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Revisions for Writers

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 27, 2011

When you finish writing a book, do you delve into revisions immediately, or do you take a break to gain some perspective on your work?

I’ve planned a few weeks off to go holiday shopping, address greeting cards, and spend time with family. When I get sufficiently antsy, I will drag out my 479 page manuscript and begin the intense process of revision. For me, it is intense because I scrutinize every word, every sentence. My first run-through is for line editing, i.e. tightening word choices and sentence structure, deleting repetitious passages, condensing exposition. That’s not really so hard. What causes me more difficulty is continuity. Didn’t my character already explain about such-and-such a few chapters ago? What day of the week is it, anyway? What was she wearing when she started out on this adventure? These things are harder to keep track of, especially in a long book. And dang, I’d vowed to write shorter, and here I am with the longest work ever. Oh, well. The story had to be told. Now it’s my job to see how much better I can make it.

I may have to put off this process until after the holidays, because of travel plans and holiday parties and other distractions. You really need to reserve a block of time when you can examine the book as a whole. That’s the only way to get a sense of continuity and to remember what you’ve written. Make sure all loose ends have been tied up and that the finale doesn’t feel rushed. You want the reader to close the last page with a happy sigh and a sense of emotional satisfaction.

Under ideal conditions, you should allow sufficient time to go through your work as many times as needed to polish it to near perfection. It’ll never be totally done. You might as well accept that now. You’ll always find more to improve. Sooner or later, though, you get too close to the material or too sick of working on the project to read it again. That’s a sign that it’s time to submit your baby. You have to let go, and any further improvements can hopefully be made at the copyediting stage. Just be sure when you send in your work that it’s the best it can be.

So now I’ll repeat the above question. When you finish writing a book, do you delve into revisions immediately, or do you take a break to gain some perspective on your work?


2 Responses to “Revisions for Writers”

  1. Jeanne Meeks - said

    I prefer to write/edit, write/edit, so my first novel, Rim to Rim–Death in the Grand Canyon, has been revised 50+ times. I finally put it aside and then went back to read it like a reader…and I enjoyed it. I guess that’s good sign. A publisher has it now and I have my fingers crossed. If I’m to be a regular author, I’d better get better at my revision process. Thanks for your blog article.

  2. Good luck, Jeanne! Waiting for a response is difficult, but it’s best to move on to the next project. And yes, revisions are part of the process.

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