I’ve been reading a lot about the revision process this past week. I was particularly taken with a list created by Madeline Sharples. In her list one particular point stood out. In fact, I can’t get it out of my mind.
She says “Don’t edit as you write. Write, wait a while, then edit.” I thought that for a full-length book she couldn’t possibly mean write one scene or one chapter and set it aside, then revise, then write the next scene or chapter. That must mean write the whole durn book, then wait a while and then edit. Wow, why didn’t anybody tell me this before?
For the first couple of years, it’s true that I needed to keep revising because I had to find my story and how to start it. I thought I had my story—it was about how I grew up with a father who was in some ways wonderful and in other ways a terror. But it wasn’t until I wrestled with getting my memories down on paper that I learned I had to have a very specific string to hang these beads on.
Well, that’s been accomplished for a year now, and I am still revising by scene and by chapter and listening to a lot of advice from my wonderful and smart readers. But it’s time I take Sharples’ advice and just write the book already.
Then I can set it aside to breathe and start my next book about my goofy husband or maybe my cats. Maybe finish my play, my young adult novel, or my poetry manuscript.
Now there’s one caveat to this advice. If you’re a writer like Dylan Thomas , you can skip the advice altogether. He wrote two lines of poetry, revised, and then kept going. He didn’t go back and revise the whole poem. That’s a writer with the final product in his head from the beginning. I can’t even imagine having that ability.