Revision Anxiety – 1st Draft Quick Fix

Revision Anxiety – 1st Draft Quick Fix 

You’ve just finished writing your novel.  It’s hefty.  You’re looking at a massive revision, but your brain is saying noNo, no, no.   

Everyone has a particular process they apply to revising.  Many of them are top-down and, therefore, tedious.  They include initial pass-throughs for a laundry list of items to fix.  Grammar, punctuation, spelling, mechanics–on and on ad infinitum.   Even for the best writers and most accomplished editors, this top-down approach proves daunting.  Its a major waste of time, and it’s unpleasant and creates severe anxiety.  

The prevailing mantra of top-down proponents goes like this.  Get that five-inch thick manuscript on the table or up on the screen and then follow the five-billion rules for revision.   Start where you want.  Clarity?  Does everything on the page make sense?  Is it interesting?  That’s a first iteration.  It can take hours.  Move on.  What’s next?  Who knows?  The second and third and fourth iterations could include editing all three-hundred and sixty pages for this or that grammatical issue, all five-billion of them.  Don’t forget the next pass-through for mechanics and punctuation.  

There’s a name for this kind of tedium: revision hell.

 How Do I Do an Anxiety-Free 1st Draft Revision? 

Top-down revision tires us out, makes us feel like we’re never going to get our manuscripts finished.  What our brains know is that there’s no way, short of spending as much or more time revising as we spent writing our novels, we’re gonna get the revision work done in any reasonable amount of time.   It’s the main reason our brains resist.  We also feel frustrated, challenged, aggravated, cheated.  If only we could get the revision work done, we could start submitting to agents sooner.   In short, we’re up against impossible time constraints posed by revision hell, and the clock’s a ticking.    

Guidelines for 1st Draft Quick Fix

Tackling the first draft should be an enjoyable part of novel-writing.  Revision is part of the creative process, a way of looking at what we’ve written and reflecting, of retrospectively exploring the genius and artist within that prompted us to write our novels. We’ve created a great story and fabulous characters, now it’s time to celebrate success and have fun doing it. Escaping the anxiety and paralysis revision causes means changing the way we approach revising first drafts. The first big change is to free ourselves of the top–down approach and get a process in place.  Here are some overall guidelines.

  • Avoid line edits: it’s a first draft – It’s a first draft, so don’t do any line editing for grammar, punctuation, and mechanics.  They’ll mire you down and suck up inordinate amounts of precious time, especially if you line edit, then revise and then proof.  Line editing’s not effective use of revision time for a first draft, so save it for last, when your manuscript is polished and you won’t have to make multiple passes through a massive document looking for misspellings and whacking away at pronouns and prepositions (compression work).    
  • Avoid the shotgun approach – Don’t use the shotgun approach, blasting away at your manuscript without a revision plan.  For example, don’t start on page one and stop on page two, or eight, or twelve, when you find the first three or four problems you feel you simply must fix.  Also, don’t stop to rewrite a passage and then six hours later realize you only meant to correct a sentence or two.  That’s not revision hell: that’s limbo.  Iterative rewriting, in the guise of revision, is a major compulsion.  For whatever reason, writers want perfection.  But it’s a compulsion you have to discipline yourself to control during the revision process.  
  •    Let go – You’re going to practice letting go of all the anal retentive crap you’ve learned about revision.  Revision is tedious?  It’s the chore you must perform when you’re done writing your novel?  There’s all kinds of negative ideas about revision, and many of them are well-earned because they’re based in honest reactions to a task that keeps many  manuscripts from ever seeing the light of day.  Revision is fun, or it can be.  Think of it as a way of looking positively at something you’ve created.  Your novel’s a huge part of you.  Now, you’re going to enjoy the process of not only perfecting it but seeing what it has to say about who you are.     

Steps for 1st Draft Quick Fix 

Here’s what you’ll need: pencils sharpened and a stack of index cards.  Also, grab your kitchen timer.  Oh, you don’t have one?  It’s an essential tool for the time-obsessed writer.  Challenge yourself.   Here’s the steps.      

  1. Attach an index card to the first page of every section of your novel. 
  2. Set your timer for 10 minutes.   Working your way through the first, and each subsequent section, answer the following questions:

a)  What is the point-of-view (PoV) character’s section goal?  Write it on the index card.  

Note: this is the mini-goal the PoV character is trying to achieve in this section: it’s different than the protagonist’s overall goal for the novel. 

b)  What one major action is the PoV character taking to achieve this goal?  Write it on the index card.

c)  Does a section need revised to have the PoV character meet a section goal?  If so, flag that section.    

3.   When you’ve finished steps one and two, pull out all flagged sections.  Now you’re ready to revise to ensure your PoV character in the flagged sections achieves the section goal, if she’s supposed to, or that her failure to achieve her goal is well written.

Suggestions for improving this post and ideas for revision work are encouraged and welcome.  What’s your best tip for saving time during revision of the novel’s  first draft?


4 thoughts on “Revision Anxiety – 1st Draft Quick Fix

    • Minerva, it really works for me, and I used to have severe revision anxiety. Please do let me know how it goes for you: I honestly believe you need to move forward–not stop–with the writing of your novel. Please let me know how this little procedure works for you. And . . . if I can help in any other way, I’ll be happy to do so.

    • I meant to mention, Minerva, that I really “get” your angst, anxiety. You’ve vested a lot of time in this novel. I’d get it revised, not matter what, and see how you like it.

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