I was just chatting by email with my incredibly hilarious and talented friend Sean, who isn’t a huge fan of his first drafts. I totally get that. I, too, hate at least the first five drafts of anything I write. (However, I have to say that Sean’s first drafts are always a lot better than mine, so he really shouldn’t be complaining.)
Revision is a necessary evil in the writing process. In fact, for me it’s not evil at all but the very best part. I know some writers like to get it right the first time around, and these writers generally loathe revision. I can understand this — I used to try for perfection in a first draft myself. But I’ve found that by letting a first draft be as awful as it wants or needs to be, it takes the pressure off and allows you more freedom — particularly in the crucial discovery process of writing. So now I’m into multiple (multiple) drafts. Like anywhere from five to fifty.
I recently came across this excellent revision checklist by literary agent blogger Nathan Bransford. I find a couple of his tips particularly useful: “Do you know what your writing tics are?” and “Does [your conclusion] feel rushed?” These are the things that always get me in the first draft — the laziness that leads to overuse of the same old words and phrases, and wanting to be done so much that I rush the ending — and this is why revision, for me, comprises at least half the process of writing, if not more.
But don’t just take my word for it.
– Michael Crichton: “Books aren’t written; they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”
– John Irving: “Half my life is an act of revision.”
– Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft of everything is shit.”
– (This one’s for you, Sean!) Truman Capote: “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”
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