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In praise of revisions

October 3, 2013

I hate revisions.

Seriously. I hate revisions even more than I hate Ab Ripper X–the ab routine I do after most of the days when I do P90X lifting. I hate revisions more than I hate Brussels Spouts. More than I hate the Yankees, even.

Okay, maybe not that much. But you get the idea.

And yet, if you’re going to be good at your craft, you’re probably going to spend a lot more time at revisions than you will writing. For me, writing is fun–it’s a giant exercise in putting words on the page and making people do stuff and because I don’t worry too much about perfection, the numbers I put up make me feel manly and confident.

And while I rarely read a first draft and cringe, there’s a huge amount of work to be done after that draft is done. This is a basic truth of writing, but it’s really not one I learned until I submitted my probably the best thing I’ve ever written to the RPLA contest this year. It’s a relatively short story–about 1500 words if I remember. And when I got to the end of it I could honestly say that I wouldn’t have changed a single one of them.

But it took a lot more time to get there than it took me to get the stupid thing written in the first place. And the piece I wrote in the first place was pretty damned good. The problem is, pretty damned good isn’t the best I can do. It isn’t good enough to win the RPLA–and honestly, that’s what I want to do this year.

I probably spent five times the amount of time on revisions than I did writing the first draft. And on this first draft, I took my time, rather than sprinting through. I went several rounds with it myself. Then I set it aside and let it breathe and went at it again. Then I put it away again and went at it again.

In revisions, you aren’t creating anything. You’re fine tuning, and some of those revisions involved a good half hour of reading and checking back on things and I only changed one or two words. But for this story, I read it until I didn’t want to change a word. Then I read it again and didn’t want to change a word.

Then I put it away and read it again and didn’t want to change a word.

Part of me thinks that when you call it writing, that’s misleading. It’s writing and revising and revising and revising and revising.

First drafts are fun. Revisions are work. But that’s the bit where the difference is made.

That’s where you elevate your work.

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