Revision

If you’re a writer, you know the word already. Hell, you probably dread the word. Time for budget cuts.

Or if you’re like my brother, every revision adds still more to the tale. C’est la vie.

“In Wilder Lands,” my brother’s book.

The fact is, at some point, we come face to face with the specter of our finished draft and we are forced to ponder: how shall I be altering you today, my sweet? Will you be carving out some of the old? Adding bits of new spices? Or simply flipping some of the meaty bits and shifting the details around?

Hungry yet? Good. So am I. Make yourself a snack when we’re done here.

The purpose of revision is, above all else, to hone what you have to…well, let’s call it the purpose of your novel. Revision is removing the extraneous and shoring up the rest, smoothing your characterization, action, and all the other good bits to flow into the heart of what makes your novel so special.

The ultimate goal is to make your novel the best it can be. Tragically, you will lose a lot of good stuff to get there—not because you found fault with the words even, no, but because it didn’t add to the book. It may not harm it, all snuggly and warmly tucked into your book there, but unfortunately in the novel business you have to do one better than “but it doesn’t hurt!”

Ruthless. Potentially with a side of crazy.

When it comes to revision, you must get ruthless.

You will lose pieces of humor, doses of character interaction that swell your own self with pride at how they shone—but if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit. If you’re smart, you’ll stick these little gems into files or folders or cast them to the world for nostalgia or entertainment. But you have to realize that cherish them as you might, you may also never see them again.

Now, while some of the younger audience (I’m looking at you, reader #3) pauses to consider what that little rhyme was a reference to, I’m going to go take a scalding shower now, as I know all too well.

But before I go, and perhaps most importantly, I know that many authors look at their books, their poems, their essays and what have you as their children, their lovers, their…well, you get the sappy little picture.

Don’t.

I say this not because I’m a heartless fellow, but rather because I recognize the woes of having too much heart. Cherish your creation as exactly that—your creation, your accomplishment, but if you begin to add such words to the thing, binding it ever more dearly to your heart, then you’re going to feel the part of a bloody murderer when you have to take an axe to it.

And you will. It’s part of being a writer. You write, you chop it up, trim the fat, and shape it ever so carefully into what you truly want it to be. That’s revision. Then you watch someone else take a chainsaw to your carving and play around with what comes out.

No one likes to think they just chain sawed their kid. Although, in hindsight, it probably does explain why we drink so much. Also: why editors get such a bad rap.

A bottle of American rye whiskey

The whiskey. Coming for writers since…the dawn of whiskey? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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