- My grandmother used to tell me: "There's a right way and a wrong way to do everything."
When I was a child, I believed that. I carefully followed her exact directions on how to iron a blouse, always starting with the collar first, then the sleeves, then the buttons, and so on. I remember being surprised when I watched an aunt of mine do it an entirely different way. I was even more surprised when it turned out just fine.
It occurred to me then that maybe what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for someone else.
So how does this apply to writing?
- It's a truism that good writing is about rewriting. The magic doesn't happen without careful revision.
- However, many experts also advise against revising until the first draft is complete.
The theory is--and I think it's true for many writers--if we get bogged down in revision too early, we will become discouraged or stuck. In looking for the exact right word we will lose sight of the story's flow.
Not for me. For me, revision begins as soon as I put down the first sentence. I cannot move to the next sentence until I'm happy with the first.
This sounds tedious, I know. How can I ever get anything done if I spend all my time going back and back and back?
To be honest, I don't know. Maybe I'd be a better writer, at least a more efficient writer, if I followed advice and completed a draft first.
But I can't. Quite literally, I can't do it.
Here's how it goes for me:
- During the first draft process, I read/revise what I did yesterday, then move forward, revising wording, order of events, or sentence structure as I go. By the end of the day I usually have four or five pages I'm happy with.
- Halfway through (or sometimes sooner) I reread the whole novel up to then and revise whole sections as well as word choices, sentence structure, etc. Here, I'm looking for wordiness, imprecision and vagueness as well as character and plot development.
- When I have a draft, I go through the same way again looking to sharpen the writing and sequence events more effectively.
- Now I put the manuscript away for a time, maybe a few months. I let it "rest."
- When I pick it up again, I may restructure the entire story, changing up characters, reinventing the plot, etc.
I don't know about you, but I have to follow my instincts when I write. Even when someone else thinks there's a better way. There probably is. I just can't follow it.