We writers have different ways to do things, but when it gets dark and dirty, we share the same insanity and go through the same highs and lows and inevitable meltdowns. It’s heartening to see we’re not alone.
But also, what the fuck, people? Hasn’t anyone figured out a fool-proof, three step way to go from sketch board to bestseller? I bet someone has, HE’S JUST NOT TELLING US, that selfish bastard. *narrows her bloodshot eyes*
Revising sucks balls. It’s a fundamental law of writerly physics, just like the omnipresence of typos and the law of conservation of insecurity. We all go through it, though, and after mountains of blood-soaked paper, we eventually emerge with this glorious thing that is A READABLE NOVEL. Suddenly, all the nervous flaring seems worth it.
All the months we invested, the crying and bitching and procrastinating, the endless tweaking and crazy giggling at 4 in the morning, have coalesced into this miracle that is OUR STORY. We’re ecstatic! We’ve made it! Uncork the champagne!
But for now all we have is a messy first draft scribbled on napkins and toilet paper. What next?
1. Ha ha ha, I have no idea what I’m doing. Whee!
Sounds like drafting? That’s because it is. The first developmental revision of a novel is usually just a wild spree of adding things our MS must, like, totally have: worldbuilding, background info, childhood flashback, setting descriptions, random dialog tags, a one-eyed pony.
We just read our MS through for the first time and found plot holes, inconsistencies, missing chapters, dead goats, people wondering about bumping into walls… the usual. We must get back to drafting board and rebuild. Add a chapter here, tweak a scene there and cut another, and voila! It’s gonna be a masterpiece, mwahaha! *type type type*
2. Oh God, I have no idea what I’m doing…
We made our big scale changes and tweaked the plot, and now everything else disintegrates. It’s like an old sweater with a tiiiiny hanging thread that we pull on to make it look acceptable again, and suddenly everything unravels and we’re rocking back and forth, covered in twine, crying and swallowing lint.
It’s okay though. This is supposed to happen. A novel is a fragile thing, a complex tapestry we must weave with great care. It takes quite some effort to turn it into art, and it usually involves a lot of rage and frustration, and sometimes the sacrifice of a goat.
3. Hm. This might actually work. If I rewrite the whole goddamn thing from scratch.
When we’ve been revising for a while, we reach a dark moment when we realize that rewriting the whole MS from scratch might actually be easier than polishing this fucking turd right here.
I did this twice with The Deep Link, so I might be a little biased, but if you reach this point and you still have the energy (and crazy drive) to do it, go ahead. If not, go get a second pair of eyes (I have some in a jar under my bed) and see if they see the same thing as you. Get competent advice from writer friends or editors, and move on.
Whatever you do, don’t drop anchor in this swamp of half-revised, half-destroyed, all around messed up draft.
4. I suck. Everything sucks. I better just burn it all.
The mandatory meltdown. Whatever we decided above, we’ll feel overwhelmed and the MS will feel utterly unsavable. We’ve sharpened our critical eye and now all we see is crap.
The important thing now is to take a cold shower, wash off the reek of despair, and get back to work.
5. Don’t touch it anymore. Stop it. No!
I touched it.
Now we can’t stop tweaking and editing and here a comma there a comma everywhere a fucking comma.
6. I’m working it! And I know what I’m doing! Whee!
Things are slowly making sense again, and in fact, are quite improved. The manuscript reads like an actual novel, the characters are coming to life, and the plot… hey, this might actually work! I’ll be damned.
We still need to finetune some stuff, though. Maybe add a little bit of dialog over here, make this description smoother. Does Joe really need to keep living past chapter eighteen? Hm…
7. Booyaa! I’m DONE, suckers! Bask in the glory of my masterpiece. *waits for applause* *crickets* …What now?
It’s either exhaustion, blindness, or excruciating boredom, but at one point we accept that there’s nothing more we can do to make this novel better. If we’re lucky, we’re right. If not, we might still not be entirely lost yet, because–
Next we need to find an editor who can slap the MS out of our hands, and fix all the shit we broke in phases 1 through 6.
And when she’s done, we might even have to do it all again. 😉