I’m both a really good and a really bad reviser

I’m going through my latest book, Tell ‘Em They’re Amazing, to polish it up in preparation for sending to beta readers. And I’d intended to do all kinds of revision, but somehow it’s just not happening. I’m mostly polishing words. I’m not even doing as much cutting as I thought I would. For instance, I wanted to radically change the opening, and I did…but then I changed it back.

What’s weird is that, in comparison to many authors I know, I’m a very good reviser. I’m willing to make pretty radical changes to a manuscript, including changing major plotlines, throwing out and rewriting entire sections, etc. But I rarely do it on my own. I only ever do it in response to comments.

When I’m looking at my work without any outside guidance, I’m usually like, “This looks amazing!” And it’s only when somebody else has been like, “Err, the pacing is slow,” that I’m finally able to look at it with fresh eyes.

A lot of writers are very proprietary about their words. I’m not. I don’t think there’s anything special about them. I mean, I strive to be a good writer, on a sentence level. I strive for prosody and compression and density…but I also don’t feel like there’s anything in any particular draft that’s irreplaceable. If I write a good passage that’s not quite right, because the scene needs to be cut or altered, then I don’t try to preserve the passage; I just delete it, because I know that I can write another that’s just as good.

The problem is really just that I lack perspective. I don’t see the flaws in something until somebody I trust points them out. Oftentimes I even then don’t see the flaws, but I guess that’s a different problem. But once I understand what’s wrong, I’m almost always able to address it in some way.

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  1. davidperlmutter1

    I’m not a proprietary writer, either. At least not with dialogue. If my editors think my characters don’t need to swear, I cut the profanity. Because it’s their job to tell me that my story will work better with the right kind of changes, and my job to listen.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Yes, I feel like the swearing is a good way to get into the moment, but even if you cut it later, some sense of it remains.

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