Revision is the best part of writing

I think revision is the fun part of writing. Putting words down on a blank piece of paper or on a computer screen can be daunting, but going back and making the words you’ve already written better and stronger seems easier to me.

One of the revisions I’ve been working on lately is a novel called Time Reich.Frankly, I had a tough time swallowing the sci fi element of the story that I was talked into when workshopping this at the Stonecoast MFA pop fic group. But sometimes we have those Ah ha! or Eureka! moments that show us the way. After being given that gift of discovery, I’ve finally figured out how to make this story really click. The plot is now plausible in a way it wasn’t for me before. I’ve always loved the characters, the setting, the father-son and moral conflicts, the mix of past and present in this story. I’m still revising, but I’ve kept these parts that “worked” and discarded those that didn’t work.

Whenever I’m revising, I can’t help but think about James Michener’s method. The late author has somewhat fallen out of fashion, but it’s worth remembering that he wrote several blockbuster bestsellers, such as “Chesapeake.” He was very methodical in his approach to revision. Michener worked in “typewriter days” (he never made the switch to computers) and he said that once he typed out a page, it always remained page 284 or whatever in his manuscript. First, he would work his way through a chapter, marking places he thought needed more work with a circle symbol in the margin.

Then, as he revised, he would type out additions and past them to the end of the page. Sometimes that one manuscript page would get quite long. Keeping that one page also enabled him to see what changes he had made.

We’ve lost that ability in the computer era because once we delete a word or a sentence, we’ve relegated it to an electronic black hole. That’s too bad, because I think there’s value in being able to go back and see the changes we’ve made in a piece of writing.

That’s what revision is all about … going back and reading your writing again to see its strengths and where it needs to be improved. Where are you going off topic? Do you need to offer more explanation in places? Asking yourself these questions is all part of the revision process for any piece of writing. And in the back of my mind, I always think of Michener with his typewritten sheets unfolding like an accordion as he revises and revises …

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