Friday, August 27, 2010

The Common Wisdom about Revisions

Free-form Friday

I came across a note on Writer Unboxed from someone who writes like I do. Juliet Marillier said:
"I’ve been reading a lot of expert advice lately, both here and elsewhere, about writing your first draft quickly and not allowing yourself to become stalled too early by niceties of style, structure or character. Get the rough and ready bones of the book down, people say, then worry about polishing them and giving them flesh and fine clothing. It makes perfect sense. So why don’t I work that way, and why am I unlikely to try it?"
Juliet goes on to explain that she revises as she writes, usually stopping every two or three chapters to go through the manuscript. Technically, it's one draft, but a draft that has been revised many times.

For may part, I generally do several stem-to-stern revisions after I finish my first draft, but these passes are usually about refining the tone and language, clarifying actions and arc development, and sharpening characters.

I suspect that the common advice to write first and revise later arises from the common trap of revision paralysis: the tendency to become so obsessed with perfecting a part of the text that you're never able to move on and finish the rest of the manuscript.

I further suspect that the advice to keep writing and avoid the temptation to revise is more appropriate for discovery writers: that is, in the first draft of a discovery project it's much more important, given the risk of putting a lot of effort into material you may not use, to explore the lay of the land than to capture the details of each nook and crevice. Writing from an outline, on the other hand, the more confidence you have in the overall shape and thrust of the story, the more it pays to polish as you go.

Image: Photography by BJWOK /