Monday, 9 December 2013

Thoughts on Writing: the Revision Process

It's always been a secret thought with me that prose rhythms are akin to poetry, or ought to be. Certainly I take my time over sentences that don't sound 'right' to me in their context, whatever that may be.

A good sentence should flow, should be both elegant and fit for purpose - by which I mean it should communicate whatever the writer needed it to communicate, which might be nothing or everything, or any point in between.

Clumsy writing is the last thing I want to find when looking back over what I've written.

Unfortunately, it's almost unavoidable in early drafts.

This is how it happens. You need to present a thought or a situation or a mood, and the words don't want to come, but you don't have time to coax them. You're a professional writer, you have deadlines, you have bills to pay. So you bodge it. You write what is needful and make a mental note to return later - preferably after dark when no one but the cat is there to witness your shame - and rewrite the damn thing so that it says what is needful without leaving mental splinters in your reader's head.

That's one part of the revision process. Sanding off the rough edges.

I'm joking, of course. But when you change even one detail, you quickly realise that nothing happens in isolation. Everything in the novel is interconnected. This is where we get our word 'text' from, a marvellously hard-working word which is related to 'textile' and the idea of weaving.

A less pleasurable part of revision is having to rejig characters who now have beards, or no longer have beards, or whose motivation is entirely changed, or who must now swim the moat instead of swinging across it with the help of trailing creepers.

So once you decide, at the revision stage, that a minor change needs to happen, you also need to find places where a knock-on effect will occur following that change, and to make sure everything remains consistent within the world of your novel. Once you have six or seven 'minor' changes like this to make, the process of scouring the book for places where further changes need to happen becomes quite time-consuming and fiddly.

Meanwhile, you can't help little dabs with the language sander ...

But once you are at revision stage, the hardest work is more or less over. Then you only have the next book to plan and begin. The sunny uplands to climb, where anything is still possible. Until you start writing.

A version of this post originally appeared at Raw Light, February 2011


  1. Did I ever tell you my editor said I couldn't have the murderer I'd selected? I had to write in a whole new character, and a murderer at that, at revision stage. Aaargh.

  2. In fear lest my various editors are listening, THAT'S NOTHING!! Some of the revisions I've been asked to do would make your toes curl. My fav approach is something like this, 'This is a FABULOUS book, we just loved it, what a great read! But it would be even better if you totally change the beginning, middle and ending. Oh, and that main character ... think we should completely change his whole story all the way through. Otherwise no probs. Revisions back in 2 weeks, yeah?'

    Okay, maybe it's not quite that bad. I do love to exaggerate. But there can be a silent scream involved in some revision letters. LOL.

  3. Though I must admit, inserting an entire new character who also happens to be the murderer in a crime novel ... yes, that would sting a little. Vx

  4. Brilliant. And so true...
    Eyes, beards, limps, people seeming to teleport when there's a perfectly good door - It turns what you thought was a perfect text into a dirty cabbage.

    Off to do some cabbage re-forming of my own.

  5. This resonates SO MUCH. I take immense pains over each and every sentence. And then I get "Lovely! Fabulous writing! I wonder if perhaps..."

  6. I love your description of sanding the rough edges of sentences. For me, it's one of the most satisfying parts of revising.

  7. Thanks, all!

    Charlotte, so sorry we didn't get much of a chance to chat at the RNA Winter party. You were looking lovely though, did I say? Vx


Many thanks for visiting my website and commenting! Victoria.