I just came from a PM chat where we were talking about the woes of revising and editing, and I had a revelation. Okay, maybe not a Revelation, but an insight. So many people have a real problem with that part of writing, and it occurred to me that maybe the real problem for some of them is that they don’t see the revising and editing as part of the writing. They see it as an entirely separate thing, and that separate thing is a chore, because it’s supposedly all about correcting mistakes according to a set of rules.
Or maybe they don’t see writing as a learning process. They write a book, take a good look at it and say “My bad,” throw the book away and write another one. But writing is a learning process, and it can probably go on forever. You get better and better at it, but it’s never quite as good as you hoped it would be (unless you have an out-of-control ego), and that’s a good thing. Because there’s no such thing as perfection. If you write a bad or mediocre book and refuse to look at it again, you’re not going to learn anything from it. You think the next one will be better, but it won’t, because you didn’t learn a damned thing from writing the first one.
There are days when I’m ready to throw in the towel with a third or fourth draft. I’ve worked so hard, and I’m still finding, not just typos, but sentences that don’t sing, plot points that are as clear as mud, too many repetitions of the same word in a sentence or paragraph . . . The potential for finding and correcting problems seems infinite. And I say this after having written three complete novels and two more that are almost finished. Question: Where does it end? Answer: It doesn’t.
Revising and editing isn’t just about making this novel better. It’s also about making the next novel better, the one you haven’t written yet. And maybe that’s the most important part of it–making the next one better. Think of revising and editing as an organic process like growing a plant. It needs to be watered, fertilized–and pruned. None of that is separate from putting the seed in the ground. Think of yourself as a gardener. You can have a black thumb and produce books that can’t survive the light of day because they don’t get any care, or you can have a green thumb and produce books that look better, grow faster, and bloom more beautifully with each generation.
And I can tell you something from my own experience about those frustrating third and fourth drafts. There’s a load of satisfaction to be had in making that book even a tiny bit better than it was before.