The Purpose of Revisions

Revision is on my mind these days because I’m revising my memoir, tentatively titled Love Life, with Parrots. Thinking of this as the final revision (I hope!) before it goes out looking for an agent has sharpened my scalpel. I’ve excised material that’s survived several revisions–darlings I hadn’t been able or willing to kill.

Actually, I had to write a lot of material before I could narrow down what the story was about. My fellow Cochise Writers’ Group members get a lot of the credit for helping me to focus on the core of the story and pare away the excess. (Is this a shameless plug for critique groups? You bet!)

During a previous revision, I was finally able to verbalize something that had been nagging at the back of my brain. The general goal of my revisions was to improve the manuscript. I needed to determine what the specific purpose was of each revision–the guiding principle.

How did I conclude that I needed this direction? By wasting time and energy. When I didn’t have a clear idea what I was supposed to be doing in a revision, I defaulted to the relatively easy task of line editing. That was great for catching dropped words, awkward phrasing, and homophonic misspellings that my spellchecker had passed (“complement” instead of “compliment,” for example).

Useful, but it didn’t strengthen the manuscript in essential ways. Here are a few of the more difficult tasks I needed to use as purposes in revisions:

  • Remove backstory from the first chapter and weave it into later ones.
  • Restructure the chapters more logically.
  • Create page-turning chapter endings.
  • Cut material that was boring or didn’t focus on the story arcs.
  • Clarify the failed problem-solving attempts that left me farther from the accomplishment of my goals, rather than closer.
  • Use stronger verbs .
  • Focus on the sensory implications that would create emotions in my readers.

Now I’m going over every chapter more than once, each time with an eye toward a particular purpose. Slow work but worth it, by my own lights and those of my critiquers.


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