The Agony of Revision

I’ve used this image before. It is the ships of the Pallbearers fleeing Earth after the Day of Transition. In The Peaceful and Just, book one of To See Many Stars, Arlat is about to show this image to Kavela and the rest of the companions. This is where they really begin to understand that they are pieces in a larger puzzle.

If you’re like me, every time you return to words you have written on a page, you critique them, reading them over, trying to find a new way to arrange them in your head. This process is what we call revision. I think of it like a sculptor. I have plotted out my creation with notes, and then perhaps drawn a few pictures of my plan, and now I am massaging the piece itself, taking off a sliver of material here, reshaping another part there. The problem comes with knowing when to stop. After all, if I keep cutting away at my work of art, won’t it eventually be stripped down to nothing? Then won’t I have to start over? When is the right time to say: “Enough! It’s done! World, gaze on my amazing gift to you!”

That’s part of the problem, of course. The world isn’t gazing. No one, except for my wonderful wife and a few friends, is gazing. No one cares, except me, and everytime I look at the damn thing I see something else I want to change. As the years go by I think about this with copyright dates. I put them on all my books, but when I go back in and revise something that I copyrighted 1996, shouldn’t I change the copyright to 2018? And does it matter anyway? It’s never been published! Also, now I can’t even remember when I actually wrote some of these stories, because I’ve changed them so many times.

I don’t really have any answers to these questions. What I do know is that writing is a series of revisions undertaken over time, to make the story the best it can possibly be. I also trust myself when I’m revising: if I get stopped on a sentence or a paragraph, that’s usually a pretty good sign that there’s something wrong with it. So in effect, revising can become subconscious: just read with a critical eye, and let your mind do the rest. There is, I think, a certain point where I forget that the story is “mine”, and it becomes part of the world of fiction out there. That has happened, for the most part, with Chivalry, my first novel. When I read it now it is like any other book, and it’s pretty good, but I don’t have the desire to change every word in it. I just want someone else to read it.

What I am doing now with To See Many Stars is really focusing on simplifying and explaining things that I know, but that the reader does not know. I have several readers jotting down notes for me, and when they have a question, I try to use a sentence or two to answer it. It’s making my YA fantasy better, more fun to read, and easier to follow, which in the end should help me get published. I’ve cut out twenty or thirty pages. I worked really hard on them, but enough time has passed that I don’t miss them at all. My work flows a hundred times better and that makes me happy!😁


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