This week I’ve been revising the openings of both my novels for the Mslexia Women’s Novel Competition www.mslexia.co.uk/novelcompetition and once again I’ve been reminded of the importance of time as a revision tool.
As we all know it’s impossible to be objective about your own writing – it’s either brilliant, the best thing you’ve ever written or (more often than not) absolute rubbish that you wouldn’t want anyone to read. Having a trusted reader or critique partner give you feedback on your work is one of the best ways around the problem. Your buddy will be able to point out holes in the plot, things that jar about the characters and correct any of those annoying things like word repetition, dull dialogue and a myriad of other writing sins. Taking on board and fixing the things that resonate with you in this dose of constructive criticism will undoubtedly help you improve your manuscript.
But there are some things that only you can pick up in revision – getting the characterisation just right, the voice sounding exactly as you would like it to and a structure that allows the story to develop in just the right way. A writing buddy can point these things out but unless you yourself can see them, unless enough time has elapsed in between the writing of each draft and the reading and subsequent revision, you probably won’t be able to pinpoint exactly what it is that needs work.
Time gives us perspective. It enables us to come to an understanding of what we are trying to say and the style that best suits our story. It helps us understand who our characters are, whether the flaws we have given them are the right ones and if our creation of them is strong enough to pull the reader into the narrative, strong enough to make the reader care.
This lesson in weak characterisation is one I’m coming to terms with right now in my two hundredth revision of my novel (ok, an exaggeration but that’s sure what it feels like). It’s a painful realisation when I well and truly thought the manuscript was finished but it’s also one of the elements of the writing that the passing of time has allowed me to see more realistically. My first reaction was Oh no, I can’t possibly work on this any more but after pondering, reading and note-taking I’m now up for the challenge. What first seemed like an impossible task now feels more like a minor overhaul, a tweaking and refining of certain aspects of my protagonist to highlight her strengths so the reader has someone to cheer for. Yes, it will take quite a few more hours of concentrated effort but that’s part of the writing process – the constant striving for perfection and the quest to improve your manuscript as much as you possibly can.
So it’s back to revision, hopefully for the final time, but who knows? Perhaps after it sits a while the manuscript will need polishing in yet another area.
Only time will tell.
What lessons have you learnt about writing in the process of revision?