Quick Note: I’m about to start revising the novel I wrote during November (NaNoWriMo!), and I have some problems when it comes to revising large pieces. They seem to massive for me to take on, so I’ve been doing research on how to approach it. I decided to make a series of blog posts that all relate to this topic. Many of them will be based off James Scot Bell’s Plot & Structure. I’ll break down the steps he uses to revise a work of fiction into a series of blog posts on the topic, and phrase them in my own words to help me understand each part more. Also, these posts will be geared more toward fiction, but you can use many of the tips to revise creative nonfiction and poetry as well.
Let It Cool:
Imagine you have this volcano in your head that’s bursting with ideas that you want to write about. Bits of plot lines and characters swirl in the magma, hot with excitement for you to write them. One day the volcano erupts and all of these fragments of ideas and characters come together into a massive flow of lava that’s slowly moving down the rocky volcano side and into the surrounding area. The lava looks smooth and red like strawberry taffy in a taffy puller. A small crust of rock is starting to form on top of the lava, as thin as caramelized sugar on crème brûlée. Off in the distance you see a human, a tiny little creature with an adventurous soul, standing and watching the aftermath of the eruption. Now freeze that image in your mind.
The volcano here is your writer-self, who likes to spew out a lot of writing and drink coffee at ten o’clock at night and has too many notebooks for her own good. The human is your editor-self, who likes to settle down in comfy chairs with a cup of tea and a red, felt-tip pen. The lava then, as you might guess, is your first draft. Your first draft is a hot mess. It’s full of grammatical errors, poor characterization, and plot holes.
Now let’s go back to the image. Unfreeze it. The volcano has gone quiet, and the lava is still hot. The human stands watching for a moment, before she starts sprinting toward the lava. She wants to touch it. She wants to feel how smooth the molten rock is even though she knows that touching lava is a bad idea. You watch her as she dips her hand into the lava, and you watch as she jumps back from the pain of being burned.
Your editor-self is going to want to revise your writing the moment you stop writing, but she shouldn’t. The writing is too hot, and your editor- self won’t be able to revise it as best as she can. You need to let the lava cool. You need to set aside your first draft for a while and distance yourself. (Depending on the length of the piece, you might want it to sit in your drawer or desktop folder for a few weeks to a few months. My first draft of my novel hasn’t been touched at all in about a month. It’s been mostly untouched for about four and half months.) Don’t go let the human touch the lava until it’s harden into rock. Don’t let your editor-self start revising until your writing has had time to cool off.
The first draft will sit on the back burner of your thoughts, stewing quietly. You might think of things to add to the plot or to the characters during this time. Jot them down in a notebook if you have to. Otherwise, keep your distance. It’s all for the best. In the meantime, work on writing and revising other stuff.
Links to other posts in this series: