A love of writing
One of the reasons I am a writer is that I really enjoy the process of writing. I love the creative process that occurs when an idea pops into my head. It does not matter if it is a poem, a short story, a novel, a blog post, a non-fiction article or even an email to a family member, the same joy of creating is there. This joyful feeling is what keeps me going. It has enabled me to write almost three and a half million words in the last twenty-four years. It has kept me pressing on while spending over twenty thousand hours at my computer keyboard.
The unexpected creative process
One of the exciting things I find about writing, especially when writing fiction, is that I discover unexpected outcomes via the creative process. I might have a general idea of where the story is heading, I may even have a clear plan of the plot, when suddenly a character does or says something unexpected, out of character or just plain startling. The plot can take some bizarre and unplanned twists when this happens. I even find that my thoughts can be railroaded into a side-track when writing blog posts or other forms of non-fiction. It’s all very exciting.
As fascinating as this is, such a sudden turn of events, or change of direction, or unplanned content to one’s writing can have a serious repercussion. The writer can get seriously off-track. A short story about a woman’s struggle with depression (yes, I have had one such story published) could take off in the direction of telling all the woes of her childhood. This is back-story; it is probably not necessary in a 2000 word story. In a 100,000 word novel – perhaps.
The importance of revision
I have discovered over many years of writing that revision is crucial to the whole process of the art, as is rewriting, editing and proofreading. I should write articles on all of these aspects of writing – and I probably have over the years. (You can find them by using those terms in the “search” box at the top of the page.)
In this article, want to focus just on “revision”.
What is Revision?
The process of revision can include the following:
- Reading back over the piece of writing, checking for errors of fact, especially in non-fiction. It can also be crucial in fiction, too; you can’t have a character using a mobile phone if the story is set in the 1960s – unless it is a time travel story, but then, the phone wouldn’t work.
- Correcting the wrong use of words, or constant repetition of words and phrases.
- Recasting sentences which demonstrate poor grammar.
- Checking for spelling mistakes and typos (though this is usually regarded as editing or proofreading, two other important processes of writing).
- Deleting a sentence, a paragraph or even as much as a whole chapter which is unnecessary to the whole work. In one novel I wrote, I had to delete large chunks because it read like a travelogue and didn’t advance the plot.
- Rearranging the order of sentences, paragraphs or chapters to create a more logical flow.
How other writers revise their work
I have included only a few ways in which one can revise your writing. There are many different ways of doing this important process. Each writer is different, and individual writers can vary their own approach, depending on what they are writing.
I recently came across an article 12 Contemporary writers on how they revise. Each writer has a different approach to the same process. At the end of each writer’s segment, there is a link to further articles on that writer, including blog posts, podcasts, interviews and more. I hope that you find it useful.
- What is the hardest part about writing?
- Revising my novel
- Quiet, please – I’m using a chisel on my novel
- Writing a novel – a collection of articles about how I went about writing a novel
Early last week I travelled from my home in Murray Bridge to Clare in the mid north of South Australia. I drove there to support my daughter who was having trouble coping with a health issue (she’s on the mend, we hope).
As I travelled through the beautiful wine growing region of the Barossa Valley I revelled in the wonderful autumn weather. Almost felt like stopping many times to write a few poems. As I moved away from the valley into the wheat and sheep country to the north the atmosphere changed dramatically. There was smoke everywhere. Every second farm was shrouded in smoke from paddocks being burnt by the farmers. This burning off occurs at this time every year as the landholders prepare their fields for sowing a in a few weeks’ time. The rubbish has to be dealt with first, hence the burn off.
It reminded me of how we must treat our manuscripts. Now, I guess we all have those moments of despair with a story, poem, article or novel when all we want to do is scrunch up the paper and heave it into the fire. The farmer is not burning the good earth into which he plans to sow the seed. The burning is to rid the area of weeds and other rubbish. Our first (and often subsequent drafts) usually contain a great deal of “rubbish” writing – words, sentences and paragraphs that need to be “burned off” to allow the good seed – the best of our writing – to grow, thrive and produce a bumper crop.
The first draft – with all the accompanying rubbish – needs to happen. In later drafts through careful editing and rewriting the beautiful words will grow unhindered by weeds and other rubbish.
I received a phone call from my supervising lecturer yesterday with the good news that I’ve passed my Master of Arts (Creative Writing) degree.
