“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” – James Michener
Re-vision. To see again. I’m revising the 72,000 word first draft of my novel. The biggest obstacle is self-honesty. To revise, I have to find that place where I can be brutally honest with myself about what’s on the page and whether it works. It’s not as if I consciously lie to myself, but I cannot always see my own work clearly.
One way to gain distance is to physically put my manuscript in the hands of another writer, someone I trust. Preferably someone who’s also writing since I like to read something of hers while she’s reading mine. I hand this friend a list of questions along with the manuscript. At this stage I’m especially interested in the main character. Are her actions and words consistent? Are they plausible? Does she change by the end of the book? Is this change believable?
I also ask the friend to mark those places where she wanted to skim or stop reading altogether. I don’t expect her to fix the errors. I just want to know where she popped out of the story. And, I’m not interested in grammar and punctuation, but rather getting the story straight and creating characters. It’s a trap to begin tweaking individual sentences when the big picture isn’t right.
If such a friend isn’t handy, I must find the distance within myself. I may have to step away from the manuscript for a bit or imagine that it’s my friend’s work. Sol Stein, in Stein On Writing, suggests rewriting the title page and inserting someone else’s name as the author. We’re less likely to be misguided about someone else’s work. I have to do whatever it takes to find the self-honesty necessary to see the words clearly on the page.
I’d love to hear what you do to gain the necessary distance to revise.