Dissecting the revision process

I’ve got a number of posts from other people’s blogs that I’ve bookmarked, intending to mention them here, but keep forgetting to come back to them. So I’m gonna try to mention a few and clear them out of my bookmarks over the next little while.

The first is one by Maggie Stiefvater, the author of the Shiver trilogy, and most recently, The Scorpio Races. Earlier in January she posted something to her blog where she dissected one of the chapters from The Scorpio Races to show how it changed from first draft to final (she just showed it in one step, though I expect there were probably multiple passes of revisions). This received such positive feedback that she approached a number of writing friends to ask if they’d be interested in sharing their own revision process as well; she posted links to ten other authors who did the same thing.

I found these fascinating because this is something I’ve wondered about for a while. We know (or maybe writers know more than readers do, but I’m sure at some level we’re all aware) that what the author puts down on paper initially isn’t the final version that gets printed. There are changes and fix-ups. Probably as a reader I’d only ever thought of them to the degree of fixing typos, etc, but having been through the writing process myself now I know it’s a lot deeper than that and can involve whole shifts in characters and plot and adding and removing scenes. The chapters chosen by the authors don’t go into that sort of depth, but they do look at decisions to add or remove sentences or paragraphs, tweaking wording, etc., both pointing out what they’ve done and why they did it.

Revisions have always seemed like the toughest part for me. I can write up a first draft, that’s no problem; but during revisions how do I know if I’m focusing my attention where it should go? Am I being harsh enough on my writing? I always felt a little guilty that I left so much of my writing untouched – is this because I’m not being ruthless enough? Am I just not seeing what needs to be cut? Or am I, in fact, changing enough and just have this notion that other authors change more? These dissections helped show me that leaving large sections of my writing mostly untouched was, in fact, just fine.

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2 responses to “Dissecting the revision process

  1. Unless you’re Faulkner of course, who claimed he wrote As I Lay Dying and then didn’t change anything about it. After reading it, I think it could have used revision.

    I agree, as a reader it’s easier to look at the end result rather than imagine what the first draft looked like.

    • Hee. I haven’t read that, though I do recall hearing that about some classic author (could’ve been him).

      I think, once I realized there /were/ first drafts of the books I was reading, I always imagined them to be a sloppy, horrible mess, or at the least quite different from what ended up printed. But as it turns out, in most cases, much of the first draft is preserved, and words and sentences and even whole paragraphs are published in the form they first came out of the author’s fingers. I don’t know why, but something about that feels magical and intimate.

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