The Purpose and Practice of Revision

These past few months I have been submerged in revising one of my novels. It has been sluggish, at times arduous and discouraging, taking up a good chunk of my energy, which partly explains why I have been less present on this blog.

I tend to approach revision of my work like a ten year old might approach having to clean her room on a Saturday morning.

Image result for girl cleaning bedroom

There are so many more interesting things to do, right? After all, the sun is shining and I really should take advantage of one of the few nice days left before winter settles in.

When it comes to editing my work I need all the help I can get not only to get my brain cells functioning out of slumber but also to once again get excited about my work.



This week, to help boost my enthusiasm over my novel, one of the members of the writing group I belong to forwarded to the gang this article on revising by Jane Smiley. Her essay titled The Purpose and Practice of Revision was published inΒ  Creating Fiction, edited by Julie Checkoway.




So, I was gleefully pleased when I read this passage in Smiley’s essay:

A good revision should involve you more deeply in your work and make you more eager to get at it. As a good reviser, you will gain two boons. First, your work will get better, and so will Β be more likely to get published. Second, you will like doing it so much that you will care less and less about whether it ever gets published.

Hmm. Like doing it so much. That sounds like an enticing promise to me. Somewhere between first draft and God only knows how many more drafts I lost interest. What was the point of going on when I already knew the story? Obviously, the point was to keep improving. We’ve all heard some form of this: a real writer writes.

The first idea you need to give up when you begin to revise is that you know what this story is about.

Sue Miller


If you’re in revision mode, Jane Smiley’s article is a guiding light to shine on your process. In less than a dozen pages, Smiley has managed to capture the soul of revision, not a small feat when you consider that many books attempt to do so in hundreds of pages.

Her advice is precise, concrete and uplifting.

You can read the entire article here.





45 thoughts on “The Purpose and Practice of Revision

  1. So true, Carol! Revising means you have to give up all of your notions of what a story ‘should’ be. It’s always better in the end if you do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Carol. Yes, often revisions aren’t the favourite part of our work, but the challenge is inspiring to make our books the best they can be. I’ve noticed you have been around less for months now, but I knew you were busy on a book. I admire you writers who can put the blogging aside and stay focused. I’m always to divide up my time to be everywhere and it can be so exhausting at times. Maybe next year I’ll make a new plan. πŸ™‚

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  3. Quote: “Second, you will like doing it so much that you will care less and less about whether it ever gets published.” As a writer, not an author, or several novels, I know this about writing a novel: The first draft is NOT a rush to finish. Most of the hard work either happens in the very first draft, or not at all. Revisions are fine for technical stuff, and a lot of that will be picked up by your select friends and readers of your first draft in any case. For me, that first draft has to be it; practically ready to go. I wrote a novel a few years ago and I emailed each chapter as it was written, to several readers, like an installment. That was the best novel I wrote. I’ve read it several times since and I ask myself, did I really write that? How did I do that? Just total focus and a huge “love” for the characters in the story. They were telling me their story and I wrote it from their words, or so it seemed. I know, I should publish it, but that’s my problem: no real incentive to do so. I’ve read it, what more do I want? πŸ™‚ As the saying goes, too many cooks spoil the broth, so to many editing passes spoil the story.

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  4. This sounds like a terrific help in the somewhat arduous task of editing – a refreshing look at the process indeed. I should forget what I think the book is about – that thought stopped me in my tracks…but considering the phrase realised this is so true and valid. It’s hard to let go of our own preconceptions! Good luck with your own revisions and many thanks for sharing Jane Smiley’s article.

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  5. A great post. had a chuckle about how a good revision makes you want to jump into it. I must have bad revisions that make me want to do anything but revise. Lovely to see you back on the scene. You are f course forgiven for being absent when it is in such a worthy cause.

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  6. “The first idea you need to give up when you begin to revise is that you know what this story is about.” Love this!
    Great post, Carol. I’m one of the oddballs who loves the revision stage. Good luck to you!

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  7. Love this article. For me, the 1st draft is “letting it out” – both characters and story. The hard part comes with my 2nd draft, when I must use everything I know in crafting the story. Third and subsequent drafts are a joy, because the hard work is already done.

    TIP: dialogue with your characters, in question and answer form (journaling), after completing your first draft. I do this with every scene. In writing, I tell the character what the scene is about, and then ask her (or him) what she wants to think, feel, do or say. This takes me deeper into the character and unfailingly, the answers I receive provide a richer, more effective version of what I was planning to do. It really works!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your tip about dialoguing with your characters. It’s a great tip because it forces the author to get out of the way of the story. Hope your writing is coming along smoothly. πŸ™‚


  8. While working in the rewrite of my draft still needing to be finished, I discovered I like revision as much, if not more, than writing the story the first time around. The bones are there. I don’t have to create them. I just need to elaborate the guts and add flesh to make the story complete.

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  9. I love revising till I don’t and put the work aside for something else. I’m excited again when I go back to it again. I do believe it’s my characters who keep me engaged because I do enjoy their company. Hard work, but well worth it. ❀
    Thank you for this post and article, which I'll read in a moment. ❀
    Happy revision, Carol. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks…I love what you said about your characters keeping you company. Writing in itself can be very lonely so we might as well surround ourselves with interesting characters. I have thought at times that I prefer the company of the characters in a good novel than the interaction with certain people. πŸ™‚


  10. Oh yes revisions,,, a “must do” but not really on my “must love” list πŸ˜‰ I understand they’re necessary but they really are sluggish as you say, Carol. It’s nice to hear from you ❀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m just like you. I am so good at justifying to myself why something else (emptying the dryer, walking my dog, being in the right frame of mind) is more important than sitting at my computer to revise. revising.
      Do read Jane Smiley’s article when you have a chance. I found it to be very inspiring an encouraging. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Insightful. I am currently revising my novel, and I totally agree. Ever since I start revising it, my blog has been shedding orphan tears with no one to wipe them. Once I’m done, I will take it from the orphanage it took itself.

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  12. Pingback: The First Ten Percent Of Your Novel | Carol Balawyder

  13. Thank you Carol for sharing this article. I have to admit I find revising and editing so very tough. Any advice to help ease that process is greatly appreciated. Thank you again and I wish you much fun and enjoyment with the process. Happy holidays.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Ann for your heartfelt wishes. Revising and editing can be tough. It’s sometimes hard to become motivated when you already know your story. Jane Smiley offers very concrete suggestions as she divides the task into sections (exposition, rising action, climax and denouement) giving each a percentage space in the novel. Her suggestions, at least for me, makes revision a little less painful where I’m not so much in the dark as to what needs to be done to the draft to make it better. In some ways she offers a guide to follow as one goes through the arduous task of revision.
      The best of holidays to you and your family. Peace and harmony and a wish for success in all your projects in the coming


  14. in The Year of Yes, author Shandra Rhimes makes a great analogy that I’m trying to keep close – she likens all the distractions to needing to run 5 miles to get to open the creativity door. (forgive my clumsy summation) – then she goes further to note how the door can slam shut quickly with any distraction, requiring another 5 mile trek. but that with regular ‘exercise,’ the 5 miles get easier…

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  15. Pingback: The First Ten Percent Of Your Novel β€” Carol Balawyder | Arrowhead Freelance and Publishing

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