First Drafts vs. Revisions

27 Aug

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:

  1. They might suck just as bad as the first draft. Then I have to make more revisions.
  2. They are hard. I have to think. I have to really, really dig deep. I have to craft my story. This is hard work.
  3. 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.)
  4. It’s hard. I like to whine.
  5. No matter how many revisions I do, my critique group always has more comments.
  6. Sometimes I revise the life right out of my story. Then I have to backtrack.
  7. Argh.

Here are the things I like about revisions:

  1. It’s fun to play with scenes and get to know my characters better.
  2. It’s fun to go back to scenes I skimmed over before and flesh them out.
  3. It’s fun to hear from critiquers that I’m getting it fixed.
  4. 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.
  5. It’s fun to feel accomplished. (You know, most people who start a novel never even finish the first draft.)
  6. 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.)

Here I am out on a snowshoe adventure. This is at the top of a hill, when I thought we were almost done. Notice the smile. But I was wrong. We had miles yet to go. Revisions feel like that sometimes.

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.


Posted by on August 27, 2011 in Idaho


7 responses to “First Drafts vs. Revisions

  1. Liz Fredericks

    August 27, 2011 at 5:50 AM

    Hi Neysa – First, let me say ‘wow’ I’m impressed on the snowshoeing -very Idaho and very exhausting. Good for you. I’m a revision kid. The first draft is usually quick – getting the structure, basic scenes and pace down. Then, I have fun with the word play and the puzzle. I’m sure you’re right about the various approaches writers will take. This topic should spark lots of discussion.

  2. Janis

    August 27, 2011 at 7:18 AM

    I’m the first draft lover. It’s my vision, the concept, the reason I wrote it. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll corroborate the fact. I hate revisions. By the time I’m through, I’m over the story, bored out of my mind, and I want my characters to die painful deaths, never be seen again. YUK. That’s one of the reasons I rely on CPs and beta readers to help me see the light. It’s necessary and I do it, but I feel like a kid throwing a temper tantrum in the grocery store. SIGH. I feel better now.

  3. Suzie Quint

    August 27, 2011 at 8:10 AM

    I love the first draft when things are flowing, but I’ve written myself into corners before and that’s no fun. My favorite draft is the second one, where I get to go back and lay in stuff that didn’t occur to me as I was writing the initial draft but that makes things resonate. That’s pure joy.

  4. Mary Vine

    August 27, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    Thanks, Neysa! I think the good news as with each manuscript you write you are better and few changes are needed (as compared to the first and second ms). I think I like the revision process better, because they give me a nice finished feeling as I go chapter to chapter. Even when critique says I need something else, it’s easier to put in after I’m done – in my opinion. I liked the comparison with the mountain climbing. Very nice.

  5. Clarissa Southwick

    August 27, 2011 at 10:43 AM

    Great blog, Neysa. I am definitely a lover of first drafts. With revisions, I hesitate, never certain if I’m making it better or worse.

  6. Johanna Harness

    August 28, 2011 at 5:23 AM

    Thanks for this, Neysa. As I read this I’m struck by the fact (again) that I may be very strange. I never show anyone my first draft. First drafts are for me alone. One of my prime motivations to revise is to get my draft to a stage where I feel comfortable sharing it–that may be after two or three revisions. My desire to share the story keeps me going.

    After I get reactions from readers, I will go back and revise again, but the more difficult work is already done.

  7. Carley Ash

    August 28, 2011 at 8:59 AM

    Thanks Neysa. I like the revision stage. It’s when the words start to dance.
    I’m with you Johanna. I want my work polished before I hand it over for critique, and like working with people who do the same since I have a hard time reading something over and over and over – a bit of an attention problem, I suppose.


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