In which I am revising while drafting

Gather ’round, kids. Let me tell you the tale of Baby Elizabeth, who never finished a draft because she revised while drafting. To be fair, it wasn’t much in the way of revising, or arguably revising at all. Just lots and lots of line edits – which I did every time I got stuck. Don’t know where this scene needs to go? Better go back to chapter one and tweak every line from the very beginning.

(Fixing that same line of dialogue back in chapter seven twenty times counts as writing, right?)

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I’ve long since broken my habit of procrastinating by editing earlier parts of the story. This time is different. Rather than going back to the start on the computer – with the chapter I’m supposed to be working on open and neglected – I have a hard copy of the Chosen Grandma story in a binder. Once my new chapter is done for the week, if I have no other writing to do, I turn to the binder with a red pen.

Line edits? Sure. But the bulk of it is serious revision. Red ink slashes through entire scenes I’ve decided are unnecessary. Characters are cut. Notes in the margins order me to do more research, rewrite dull descriptions, and write new transitions for scenes where I cut large swaths of dialogue. I know what needs deletion, which darlings to kill. I feel elated – which is bizarre, because elated is not an emotion I associate with revision. Normally I feel more like

Oh God, I’m making it worse.
It’s definitely worse.
Maybe it’s like the flu: it has to get worse before it gets better.
Okay, but it’s definitely not getting better.

It helps that I have some distance from the chapters I’m revising – early ones, and my goal is to keep from catching up to the part I’m writing fresh. Because of the way I’m writing this story, it’s been a year since I started the first draft. A year since I wrote these early chapters. I haven’t spent much time looking back, either. Another rarity. If I know for sure I’ve mentioned something before, I might glance back to double check that the next mention agrees with the first. Otherwise, I don’t look back at all.

I think that’s why things are so clear right now. On the one hand, I have the emotional distance needed to recognize which parts don’t work. On the other hand, the later bits, newly written, are fresh enough in my mind that I can see how to better set up the earlier chapters so the story as a whole is more cohesive.

It’s working so far. We’ll see how I feel about it in several months, when I’m done drafting and revision is all I have left, but for now I feel good.

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