Why I Like Revising

Random excerpt from novel-in-progress: “Tina! No drowning the client!”

Novelist E.L. Doctorow famously compared the act of writing to driving a car at night:  “You never see farther than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

That’s the best analogy I’ve encountered  for the process of writing a first draft. You peer ahead as far as you can see (which isn’t very far), sometimes creeping along, sometimes going faster than you should. And you hope that you’re on the right road and still headed in the right direction. Sometimes you take an unplanned detour. But eventually, you arrive at your destination — even though it may not be exactly where you thought you were going.

And that’s why I like writing the second draft. For this trip through the story, I’m driving in daylight. And I’ve got a road map, thanks to that first draft. This time through, I can look around and see what the darkness obscured when I went down this road before, filling in details, adding some local color. Often, I can spot a more direct route to get from Point A to Point B.

Once I’ve written the first draft, I know what happens. I’ve got something to work with. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked as an editor, but I love rolling up my sleeves and getting to work shaping the story. To switch metaphors, it’s like I’ve got the picture all sketched out, and now I’m filling in details and colors. For me, the second draft is where a novel goes from being an idea to being a story.


About nancyholzner

4 responses to “Why I Like Revising

  • uppington

    For me, the first draft is usually an exciting adrenaline rush – my nighttime road often also has fog, and I’m never sure whether I’m going to maybe drive into a ditch or run into a moose. I love the sense of the unexpected during this process. But I also love (except when I’m hating it, lol) the process of revision, of deepening and enriching and adding the details. I don’t like revision when I have to cut things.

    • nancyholzner

      Love the unexpected moose! I agree with you; the first and second drafts hold different pleasures and frustrations. I find that I do a lot of cutting, rewriting, and rearranging at the beginning of the second draft. Even though I outline (loosely), it takes a while to find my way into the story, so those early chapters need the most extensive rewriting.

      Do you outline? I fall halfway between the detailed outliners and the completely “organic” writers who find out how the story develops as they go.

  • uppington

    If I must outline, it’s usually while trying to make sense of a wayward draft. In the first draft, I start with characters who have a problem, and let them take it from there. I am reconsidering this, however. Have done such extensive rewrites on the WIP I’m just completing, that little of the original plot is left. A lot of work that way, and too many moose. (Meese? Mooses?) Next first draft might get some sort of loose structure before I begin, but I have at least three complete drafts awaiting revision right now, so it will be awhile before I make the experiment.

    • nancyholzner

      That’s interesting. I’ve approached the outlining issue a little differently for each novel, and like you I’ve found that winging it requires a lot of substantial rewriting in the second draft. For my WIP, I think I’ve finally hit upon a method that works for me–will be blogging about that today. Basically, though, it’s the kind of loose outline you mention here plus revision of that outline as I go along.

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