Linda Maye Adams

Not leaving it for the revision

I’m on a Facebook page where everyone’s focus—especially now with NANO—is to simply get the first draft out of the way so they can get to the revision. It’s like the first draft is so distasteful, it’s like, “Let’s just gulp this down and get it out of the way. Everything can be fixed on the revision.”

I used to think that, too.

And it’s like the hatred of the first draft feeds on that thinking. I remember working on the first draft of one particularly problematic book. At that point, my writing was starting to really clash with all the outlining advice that was out there. Little things like “Know your plot points” that are sternly recommended for pantsers were interfering with my story, and all I could think about as I was writing it was that I was looking forward to fixing it on the revision.

Then I got to the revision, and it was a terrible mess. It seemed like every decision I made in first draft affected events that followed. If I changed A, then B, C, D, and X also changed. But I wasn’t done! A changed P, S, and T, and changing P changed C, which changed other things. It just snowballed into a mass of revision that had me pulling out my hair.

But if you’d told me that it was how I was thinking about the first draft at the time, I wouldn’t have believed it. A lot of emphasis is put on that the first draft is always terrible and revision is where the story really comes out.

I saw this first hand when I took Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel. I had this tangled mess that looked like the cat had taken the ball of yarn outside and unrolled it out in the leaf pile and then dragged it around in the dirt and picked up the fox gloves. One of her lessons was to look through the entire story and simply identify what was wrong. I couldn’t believe the amount of problems that I had created by the magic words, “I’ll leave that for revision.”

It was horrifying when I realized what this was doing to the story. Each part of the story connects to other parts of the story, so if one decision isn’t made, it’s like a car hitting a pothole. The alignment gets thrown out of whack, and every decision that follows is based on that part that’s out of whack.

I ended up tossing out that entire story and redrafting it from scratch—essentially pretending like that mess didn’t exist and doing a new first draft. It was much easier than trying to fix what I left for revision!

Now, if I get stuck in the first draft, I stop and figure out why.  Sometimes this takes longer than I really want, but it’s far better than the old way of “leaving it for the revision.”


  1. livrancourt

    See, my problem is most of the time I can’t see what’s wrong till I get the whole thing laid out in front of me. It makes sense for me to just jam on through, then see what I’ve got. I sometimes end up doing some pretty major surgery, but I figure that’s part of the fun, right?


    • Have you tried rereading what you’ve written before starting a new writing session? Not only does it help you remember what’s going on, but while you’re in create mode, you can make additional changes. It’s not “editing” or “revising” as you write, as long as you’re not fussing at sentences and going “Oh, that’s terrible” and getting self-critical. It’s more like, “Oh, that’s right. I need to add foreshadowing for this in Chapter 2.”


      • livrancourt

        I do re-read, but it’s more along the lines of, “wow, did you really need the word astronaut four times in that paragraph?” Any thought that begins with “I need to add foreshadowing…” would NEVER enter my head till I get the whole thing done, because even though I have a general idea where things are going, I don’t know how I’m going to get there until I do.
        *rereads last sentence with a puzzled look*
        Yeah, that’s what I meant…


  2. As a long time writer with NaNo, I’m aware that they advise waiting to revise so you don’t get behind, and I do try to do that–mostly; but I always start my next day’s writing by going back a little ways to see where I was, and there’s always something to fix! So I do.


    • I always go back and reread what I route and do additional creation–that’s not revising. It’s still creating. Revising comes when the writer starts fussing at the story or the sentences, saying “That’s terrible. It needs to be fixed.” Creating is when you’re still connecting all the parts of the story together so they work.


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