The Rewards and Pitfalls of Early Revision

In my last post, I mentioned why it can be beneficial to self-edit before we finish writing our first draft. If we leave big issues in the beginning, they're harder to fix later without breaking the story. Problems in a manuscript can snowball faster than your neighbor’s flooding bathtub leaking through your ceiling. 

Going back to fix a problem actually helped me move forward with a stronger story. But as we know, there are rewards as well as pitfalls to going back when we're trying to power through a manuscript.

Recognizing Our Own Writing Flaws

I’m in a unique position of helping authors diagnose their story issues, so that mental muscle of mine is in fairly good shape. But not everyone has that charging in the background 24/7. It's difficult to banish blind spots and see our own errors. Especially when we're frolicking in creativity and dishing out the wittiest lovers’ banter. (Ooh, banter!)

So how do you gain self-awareness?

Oncoming Writer’s Block: If you’re familiar with the symptoms of writer’s block, you might sense your writing momentum becoming a bit erratic or slowing down. This absolutely happens to me. I'll be looking for which way to go in a story, experimenting a bit, while writing becomes less fun. That’s a sign to look back at what you have so far with a critical eye. Something might not be working right that's stalling you.

Playing the Reader: Part of getting a sense of perspective is putting yourself in a reader’s shoes. Would a reader be intrigued? Bored? Confused? If so, which moment triggered those reactions for you? Sometimes you need a few days to clear your mind and become the reader, and that’s totally okay—even necessary.

Testing Your Idea: It helps to test your story idea on a writing buddy, a friend, or your editor. Will they see some weak conflict or a hole in your character’s reasoning? Or one issue causing a lot of little problems? If so, that could eventually lead you to the Saggy Middle of Doom while you're writing. Rework your idea to prevent issues later.

Being Brave: It takes some real backbone to look at the issues in your own story. Realizing our writing flaws doesn’t come from a place of skittish doubt or failure. It actually comes from a brave place, a place of courage. That you’re willing to ask yourself “Can this be stronger? Can this be more creative? More unexpected?” and then taking care to fix those issues.

Getting Stuck in Early Revisions

Is this like one of those dreams where we're running through high water or thick mud and we can never get faster and closer to our destination? Because I hate those dreams.

We might feel the same sense of frustration in early revision. We don’t always want to look back at our work when we're in the middle of our first draft. Because the temptation to over-edit and get stuck in the weeds is a very real risk.

But it doesn’t have to be. 

Big perspective: If you find yourself tweaking character expressions and the smallest details, you should probably move on. What if you spend all that time on the little things only to realize later that the scene needs to be cut?

Grinding teeth: When I have an itch to redecorate my apartment, I’ll wander my living room without purpose, mindlessly rearranging things. But I haven’t actually brought anything new to freshen the room. I’ve just been switching around the decor items on my shelf. Nothing is changing.

If you're rearranging the same sentences over and over to no effect, that’s a sign to move on and continue writing.

Are there any tricks and insights you use for yourself?


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