#76: Revision Paralysis

Today’s question—or rather, today’s concern—comes from @MardouLedger on Twitter:

I think this is a very common anxiety, especially among those of us who tend to write first drafts that we really like, or who draft a lot more than we revise. Drafting and revising are two different skills, and if you’re more skilled at drafting, revision can feel very clumsy and awkward by comparison.

To start with, if you’re not sure what revision entails or should entail, take a look at my post on “What is revision?”. That will get you grounded in the basics.

Next, put your work in some format that makes it very easy to save copies. Google Drive keeps a history of all changes made to a file. Scrivener saves history files; this can get a little wonky when used with DropBox or Google Drive, so make sure Scrivener is set to save directly to a folder on your hard drive and then use the DropBox or Google Drive app to automatically back that folder up. Or you can manually save each draft as a separate file. However you go about it, make sure you have a way to go back to where you were. That way, no change you make is permanent, and if you decide you dislike it, you can undo it. Backups render your beautiful draft impervious to ruination.

I almost always recommend finishing a draft before revising it, and I especially recommend that in this case. If revising makes you anxious, and you revise before a draft is finished, that anxiety can get in the way of finishing it at all.

When you do finish a draft, practice revising it, even if you’re pretty happy with it. Revision is a skill, or a set of skills, that you can develop with some time and effort; the more you revise, the less it will stress you. Besides, no draft is perfect.

Getting assistance from someone who’s good at revisions is always a good idea, especially if you know it’s not your strong suit. In addition to talking to editors and beta readers, ask around among your writer friends and see whether you can find someone who feels they’re a much better reviser than drafter. They may be able to give you good tips from a writer’s perspective (and maybe you can share some in return).

Most importantly, less on the technical side than on the relationship-with-work side, get to know the core concepts of your work. If you’re the analytical sort, analyze your draft closely, making notes on what you feel is central to it, what you love about it, what you’re most afraid of ruining with your revisions. If you’re more in touch with your emotions, reread your draft and seek out the parts that make your heart sing, as a reader and as a writer. Revision is ideally done in service to the work. When you have a strong, clear idea of what your work is and what it’s trying to be, you’ll have a much easier time helping it along its path.

Happy revising!


Story Nurse

This advice is brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon and donors through Cash.me and Ko-Fi. Got a writing question? Ask the Story Nurse!

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