Revision Blues

Revision BluesI am under the spell of an unwelcome virus. I like to call it “revision blues”.

All was going so well. I was speeding ahead at the rate of one chapter a day, sometimes even managing a couple, and then it stopped. Full stop.

I don’t quite know what has prompted this. Although if I had to guess, I’d say it is the next chapter… the one awaiting revision. It was my favourite you see. The one I loved to read and reread, the one that captured so beautifully the atmosphere of the entire novel, through both description, dialogue and inner life.Β It was my darling.

And now I have to kill it.

This is the stumbling block. I had no problem cutting everything else, mutilating, transforming, rearranging, and then cutting some more.

I say that I’m revising, but what I am actually doing is rewriting the entire novel. I have changed it beyond recognition. If you could see my printed out volume — the one I have taken the red pen to —Β you’d understand what I mean. There are whole lines, dialogues, pages, chapters gutted out. I have gutted it out, without mercy. Revision hat well and truly on.

But now… here I am, wavering.

I know I have to go ahead and cut it out, or rewrite it at least, so that it may resonate with all the changes the narrative has undergone so far, but my fingertips retract from the delete button. Rebellious.

What do you do, when you have to kill your darlings? How do you do it?

36 thoughts on “Revision Blues

    • Thank you, Mari. I appreciate that. Your comment made me smile and feeling a little more sanguine about the prospect, I’m off to do that long-awaited cutting. Must be done. I don’t want to drown when I’ve almost reached the end.
      Chapter thirty-four, ready or not, here I come! πŸ™‚

  1. So far I’ve put them aside, just in case. I’m currently trying to cut what was a 214K manuscript into 140K. I still have 20K to go, and it’s already bare bones, considering the way it started. I’m cutting to get it to a wordcount that a publisher will accept. Why are you doing it?

    • Thank you, Linda. It is always very helpful to see how other authors deal with problem chapters.
      I have a similar word count problem, although mine is probably dictated by the requirements for the genre I am writing in. It is a suspense/mystery novel, although my writing style is a literary one. I’m not sure if that counts as a crossover genre. Will have to do some more research on that.
      I started out with a 150K draft, but it seems that agents and publishers prefer debut novels to be closer to the 80 to 100K mark, so I’m doing my best to compress it.
      The other issue I have is the addition of a backstory. This is certainly an improvement on the original, but it did end up changing the plot somewhat. The chapters I’ve revised so far, followed the original plot-line with some (not minor, but manageable) changes. These changes have cumulated now to a point that makes the remainder (about 15 chapters) redundant – they simply no longer fit in with the story I am trying to tell or with the way I am telling it.
      I hope that answers your question. Thank you for your comment. Very helpful. Best of luck with your revision. It sounds like a lot of work, but I am sure that you have it under control.
      Warm regards,

      • Ha-ha. I do love writing fiction, so I don’t see that as a problem. The question of sobriety, on the other hand, is probably best left to a bottle of wine.

      • Wow, it sounds like you’ve got a lot more work ahead of you than I do. Make sure you keep everything you remove, and keep the original too. Once it’s all revised you might find things you want to stick back in there in some form or another.

        Most of the publishers I found said 80K-100K as well, but I found ONE who would go up to 140… The alternative is to turn it into more than one book, which is also a definite possibility at this point, but of course it’ll be a lot more work.

        Thanks very much for the encouragement. Best of luck with yours too! πŸ™‚

      • Yes, there is quite a bit of work still left to do, but I know where the story is going, having plotted it out (loosely mind, as I like to leave space for changes if a character decides to go another way), so if I can return to my usual pace I should be able to finish revision before Christmas.

        It certainly sound to me like you have another book in there, but of course it would be a lot more work, and I know that feeling of wanting to finally bring it to a conclusion.
        Look forward to hearing how you are getting on. Hope it all goes smoothly from now on. πŸ™‚

      • I don’t really understand why they have these restrictions – other than the fact that they have to sit down and read all the manuscripts that look good from the beginning. πŸ˜›

        Hope yours does too. It’s kinda nice knowing I’m not in this boat all on my own. πŸ™‚

      • I think it has to do with what sells best. Modern readers have little patience with Dickensian prose, so the publishers demand that authors write accordingly. I understand it, but it is tough, when you feel that you are limited in how much of the story you can tell. Sometimes the plot simply requires more words, but I am doing my best to cut every single word that seems unnecessary.
        We are certainly in the same boat πŸ™‚

  2. Just cut it πŸ™‚ But first, open a scrap document and paste it into that. That way it doesn’t hurt so bad. Then over time you’ll heal the sorrow. Out of sight, out of mind. But it’ll always be there if you like to read it, or possibly use it somewhere else. In another novel for instance. Just a thought. That’s what I do. I’ve cut so much I need a transfusion to replace the blood loss.

    • “I need a transfusion to replace the blood loss.” This is exactly how I feel. I’m cutting and rewriting piece by piece. Three and a half pages in at the moment and it seems to be going ok. I have followed your advice and opened another document into which I’m pasting each fragment that I will not keep – so far all of it – but I may save a line of dialogue or two. Will see.
      Thank you, Erik.

