The Revision Process – Part 1

March 14, 2011 By: Christopher D. Eldridge Category: Writing Craft

If you’ve never written a novel before, you may not grasp what it means to revise a manuscript, especially one over a thousand pages long. Some people think revision is going back through, checking typos and fixing misplaced punctuation. That’s proofreading or copy editing. A more appropriate term for revision might be rewriting. You see, writing the first draft of a novel is relatively easy. Once that first draft is finished the work has really just begun. Now I can’t speak for authors whose craft has been shaped and polished over a career of writing and publishing several books or more as their revision process might be quite different.

I like to think of writing a novel in terms of building a house. After the first build is completed, you realize when it rains the roof leaks. Then the plumbing doesn’t work right. Lights flicker on and off. As there are a thousand things to go wrong with your house, so is true for a novel. These problems of poor construction can be pacing, plot, story arcs, characterization, or countless other things that may not be working in the novel. But I’ve already built my house, so I can’t simply just build a new one. So I tear the whole thing down, salvage what I can, and start all over.

What makes the revision process all the more difficult for me is that I’m creating a ten plus book series. I have to plan and work things out in my head for a number of things that may not come to fruition for ten more books and several more years. Then I have to hide subtle hints of these so that on the first read they may appear virtually invisible to the reader. This has to be done, because once my first book is published, there’s no going back. And often times a single change can alter not only the rest of the book, but the entire series.

Revising a novel can be a nightmare. I’ll quote one of my favorite authors, Patrick Rothfuss. He conveys quite perfectly how you sometimes feel in this seemingly endless process:

People want to believe that the act of creation is a magical thing. When I write, I am like some beardy old-word god, hewing the book from some raw piece of literary firmament. When I write, the muse is like a lithe, naked woman, sitting on my lap with her tongue in my ear.

And you want to know the truth? Sometimes it’s exactly like that. Sometimes when I write, I’m so full of adrenaline that I could lift up a truck. I can feel my tripartite soul burning in my chest like molten gold.

But sometimes it sucks… I get bored revising the same chapters over and over. My back hurts from hunching over the keyboard. I am so tired of f***ing spellcheck…

I’m tired of trying to juggle everything: the plotlines, the character arcs, the realistic depiction of a fantastic world, the pacing, the word choice, the tension, the tone, the stories-within-stories. Half of it would be easy, but getting everything right at once? It’s like trying to play cat’s cradle in n-dimensional space.

The truth is, sometimes I’m so sick of sitting in front of this computer I could shit bile.

And yet, although this may be true at times, we writers continue to slog through the process, even after years and years of never finishing, because we love the creative process. It’s our passion. But to try and write for a living is a much more difficult process than most realize. Like most things in life, you don’t come to understand something until you’ve experienced it for yourself.

Check back for Part 2, where I’ll give an example of a scene before and after revision.

2 Comments to “The Revision Process – Part 1”

  1. Laura Chick says:

    Wow, there is so much work in writing a novel, I continue to be amazed at your dedication to your craft and your dream of being published. When those royalty checks come rolling in, you will have earned every single penny of it. Thanks for the first chapter of both your ‘old original’ and your new revised copy. I remember your original, and actually loved that one too! Your gift is evident either way, so all those choices are up to you, the creator, the birth-giver. All I have to say is this…..NEVER GIVE UP! And take me to dinner when your first royalty check appears in the mail. HA.

    • Thanks, Laura. Sometimes remaining dedicated is difficult, despite the immense love I have for writing. It isn’t because the passion or the desire fades, but rather the confidence that can wax and wane. When I was younger, I let months, even entire years pass without writing. The belief in my own talent had faded and I felt as if I would never be good enough to get published or be successful as an author. This has been one of the hardest things to overcome. Self-doubt is prevalent in all of our lives and in most careers, but it is especially so in writing. Thankfully, I’ve come to grips with this. I am determined to become an author and believe in my heart-of-hearts that I am capable of doing it. But every now and then the doubt creeps back. I’m in it for the long haul, however, and will not give up. Having such a supportive group of friends, family, and fellow writers is what really helps hold me up. So thanks for the endless support. And for all those who’ve stood by me, they too will reap the rewards.


Leave a Reply

  • To Main Website

  • Contact

  • Visitors

  • My Story as a Visual Representation

  • My World