Obsessive Compulsive Revisions


Does anyone else struggle with the desperate need to revise? Heaven forbid anyone should see the old draft. Even if I just recently decided how to change it or barely noticed an issue, it doesn’t matter how many people have critiqued it or how many times I’ve submitted it, I just have to change it before the next one.

Once I’ve started envisioning the new version in my mind the old draft is about as exciting to me as the bowls of cereal that my kids leave sitting with milk for half the day. My Husband will eat it, but I just cringe.

Like the army that burned their ships to destroy any hope of retreat, I dive into it hacking out gaping holes from the draft, marking each with a few notes of what is supposed to go there.

Then the easy part is done and there’s no going back. (okay, okay, I do save the old draft elsewhere so I could, but…) On to the systematic filling of said holes, which takes considerably more time and thought.

A bit cramped perhaps but at times I can't help but envy...

More than a week ago I was supposed to send the first ten pages of Secrets of the Dragon Seal to a friend to critique. That friend is still waiting. Thought about sending the version I had cleaned up for the last person I sent it to.

I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Instead I dropped off communications without waning and retreated to my desk. Monks of old could cloister themselves in silent isolation to transcribe a manuscript and then have so much free-time they’d spend days doodling in the margins.

Me however, despite my good intentions of quickly whipping out the changes, lately I creep through word count about like this guy:

We always want to put our best foot forward, especially with a publisher or agent. No one wants to wonder what if? Would they have asked for more if I had made the changes? Would they have published it instead of the polite rejection letter?

It’s more than that though. I’ve talked to established authors that admit to being unable to resist the red pen, even after it’s published and on the bookshelves. Even when they know it’s unlikely that changes will ever be updated on the print version, nothing is sacred.

I can totally see myself doing that.

  • Pro:  Less likely to have critiquers polishing the sections doomed to the cutting floor.
  • Con: After months or more of polishing a section it can vanish in a matter of seconds while being replaced by essentially a first draft with occasional stupid errors.
  • Pro: Potential publishers and agents see a better draft.
  • Con: I’ve usually shredded it again before they discover it in their inbox.
  • Pro: I and the book are constantly growing and I’ve been pleased by the changes.
  • Con: One day I’d like to move on without the constant interruptions… it’s like the child at bedtime that desperately tries to stall and keep your attention.

I know that there’s a point at which you move on. People talk about it and the dangers of paralysis of analysis. I’m know, I know, but I haven’t found it yet. I’m sure I’ll get there soon if I just keep digging. Just keep digging. Just keep digging…

Meanwhile… I’m happy to announce that I’m finally ready to go e-mail those ten pages now!

What about you?

About Ren Black

Part-time novelist. Weekend artist. Full-time Mother. Ex-poet. Perfectionist by training. Compulsive researcher sporadically. Prone to fits of linguistic commentary Unorthodox Renegade occasionally. Sarcastic by habit... Dreamer Always... Consider Yourself Warned

3 comments on “Obsessive Compulsive Revisions

  1. I am pretty compulsive about writing the first draft and all of my edits/revision. I rarely shred things to the extent you describe, but Web Surfer has seen some hefty changes, though nothing compared to the complete overhaul it got before I ever set a word to paper. I threw out 3/4 of the story line I had mentally sketched, but never wrote down, ditched the original heroine for the blind black grandmother’s ward, and completely overhauled the technology until I had the hero in a situation that is physically and spiritually plausible in my opinion.

  2. I’m a relentless drafter as well. My big problem is that everyone asks for the first few chapters, so I relentlessly edit them–but never get the rest of the story to match. My one fairy tale manuscript has seen countless first chapters–but I’ve never fixed the rest of the story to match! Augh.
    I’m on a new schedule–a month of research and back story work, then three months of forcing myself to push forward and actually get through the whole novel for one last, thorough edit.
    Or at least, that’s the idea.

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