The semester is in full swing, and I am really starting to feel it. I’ve got my first big test next week, I’m still reading and writing chapters for my novel writing class, I’m reading submissions for The Gila River Review (the deadline is March 30th!), I’m working almost full time, and I’m editing old stories in preparation for the forming of my “portfolio”. And that’s what brings us here today.
As the title hopefully informed you, this post is about when, and when not, to revise your work.
First, let’s get “when not” out of the way. DO NOT revise your work as you’re writing. This is a terrible idea that writes you into circles and corners. I can’t remember who said this, it certainly isn’t my original phrase, but, don’t let the critic sit down with the artist. When you’re in the process of creating new material, keep writing. No matter how many forms of “to be” are penned, or how many adverbs are included, no matter what, keep moving forward. That’s how books get finished.
It took me a long time to realize that a “finished” story and a publishable story are not the same thing. A finished story, as I now understand it, is one that has a beginning and an end, with some sort of plot and character arc linking them. Only after this has been accomplished should you sit down with that red pen and tear it to shreds.
So let’s get to my favorite part: the red pen.
I know this may seem weird, but I honestly love editing more than I do writing. That’s not to say that I don’t love writing, I just really freaking love editing! I feel more accomplished after sitting with a story for a couple hours and seeing all the changes I’ve made on paper (I ALWAYS edit on hard copies) than looking at what I’ve written in a couple hours. That could have something to do with the fact that I don’t ever seem to write enough, but that’s a topic for another time.
So when do you edit?
Right now I’ve got a pretty good system going. I write my current story, which is the Kevin Foxx novel. That is the only story that I am focusing on creating more content. Advancement of plot, characters, etc. While that’s happening, if I find my attention wandering to new ideas, I outline those. That way, I’m not really writing any new work, but when it’s time to, I have full outlines that will help me focus and remember all those great ideas I had. And then, in order to relax the creativity muscle, I edit stories that are “finished”. I currently have five short stories, all varying from as little as three pages to fifteen pages, that are in some stage of editing.
Now, normally I wouldn’t have so many going at once, I’d focus on one at a time, but my portfolio class meets every other week to discuss how to make one of my stories better, so I’m multi-tasking.
Some of my stories need more work than others. For instance, “Goodbye Marla”, “Wild Turkeys”, and “Fallen Star” all need some minor tweaks to make them the best stories they can be. But, the other two stories, a micro-fiction called “You’ve Always Been Good at Crazy” and my only Sci-Fi piece so far “My Final Frontier” are in desperate need of overhauling.
Obviously, if you loath editing, you’re not going to follow the same patterns as I do. This method is what works for me, and I’m still figuring it out. I’m constantly reorganizing how I approach writing, because I believe that things can always be made more efficient. The more organized I am the saner I feel, and the saner I feel, the happier I am with my decision to commit to writing.
So, experiment. Find out what works for you. Maybe this will. or maybe you’ll try this and tweak it to your own needs and create a unique ritual all your own. Either way, I’m glad you’ve made it this far!