Revise, rewrite, resubmit

The essence of writing is rewriting

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

— Terry Pratchett

It’s incredibly cold out tonight, so in lieu of going to my normal coffeeshop writing group, I’m staying in and trying to rework a short story I want to submit for publication.

You know, I hear all these quotes about revision, like the old saw “Writing is rewriting,” and yet every time I hear them I go “Yes, but how do I do that?

Serious question. For some reason, I have real trouble understanding how to revise. (Somewhere my incredibly patient college professors, especially Drs. Chemers and Arons who read a lot of my writing over four years, are going “Noooo, really?” )

I am Jack's complete lack of surprise.

I know, I know, there are books out there that will tell me how to revise, and blog posts, and I should go looking for that, but I’m also just curious what revision looks like for people. Because what I end up doing is sitting down and looking at whatever it is I wrote and going “Yeah, that’s — I mean that’s pretty much it.” I can do line edits, and I can generally do cuts, but I don’t understand how to rewrite, the way people talk about it. I don’t have a process. Something about that eludes me. Unless it’s a complete overhaul, starting from scratch: I’ve heard there was some famous author whose process included writing a novel, locking it in a drawer, writing the entire thing again from memory, locking that draft in a drawer, and writing it again. This is a process I have often considered trying.

So for the writers out there, here’s my question: what are the actual mechanics of your revision and rewriting process? When you sit down with your work, what do you do to make it better?

3 thoughts on “Revise, rewrite, resubmit

  1. Lots and lots and LOTS of red pen. I ruin my margins with arrows and long conversations with myself about whether something makes sense or needs to go somewhere else. Lots of crossing out whole sections and realizing they’re the right thing in the wrong place, and need to be given to a different POV character. Lots of writing out notes and outlines to myself, to make sure things come together in a way that makes sense. (I honestly like this part more than the writing part! So I’m always happy to ramble more about it.)

  2. Read it backwards, paragraph by paragraph, last first, first last. Sentences too. You can distill that way, by scraping up. What falls to the bottom is the densest. Or the dentist, if you’re into killing tooth doctors.

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