And with a Distinction, too.
After three years of intensive, hard and sometimes frustrating work, I finally get to wear the funny hat and gown in a few months’ time. It has been a difficult and testing time, but there have been many highlights and fun times in there as well. My final thesis paper was a 40,000 word novel for children plus a 10,000 word exegesis essay on the research, influences and processes of writing. You can read more about the process in a series of articles here. Now I start the next phase in the process; trying to find a publisher to give my precious novel a good home. This could prove to be the hardest part of all.
So what have I learned?
Doing my degree has taught me some valuable lessons:
- Writers can always improve: no matter how much you think you know about writing, you can always get better.
- Writing is hard work: I have put in literally thousands of hours of writing, rewriting, editing and proofreading into my essays, assignments and novel.
- Writers need persistence: I must admit there were times when I almost gave up, when the task seemed too much or health issues intervened. By persisting I was able to finish the race.
- Writers learn to write by writing: there is no other way. Write, write, write – and your writing skills will develop.
- Rewriting is as important as writing the first draft: too often I have been satisfied with the attitude my first or second draft of a story or poem. Most first drafts are rubbish. My novel went through an incredible 17 drafts before I was truly happy with it.
- Editing is a part of the creative process: I used to hate editing my stories. I found it tedious and boring. I wanted to be rid of the story and to get on with the next one. Editing is an essential part of the writing process; ignore this stage and your writing will remain mediocre – and unpublished. I still don’t love editing, but I have come to appreciate its importance.
- Proofreading is an essential writing skill: editors and publishers are almost unanimous in their chief gripes about writers, and this one is almost always near the top of their list. If you don’t proofread your writing before sending it off to a publisher you stand a very poor chance of having the work published.
I could go on, but these seven things stand out. I probably could add patience too, because that lesson is still coming. Sure, I have had to wait a long time to get my final results, but the wait to hear from a publisher is sure to be much longer, and then the wait to hold the book in my hands may be even longer. But as they say, good things come to those who wait.
And if patience is a virtue, then I must be very virtuous.
Over recent days I have been working hard on editing and rewriting my novel for children. I am going over every word and sentence, making each one earn its place in the finished work. Some words were deleted. Some were added to make the text flow or to add to the meaning.
Yesterday I presented the totally reworked first three chapters to my critique group at university where I am doing my Master of Arts. I thought I almost had these chapters licked, though I did admit I wasn’t entirely happy with the opening chapter. Three of the group had never before read any part of the manuscript, others had read some or all of the earlier drafts. Even after working on the 7th draft, readers still found little things to comment on, and many valuable suggestions for improvement. Is there no end to this process?
That last statement seems very negative. One of the important lessons I have learned during my course and while writing this novel is that I needed to change. I was threatened by the scary prospect of sharing my writing with others. Strange as that idea appears, many writers have this fear. We want our words to be read – but we are often too scared to show them to anyone!
I have learned to welcome my words being read and critiqued by other writers. My precious writing can be scrutinized by others whose eyes are not rose coloured. They can see the good parts and the parts which need improvement, changing or even eliminating. All in a pleasant, constructive way, of course.
Belonging to a writers’ group is an excellent way of improving your writing skills – and your chances of getting published.
Over the last week I’ve been revising my novel for children set in Nepal. Normally I don’t enjoy the editing, rewriting and proofreading stages of writing. I love the creative process of writing a new story or novel. The tedious, nit-picking process that follows I often find boring and uncreative. Besides, I often have more ideas for stories than I can physically get written waiting in the wings. I just want to get on and write them.
I am trying hard to refocus my mind on revision, a very important part of the process of writing. A writer cannot hope to be published these days without this important step because the competition is so intense and publishers are so swamped with manuscripts that they quickly reject those which do not measure up. They just do not have the time nor the resources to take on projects where the writer needs help with the basics of punctuation, grammar, story structure, inconsistent points of view, poor characterisation and all of those other elements which are essential in a published book.
My novel is now in its 4th draft. It’s been hard work getting there, always under the pressure of time. I am still hopeful of completing it ready to hand up for assessment for my Master of Arts in Creative Writing by the end of November. I also have to complete a 10,000 word exegesis essay on the process I went through.
I anticipate that the novel will go through several more drafts before I am completely happy with it. Time to stop blathering on here and get back to it.
- Writing a novel – a series of articles I have written during my journey with my novel.