I once met a professional author at her launch for her short story collection and after purchasing her book and waiting in line to upgrade it to a limited sign edition, I asked her how long it took to write just one of her short stories.
“A year” was her reply.
A. Whole. Freaking. Year.
Now who among you has cranked out a short story out within a week? Hell even a month? Heck at least less time than a freaking year?
And yet she was the published one and I was not.
So, a little later I was practicing my sewage worker skills and sifting through the crap of some of my earlier work, when I glossed over a phrase I had threw into one of my previous posts. The idea phase. And yeah once you actually sit your ass down to actually write, you will laugh at your younger, obviously dumber, self for thinking that ideas were the only requirement to be able to introduce yourself as a writer at cocktail parties with a straight face, but, guess what, there’s another phase. The first-draft phase. The belief that all one needs to do is hammer out a first draft, send it out to a publisher, then pop the cork in celebration while putting ‘professional writer’ onto new business cards. Now granted, the exhilarating high one gets after writing the first draft are the fumes of inspiration that makes writers get up every day to hammer away at their keyboards. But it’s not enough.
Finish your first draft. Then read it again in a month. You’ll puke at how awful you are.
You know how you can crack open one of your favourite novels and the writing will sound so natural, that it’s easy to imagine the writer was simply spewing out raw thoughts in a gush of creativity onto a Apple product while sipping some fancy latte drink from Starbucks? It took, many many fever-induced, coffee addicted revisions, not to mention the number of rewrites done, to crap out those masterpieces. The big leaguers know their first draft will always be crap, crap so putrid that if they got their first-drafts published, their fans would commit mass-suicides (probably slitting their wrists with paper-cuts) so to not live in a world where their literary hero have inexplicably started communicating through their asshole. So they revise.
When you first start, revising is going to feel like work.
Revising is work.
So here are some tips in the revision game, and while they aren’t exactly tips in the art of revision they will certainly help make it more efficient.
Cyclical Order: So you’ve got a whole mess of work, first drafters if you will, that you pumped out in a fit of inspiration and powered by your be-the-next-Margaret-Atwood dream. And you know that you can’t revise as soon as you finish because like a fan girl on Justin Bieber, you are still naively in love with crap. So instead find the one that you wrote first and revise that one. After you’ve grown through with it, revise the second one you’ve written, then the third, rinse and repeat. The time between your first piece and the time you revise should be a good month or more (unless you’re a really fast writer), which is a buffer space that will make your ‘darling’ prose just crap on a page you have to make prim and proper, or kill off and try again. Repeat ad infinitum until even your worst critics won’t dare read your work for shame of admitting that you can write.
Focusing: For those who have first drafts so wretched that you need a drill and dynamite to simply make a dent on the sheer amount of editing done, what you could do is focus on a specific area, a tactical strike if you will. I.e. The camera keeps jittering from third person distant to omniscient like every action film made since Saving Private Ryan then hold it steady to one point of view. Or factual errors, like little Suzie who enjoys chocolate ice cream in chapter one is swearing that vanilla is the only one and true flavour in chapter seventeen. While this method is often difficult to implement as often it degenerates into a general edit like a hoarder walking through a flea market, it still helps pick up on the smaller details you wouldn’t have noticed if you went in with fists swinging at the entire monstrosity.
Setting a goal line: Some people like setting a daily goal for their writing i.e. five-hundred words a day or an hour time limit. I really can’t say much for the whole time limit (For an hour I’d produce five minutes of writing done, and the hazy memories of fifty-five minutes worth of YouTube sci-fi shorts). But for those have a predilection for a word count a day to keep the doctor away method, how do you measure word count in revision? In pages written, in sentences altered, in words added, no its love obviously (god that’s awful), but because its’ not writing new thoughts, but fixing old ones I just double the amount i.e. if I can do five-hundred words a day then I revise one-thousand words or if I write a page, I revise two pages.
Writing Exercise: For those who still read these for the writing exercises, I got an easy one for you.
By a North York Writer