Giving Myself Permission to Revise

I began an overall revision of my first 85,000 words while on my summer writing retreat, where seven days of quiet introspection led me to focus on the details of my work and the beautiful landscape.

Once again I’m preparing to break the sacred first-draft rule: Don’t revise.

I break this all the time, but don’t always admit to it.

When I blogged about submitting my first draft to my critique group in mid-September, Jody Moller asked what kind of first draft it was. I admitted then that the unfinished manuscript had been edited to some degree, and if I had actually written the ending, maybe I’d be calling it the second draft.

While writing the first 85,000 words of LOST NOTES, whenever I got truly lost, I went back to the beginning to reread and rethink the characters. That gave me some new insights on my protagonist’s development, which then got the story rolling in the right direction. I was able to correct some major issues. (Think the Barbie Jeep method with plenty of braking and reversing.) Changing my protagonist was one of the biggest changes that came out of those wave-like rounds of revising. But each one yielded book-changing epiphanies.

Then there was the actual revision work that ate up August and September. It’s always asking a lot to hand over that many words to a select group of writers. I wanted a polish on these fragile early pages. Not necessarily a high-gloss final polish, since that tends to obscure the real problems, but maybe a semi-gloss. Or at least an eggshell. (Can you tell I’m in the process of picking wall paint for my office?) That work was partially line editing, but mostly looking for places to cut and dead-end scenes to re-invigorate. So that’s why, when answering Jody’s question, I said my first draft was more like a second draft. Minus the ending.

And now I’m still struggling to nail down that ending. Trying to pull everything together. I revised my outline, and cut down the number of scenes, but I keep throwing the brakes on every time I inch forward. Things don’t feel right. Not yet. And I am beginning to suspect that it’s because I need to do one of those wave-like revisions, starting at the beginning of Section 3, and flowing through to where one of my characters is reunited with her father. Which is where I’m stuck right now.

And so that, my friends, is exactly what I’m going to to do. Give myself permission to go back to the beginning of this section and muck around. Make changes. Make observations. And hopefully, at the end of that process, I’ll make some headway.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Fiction, Plot, Revision, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Giving Myself Permission to Revise

  1. Dunx says:

    Rules are made to be broken, and it sounds like you have a handle on your process so I am sure you are doing the right thing. Indeed, if the story is improved by the revising then it has to be the right thing.

    • Good points, Duncan! Thanks for commenting. I do feel like this process has worked so far with the other two-thirds of the book, and I can only hope it’ll get me going again in this final third.

  2. I say, you do what have you have to to make the story work. Usually I’m against editing in the first draft stage. However, that being said, my WIP will probably need a makeover before I keep going because it keeps changing as I go along. (I’ll thank my pantsing-self for that one.) So, you do what you have to to make it work, Laura. 😀

    • Very good advice, Emerald! It’s funny how I expected to be able to keep moving forward since I’m using an outline. But since it’s a squishy sort of outline, I’ve had to make adjustments, and perhaps it’s in these setbacks where I am surprising myself and adding that sense of excitement that comes along with pantsing.

      • There’s nothing like being a pantser for sure! It does have it’s excitements. “Where’s the book going from here? Just keep going and see!” But it has it’s downfalls too. Sometimes you have to go back and readjust some scenes and chapters. Either way, I’m glad you’re getting that feel of excitement but still being able to work with an outline. I think you might be able to hold the title of a plotting-panster or a pantsing-plotter. You choose. 😉 (Two more terms for our glossary of writing terms!)

        • I have spent years trying to add plot into my pantser novels… so I totally get what you’re saying! I love the idea of a hybrid method. And another glossary term! I’d have to say I’m more of a plotting-pantser, since my outline has been so fluid and I’ve pantsed my way through all my scenes.

  3. So helpful! I’m in the first draft stage (finished a month ago) and now have a name to what I’m doing: the Barbie Jeep method! And I feel a little at ends right now… it really helps me to read this and other writers’ blogs about how they do things. I can glean a little here and a little there that help me on my way. But ultimately it’s just me and that manuscript, finding the way to make it strong as possible and get to second draft and beyond. And it will take a while to get there because my draft is definitely more of a first draft than a second draft!

    • Excellent, Julia! I look forward to hearing more about your process. I have definitely been feeling lost lately, and I agree that it’s great to read about other writers’ methods as an inspirational jumpstart. Good luck on your revisions and transitioning to the next draft!

  4. Hey, it’s YOUR work, and ultimately, there are no real rules to how you’re supposed to write. The process is individual to everyone.

  5. One interesting thing to think about is the point Audry Taylor makes over at her blog ( “the majority of published stories used to be serials. Newspapers put out many of the great ‘novels’ in regular installments for on-going serializations until a story had either exhausted itself or wrapped up as the author originally planned for it to. Dumas, Dickens…many of the writers whose words we worship had to write on the spur of the moment, turn in chapters on a weekly or monthly basis, and work to intense, year-long schedules that we ourselves are mostly unfamiliar with. Both great art and entertainment for the masses have been produced this way.”

    Writing a novel from beginning to end, then revising it from beginning to end, etc. may be the “rule” now, but many novelists didn’t even have that option. You wrote a segment, polished as well as you could, then it appeared and you started the next one. The writers who worked that way would have been amazed at the “rule” about not revising until you get to the end. Which is how I like to work, too (serially), though it’s considered unusual these days.

    I always go back to what my father used to say: “There is only one rule for writing. Write well.”

    • Wonderfully, true words of wisdom. 🙂 I’ve never thought about writing and polishing serially until you and Laura have talked about it. I wonder if maybe I should try that sometime? 😉 Great words for thought.

    • Wonderful link, Anthony. Thanks for sharing. I have never thought about how the popular process changed when literature moved away from serialization. In some ways, when we bring in chapters to critique groups, one at a time, that’s kind of like serialization at least from the perspective of the readers. Every week another installment awaits, and the previous ones are remembered, but not reread.

      I wonder how many writers are working serially like you are. The web is a great platform for that kind of expression.

  6. Emma Burcart says:

    There are way too many rules in life as it is, so I’m glad you are breaking them! It’s is also giving me permission to not just write, write, write and put it away until I’m done with the first draft. I go to a weekly critique group and usually take in about a chapter a week. I also go back through that chapter and make revisions after the critique. It’s not always based on what they say, but somehow reading my pages to others and hearing what they saw and felt helps me look at the pages in a new way. And I always have changes to make based on their reactions. Now I won’t feel so guilty for my process, so Thanks. I say, you shouldn’t feel bad either. We all know ourselves and our stories, so whatever becomes our process probably works for us.

    • Thanks for explaining your process, Emma. I wonder if that’s why I revise in waves the way I do–all that practice attending a weekly critique group and coming home, making changes, then moving forward with the next segment. It is amazing to read pages aloud and listen for reactions (or lack thereof). The very art of reading the words aloud helps diagnose what isn’t quite working.

      I am still frustrated not to be making forward progress, but I’ve approached the new scenes in several ways and still can’t get them to work. So this seemed like the most logical approach.

  7. Victoria says:

    That’s exactly the way I write, jump back and move forward. Do whatever it takes to get your story written. 🙂

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