Shelley Widhalm

Motivation to Revise

In 52: A Writer's Life, Editing, Revising, Writing on October 13, 2013 at 11:00 am

Normally I’m not a procrastinator until it comes to editing my own work.

But once I start editing, I want to get to the end of it, so that I can say I’m finished. To complete my self-assigned task, I put in the time just so I can be done.

My problem is that editing a novel isn’t a one-time affair. It requires several revisions from the overall structure down to the grammar.

That means nine months later I’m still editing my nearly 90,000-word novel, “The Fire Painter,” about a 30-something artist named Kate who loses everything in an apartment fire and tries to get back her lost things.

In my fourth edit, which I finished in early July, I revised directly on the computer screen, reading the manuscript from start to finish. I noticed where I got bored and asked way.

I tightened up description to speed up the pace. I slimmed down the dialogue, noticing where it got repetitive or boring or included conversational fillers. And I looked at the beginnings of each paragraph to look for variety, cutting any repetitions of “the,” “I” or other words.

I read through Kate’s sections first to keep her story whole, seeing that there was a plot gap when I assumed a mention in the secondary character’s section was enough. I also noticed that I started two scenes one after another with Kate looking in her wardrobe deciding what to wear.

Nice catch there, I have to admit, because a wardrobe malfunction isn’t good, on stage or in a book.

I then took two months off before my edit on hard copy, where I tried to be a picky reader. I looked for missing elements and things I liked and didn’t like. I looked for inconsistencies. And I evaluated the depth of my main characters, adding to their voices.

Editing on screen allowed me to immediately make changes as I edited, while the paper version doubled the workload – I had to type in all the changes after making them in pen.

But editing on paper makes mistakes more glaring – black against white instead of on a computer screen with the programming tags on the borders. For me, editing this way feels more natural, growing up in the paper-and-pen world of the 1980s.

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  1. I’ve heard the paper method is particularly powerful. I always love learning how other writers revise. Do you also share your work with readers to get a fresh perspective?

    • I’m part of a writers group and share my work with them, as well as a couple of my writing friends. They point out stuff that I miss or hadn’t thought about. Do you belong to a writers group?

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