I have a confession to make: I am terrible at revisions. Okay, maybe not terrible so much as I’ve never really done them. I was the student who wrote her final paper the day before it was due, did a quick read-through to make sure there weren’t any egregious errors and called it a day. My “rough drafts” were hastily scribbled outlines that were more like checklists than actual drafts. My final drafts were essentially my first real draft because I just couldn’t be bothered.
In grad school, I learned how to revise short stories based on workshop feedback and I got a little better about writing my final papers far enough in advance that I no longer had stress dreams about missed deadlines and grammar errors. Working in publishing showed me how revision worked as I compiled edits from authors, editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders, going through so many rounds I rarely wanted to read the published version. So by the time I left my agency job, I’d accepted the necessity of creating four to five versions of every deck I presented, getting feedback at every turn. But my experience with editing my own novels is still basically nada.
This past NaNoWriMo, I wrote my fourth complete manuscript, finishing up the first draft just before the holidays. When I set it aside to cool off, I wasn’t even sure I’d come back to it. I’ve spent enough time attempting to rewrite previous novels to know that sometimes it’s not worth the effort. But by the second week of January, I was back to daydreaming about my characters and ways to flesh out their story. So I printed out the manuscript, stuck it in a binder and side-eyed it for a few days, knowing it wouldn’t live up to how I imagined the story I wanted to write. But I was still exited, which is my main measure for whether I should continue working on a novel.
Of course, reading through the actual words I had written was painful. First drafts are always a hot mess, but NaNo novels are even more so. There were giant plot holes, flat characters, nonexistent settings, and scenes that were obviously just word count grabbers. And here I was, at a loss for how to turn this trash into a novel that I might let another human read one day. All I knew was that I wasn’t ready to trunk this one. It’s a story that makes me smile and reminds me of a time in my life when I was a little less life-worn and a little more starry-eyed. So I did what I always do when I don’t know how to tackle a problem: I researched.
After re-reading every blog post and watching every YouTube video I’d ever bookmarked about revisions, I found myself on Susan Dennard’s website where she shares a treasure trove of writing resources, including an entire section on revising. Multiple writers I follow swear by her process, or a personalized version of it, so I had fairly high hopes. And so far, I haven’t been disappointed. Actually, as I wade into the process, I’m feeling almost…optimistic? Like, this could actually work? Of course, until I actually write “The End” on my second draft, I’m still a bit wary. But I’m also excited for the journey.