      • Always my pleasure. Writers work together. And it is better safe than sorry, says the cliche in my mind. I have hundreds of pages of scrap documents saved over the years; documents I go back to for inspiration, and the occasional tidbit to add to a present novel. No writing is ever wasted. It can always be either learned from or used elsewhere.

    • Thank you so much. I felt so encouraged by everyone’s advice and messages of support that I managed to write four pages worth before going to bed last night. I’ll be keeping the chapter for a rainy day, meanwhile, I’m marching ahead with revision.

  3. Oh, sadly I know this feeling well. But we must all slay our darlings. I find that time helps… if I can get away from it for a little bit then I’m not so unable to see the forest for the trees when I come back to revise. But– I don’t envy you! I edited my last manuscript nine times, ignored it for a year and just had it edited by someone and am going to go through it one. last. damn. time.
    So, I feel you.

    • Thank you, Aussa. I really appreciate that. I’m on my fourth revision now, but I had a much longer break between my third and fourth (long enough to have written another two novels in between). This one is the big one. Once it is done I will be ready to put the book in front of an agent and keep my fingers crossed that they like it enough to take me on.
      What I have now and didn’t have when I first wrote the novel is both more writing experience and a much better understanding of the craft of writing. This is why in many ways this is more of a rewrite than a revision.
      Best of luck with your ninth. I really hope it goes well and it ends up being your final one. However much we love our characters, it is nice to think that one day we’ll let them loose on the world and move on to the next. πŸ™‚

      • With a little more work and a little more patience, I’m sure we’ll get there. Let me know how your last revision goes, Aussa. Hope it will be good news all around.

    • Thank you, Winifred. Giving myself a little break certainly seems to have helped. I am now at a point were getting on with revision is more important than saving my darlings, so I hope it bodes well for what lies ahead.
      Warm regards,

  4. Oh, Vic, I’m sorry! I agree with everyone else, I always keep the original and hack away at a copy. I had to cut out whole scenes plus just to meet my publisher’s word count cap of 100k for submission, and that hurt. I’m not looking forward to the copy-editing process at all. (On another book, I have 2 different versions of the same story from doing the whole rewrite thing and now I’m torn between which version I like better!) 😐 The most important thing is that it feels right to you when you’re all done. Good luck! πŸ™‚

    • Thank you, melodyspen. It does hurt when we have to let go, doesn’t it? I’ve been enjoying the revision so far, and did not expect for this to happen, which perhaps accounts for it feeling rather dreadful not that I’ve come to it.
      Best of luck with the new book. I am sure that you’ll find a way of choosing between the two versions. You may find that your publisher could recommend different versions for different markets – so perhaps you might get away with having both πŸ™‚ Always worth a try.
      Warm regards,

  5. Always ask your characters first. No, I’m not being flippant; think about how much of their personal story they would like (or need) to be revealed, and then amend as necessary. Sometimes this might mean adding more before cutting back but, hopefully, this will lead you towards a stronger overall story. As everyone else seems to say, keep a copy as it might be easier to revisit and re-edit the original rather than the revised version (if that makes sense). I don’t drink tea, but, as my wife says to me, ‘it’s always better if you leave it alone to brew a little’. Good luck!

    • Thank you, Chris. It was my characters who brought me to this impasse. After finishing the first draft of my novel I was elated that I had managed to actually tell a story from start to finish, but something irked me and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what.
      After reading two dozen books on best revision practices and the craft of writing I finally understood. My main character’s backstory was incomplete. I thought I could get away with discovering it as I went along, but it didn’t work, and she appeared weak as a result. Her actions were consistent, but that was not enough. What was missing was her past (literally yes, but also figuratively).
      So I took some time to get to know her better. We had long conversations about where she comes from, what were important events in her life, what quirks of character she had, painful memories, happy ones. Once all this was done, I knew what I needed to do.
      By changing her, giving her depth, I also changed her behaviour, her reactions, the way she interacts with others, and subsequently I ended up changing much of the story.
      It is however not her, as much as one of my male characters who are giving me trouble at the moment. He is one conflicted guy. Doesn’t seem to know what he’s about. Or if he does, he hasn’t told me yet. I’ll have to force his hand and make him show his cards.
      Great advice, Chris. It’s certainly very helpful for me to think of it this way.
      Will let you know what my characters make of this new plan of attack.

  6. For me, It’s at the point when I’m really just frustrated with the piece and need to cut words. By then, I feel like I’ve lost my connection to the piece and it’s no longer a darling. If I don’t have to cut the words, I try to rework the descriptive bit into a better form.

    But the Blues are hard to handle. I’m currently in the middle of a major revision on a short story and keep hitting my head upon the ‘where do I trim now’ wall.

    • That β€˜where do I trim now’ wall is a familiar one to me. I find it easier to cut words than whole chapters, especially when it is one like this, which works well by itself, but unfortunately no longer works within the narrative as a whole.
      Thank you, Van.

  7. Pingback: Let me get into your head! Pretty please? | vic briggs

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