by Pam Lafollette
As I work on revision #437 of my novel-in-progress, I reflect on what it took to get this manuscript to where it is today.
My first novel was 485,000 words: about the size of War and Peace and riddled with the inherent mistakes of a novice—telling-not-showing, meandering prose, lack of conflict, lack of pacing, overuse of adverbs, poor character development . . . and the list goes on. And I thought I could write. Well, in hindsight, I guess I could. I certainly wrote a lot of words. But were they the right words? And how would I be able to tell?
According to industry standards, a story in my genre should be about 85,000 words. Simple math reveals the discrepancy. Obviously, it needed revision; another look in order to correct or improve it. If I want to get this first, ungainly novel published, I’ll have to revise 400,000 words right out of it. I weep at the thought. Therefore, it’s still sitting in a file on my computer, awaiting its day.
Revision is more than fixing commas and typos (proofreading) or rewording, condensing, or rearranging (editing). Revision is taking a critical look at what you’ve written, analyzing it to see if the promise holds true to the premise. It’s searching through layers of information, uncovering weaknesses and vagueness, ferreting out the boring bits, the things that steal energy and interrupt the flow, or the parts that don’t fit regardless of the three weeks to get them worded just so.
How easy it is to uncover errors and shortcomings in the works of another writer yet extremely difficult to detect them in our own. I’m reminded of Matthew 7:3, which asks, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own?”
The peculiar phenomenon is why writers should have a group of reliable, relatable writers in their corners. This is the main reason I joined Women Who Write and the reason I return each month. With them, I have the benefit of not just one extra set of eyes, but as many as twenty. An unexpected bonus is the variety of strength each writer brings to the table (or, more recently, to the virtual Zoom table).
Some members of the group are poets. They transform language into lyrics, bring sound and pattern to sentences, point out nuance and paradox – and I get the benefit of their understanding.
Some members are essayists. Their strengths include humorous memoirs, thought provoking journalism, touches of tenderness, sensitivity, and truth seeking often peppered with slyness – and I get the benefit of their perspectives.
Some members are novelists. Whether writing fact-based or fictional manuscripts, they lure us into other worlds with a promise of truth or adventure and weave a connection to the readers – and I get the benefit of their experience.
Each member contributes a unique point of view which I can incorporate into my revision.
It’s not a short-cut. Each person has spent time and gained experience while honing her craft and is now able to uncover a multitude of writerly sins in a short period of time. While it’s never fun to accept criticism of one’s work, at least it’s delivered in a thoughtful, encouraging, supportive way by women who want to see you succeed as much as you want to see yourself succeed. In other words, we’re here to make you stronger, not make you – or me – cry.
As for that enormous file currently dormant on my hard drive, I’ve no doubt its day will come. I’ll laugh myself silly as I delve through each layer and cut each extraneous word because by then, I’ll have gained the experience of revising other works – both mine and those of my fellow Women Who Write.
For more information on revision, check out the link of the month:
The article deals with the process of revision from the standpoint of a thesis paper but can be applied to all aspects of writing.
Pam Lafollett enjoys writing fiction and reading mysteries, and believes that, at heart, every story is a mystery. She earned a B.A. in Art from the University of Louisville which she managed to turn into a career in retail sales and eventually sales manager for two regional events. She recently retired to pursue a dream of writing the Great American Novel, or at least a really cute cozy mystery, which she hopes to publish this year. She is happily married to her husband of thirty years, has one son, a rescue dog, and a three-legged cat.