Revision: is the end in sight?

March 31, 2015 § Leave a comment

We want, unless perhaps very intellectual, to write a readable novel, do we not? Writing something readable is not easy. When I read through my own work, as I am constantly doing these days, reading and re-reading with an adversarial eye to weed out all its flaws, I find that no matter how adversarial I have been there are always more flaws. And however exasperating it is to discover them, I am always dogged by more depressing thoughts. Is this novel interesting? Do these people seem real? Would anyone want to read the novel?

I hate to revise on Tuesday what I wrote on Monday. But this was Trollope’s method, and it is the method of other writers too. So, I have imposed it on myself. All the same, this method of revision does not seem to abbreviate the revision process.

My latest method: a revised print-out of the entire novel is to hand. I read it through, as a reader, for an overall feel of the story. As I read, I highlight the errors until I come to the end. If a chapter is in grave need of revision this may have priority. Before I revise a chapter, I read it again and use another colour pen and find (surprise! surprise!) more mistakes. Then it is time to return to the computer. The idea is to incorporate the two revisions in one go. Alas, I see that there are other things that need to be corrected. In all, three revisions are incorporated in this re-write. The following day I re-read on the computer’s monitor the same chapter and correct it again: I hope that when the chapter is printed off and read as part of the entire revised novel that it will stand up to scrutiny.

An unmarked novel print-out awaits my attention. But Hark! Something is wrong. It needs a new beginning. Not a revised chapter one but a whole new chapter to go before what was chapter one, and will now be chapter two. I believe it was Joyce Carol Oates who said you can only write your first sentence when you have written your last. Might it be true too that you can only write your first chapter when you have written your last?

One thing is clear: if you want advice on how to revise, I am not the person to turn to.


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