There are two kinds of writers. Those who love the first draft and those who love the revision process.
What kind are you? Maybe you’re both. Maybe I lied when I said there are two kinds. There might be ten kinds.
Here’s where I stand. I love first drafts. They are like new love. They’re exciting, fresh, invigorating. I never know where they are going to take me—it’s usually someplace I had not imagined, even if I did do some sort of preparation (aka, outlining) prior to starting.
But they can also be horrifying. Nothing comes out the way I thought it in my head. I skim through scenes in a hurry to get to the next one before I forget what it was going to be. The characters are too new to me—their voices are flat and I don’t really get them yet. I realize half way through that I need to do some research on shoes from the 1920s. And the plot. . . WHAT plot?
On the other hand, the great thing about first drafts is I know they suck. I know they’re trash. I can put “fix this scene later” in brackets to myself and keep writing.
Sometimes I’m in love with my first draft and I cannot see any possible ways it needs to be fixed. (This is why that great advice to let it sit for a while is so helpful. You will suddenly see all the flaws as if they are giant neon flashing lights.) Sometimes I hate it and I have no motivation to even start revising. Most of the time, however, it’s somewhere in between. I really, really like it, but I know it has lots of holes.
Authors at writing conferences often say they love revising. Me, I have a love/hate thing going with revisions. Here are the things I hate about revisions:
- They might suck just as bad as the first draft. Then I have to make more revisions.
- They are hard. I have to think. I have to really, really dig deep. I have to craft my story. This is hard work.
- By the time I start a revision, I have a stack of notes from my critique group, the agent at the conference who critiqued it, the online critique partner I’ve never met in person, and the list goes on. (I used to keep these, making sure I make every single change as noted. Now, I realize everyone has their own opinion, so I rarely look at these notes once I’ve received them. Usually the things that have been mentioned numerous times were things I already knew needed fixing.)
- It’s hard. I like to whine.
- No matter how many revisions I do, my critique group always has more comments.
- Sometimes I revise the life right out of my story. Then I have to backtrack.
Here are the things I like about revisions:
- It’s fun to play with scenes and get to know my characters better.
- It’s fun to go back to scenes I skimmed over before and flesh them out.
- It’s fun to hear from critiquers that I’m getting it fixed.
- It’s fun to weave in the subplots, the backstory, the symbolism I want to add in. It’s fun to write emotion where it was flat before.
- It’s fun to feel accomplished. (You know, most people who start a novel never even finish the first draft.)
- It’s fun to put in the effort and see the direct result.
I guess what I’m saying is it’s a lot like exercise. When I first go out for my walk, I’m slow, steady, enjoying myself. And after 30 minutes I might be ready to stop. But then I’m just getting really into it, and I want to go another 30 minutes. The sweat feels good, the hard work makes me feel strong. I am woman, hear me roar. (Or something like that.)
The problem is going back out the next day and doing it again. Writing’s like that. Whether it’s the first or twentieth draft.