Revise Like a Hero

30 Jul

By a show of hands, who here writes first, second and final drafts? Somebody? Anybody?

Ok, this is the internet, a show of hands isn’t going to work. But the fact still remains – very few people write more than one draft. The final one. And that’s not good. Like, at all.
This point about writing several drafts came home to me pretty recently. I usually write shorter pieces – essays, short stories, articles. All short stuff. When you’re doing that, you automatically revise as you write, and it’s short enough that you can easily give it a quick once-over when you’re done. And that’s the reason most writers get used to writing without first and second drafts.
The problems really start when you write long pieces, like a novel, because yo just write without looking back. I finished a writing a novel called “Card Theory” a while back. I was confident, I enjoyed the writing. And when I read it, I hated it. I don’t know if any of you have had that experience, but it’s a terrible feeling. After months of writing, when you think you have a finished book, and it turns out that the sentences are unpolished, the plot twists are shaky and the characters are shallow.

The reason for all this is simple. In a word, revision. You just need to make a little mental switch – books don’t come out perfect the first time. When you finish writing the first version, don’t expect it to be a finished product. Every really good book you’ve read has been revised and annotated and edited and revised again.

Do you have any unfinished pieces lying around, which you wrote and then didn’t like? Try to pick them up again. Revise them, slap them into shape, and turn them into the masterpieces they deserve to be.

"Writing", 22 November 2008

“Writing”, 22 November 2008 (Photo credit: ed_needs_a_bicycle)

14 Responses to “Revise Like a Hero”

  1. Lorna's Voice August 6, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    I’m out here flailing my hands. I revise WAY more than I write. I can’t count the number of revisions I make to a piece of writing. Using a first draft would be like walking into a crowded room naked!

  2. hilarycustancegreen August 1, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    I see from my Documents folder that I am on about the twentieth named draft of both my current novel and my non-fiction work – and that is not counting all the revisions within each document. It may be possible to overdo the revision process.

  3. legendsofgreenisle July 31, 2013 at 4:43 am #

    I think Book One went through 8 re-writes, 3 drafts and 2 character changes, seven years of groaning and lots of teeth gnashing. Write on!

  4. Diana Springer July 31, 2013 at 1:36 am #

    I pour everything into the first draft, sometimes I know it’s not that great while I’m writing it. Second draft is where I go in with the poison pen. Well third draft – I haven’t ever gotten to that point yet (because I’m still slashing the second). To reach the third draft, I intend to go over the draft each time focusing on specific areas, i.e – one read looking at the plot and resolution of the conflict, another looking at the characters to determine whether they are multidimensional and another to specifically review the dialogue. Then I’ll have a third draft and then after than the final polish. After this off to the beta readers and then an editor. Wish me luck 🙂

    • nesherehrman July 31, 2013 at 3:43 am #

      I wish you all the luck in the world. Really I do.

  5. Beth Anne Reed July 30, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    One of the ways that I know that I have grown as a writer is the ability to revise… That said, the novel has been pushed to the very bottom of the to-do list because writing it took over a year and re-writing gets hairy… Maybe you have motivated me to move it higher on the list. Thanks for making a very good point.

    • nesherehrman July 31, 2013 at 3:45 am #

      If you have trouble finding time for your book, try allocating it a specific time-frame, like just before you go to bed, or while you’re eating lunch. Even if it’s only a few minutes a day, any progress at all is better than no progress, and progress gets things done.

  6. cricketmuse July 30, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    Writing is fluid, meaning it is always changing it’s flow, it’s form. Revising, proofing, editing will change the overall piece, so essentially we are writing multiple drafts. I can return to a published piece and still find ways to revise it. I don’t know if writing can be truly ever completed. We must simply reach a point of satisfaction.

  7. libbylayla1984 July 30, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    I can do three drafts of a novel and can still not be happy with it. Sometimes I just think I am too much of a perfectionist but I’d rather take a long time and get it right then send it out into the world and not be happy with it. Maybe that’s the reason I’m not published yet lol

    • nesherehrman July 30, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

      I don’t really think there’s such a thing as too much revision on a novel. Each time gets better and better until you get to a point where you’re just changing instead of improving. When you feel you’ve gotten to that point, publish. Also, you’re writing for you, so of you’re not happy with it, it needs more work, no matter what anyone else thinks.

  8. MoreThanACat July 30, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    I agree: there are times when you look back on a section in a story you were really proud of in the first draft; and it’s really obvious, it’s a piece of ….

    Small re-writes aren’t going to sort it! It’s a back to the drawing board 🙂

    • nesherehrman July 30, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

      Well, yes and no. The fact that you have a written piece which you’ve now rejected is already progress – you don’t go back to nothing, since you can learn from your mistakes and rewrite based on what you did wrong

    • MoreThanACat July 30, 2013 at 8:58 pm #



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