I’ve had revisions on my mind a lot lately, mostly because I’ve been working on revising some of my writing in a more in-depth fashion than I’ve done in a while. Maybe I should explain that a bit so that I don’t sound as if I’m suggesting that I don’t often revise (that is, that I get it right the first time without much effort at all, which would be a pompous thing to suggest).
For the last year or so, I’ve focused, in my non-blog writing, on short fiction. And for a year, I’ve been writing first drafts pretty much as they came into my head, without a whole lot in the way of revision. Sure, I’ll go back over a piece and find any typos and make a few small structural changes, but by and large, by the time I’ve committed the work to paper, I’ve done enough editing in-line (on the computer screen, I mean) that I feel like it’s ready to send to my writer’s group to then be eviscerated. Even after that evisceration, I haven’t gone back and done any serious revisions of any of the work I’ve written over the last year. That’s not to say that I don’t intend to. For the very few things that I think I could possibly turn into something worth reading, I will revise, but my plan at present is to revisit them after some time away from them. I’ve always read that one of the great Classic writers (was it Horace?) said that you should put things aside for ten years before revisiting them. Well, I’m not quite that patient, but for the past year, I’ve been pumping out work and putting it aside for later revision. It’s easy to be so close to a piece that you can’t look at it impartially (if that’s ever possible), and I just feel like I stand a better chance of reviewing my work honestly if I’ve been away from it for a bit.
Of course, I threw a wrench in the works last week when I wrote out a draft by hand. It’s harder to edit in-line when doing that, and though I think I benefitted from the process of just forcing myself to put the work down on paper without revising too much onscreen as I went, the result was a more uneven draft than I’ve been accustomed to coming up with these last twelve months. So once my pinky recovered, I typed the thing in, printed it out, and went to town on it with a pen, marking the thing all to bits. Suddenly my own printed copy began to resemble the copy of one of my writing group participants whose work I deface brutally in hopes of helping make it better.
The blog mindset tends to be a bit different, I think, with generally a lower bar (I guess I can speak only for myself here) with respect to the quality of the published piece. I feel like there’s a greater tolerance in the blog world for less perfect, less polished writing. Still, I won’t be surprised if I learn that I’m wrong about this, that many of you do revise heavily before publishing your posts. I was sure surprised to learn how many of you hand-write things, so now I know to be more careful about the assumptions I make.
So, do you revise? If so, what’s your process? Do you stick your work in a drawer for some period of time and revisit it once you have some distance from it? Or do you set right in with the red ink and the ego-killing markup? Are you familiar with some of the standard editorial notations (e.g. the little pigtail thing you attach to a word to suggest deletion)? And how do you know when something’s good enough?