know about you but I don’t make it a habit of hanging out in the 1940s south. The voices, the cutting of word endings, the sayings on top of character and setting descriptions…whoa, there was tons there and some decisions weren’t made yet as I could tell from the first read of the story. Once I made those decisions and made a stylesheet, it was easier to look out for things that needed to be consistent.
Short bursts and long breaks
I found that maybe editing/revising for an hour in the morning and then maybe some in the evening was helpful. I know the tendency is to sit there and to continue doing it until it’s done. That wasn’t possible for me. I just felt unfocused when I did that. Knowing that I could sit down for an hour and go through it, making notes, and fixing issues was just enough time to keep my focus.
That time limit also helped when I needed to get back into in the evening. I knew I worked on one thing during the morning so at night I’d read my notes to myself and make decisions. It’s very much like a sculptor who steps back to see how the art is coming together. After they consider it, they step into the art again and continue working. This by far was one of the most useful things I did while revising.
Knowing when to stop
When I started changing things back to the previous change, I knew that part of my story was done with revision. Yes, when you change your mind BACK that’s when it’s done. Once I started doing that more often than changing, that’s when I knew that I was about done with revising.
However, it took many versions to get into this point. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many times I revised my latest. But when I started doing this, I was so happy. Like THIS happy.
That’s really happy.
I’m sure there are other lessons I can learn about revision. For right now, I’m just glad that I’ve learned this much.
And now to do it again …