The word revision is a problem for me.
I understand that it works for some people. If it works for you—great. But words have power, and the word revision has always seemed like a jerk to me. It shouts (yes, revision ALWAYS shouts): You messed up your draft! Ruined it! Pretty much everything in it is WRONG! And now you have to fix it! Otherwise—” At which point revision ominously points to the closet where WIPs go to die.
Lots of classes, workshops, and craft books seem to be focused on the idea that you can get to a good story by telling someone everything they’re messing up. I just don’t happen to believe that.
Do we need to know what’s not working in our novels? Absolutely. But is it just a case of troubleshooting and portioning blame? I think it’s bigger than that. When we’re aware of what IS working in our stories, it helps us see them much better. Then we can build a strong foundation. Then we can figure out what we still need. Then we can keep what is unique and delicious about our story intact. It can be a process of adding. Of making better, of always improving, of stacking good on top of good.
Like a layer cake.
That’s how I like to think about drafting. Not in terms of right or wrong, of rough draft or revising. It’s all layers.
The reason I like this is because it reminds me that there’s no one way to get everything right in a single draft, whether it’s the first or the fourteenth, because that is simply not the way the craft of writing works.
Joss Whedon is famous for telling writers, “eat your cake first.” Focus on the parts of the story you love, and fill in the rest later. It’s a great way to get writing in the face of a long and daunting process. But I’m here to tell you that, if you love the story you’re working on, and if you let yourself care about each layer, it can ALL be cake. Will some of the layers be a little more exciting to create: the ambitious pistachio-honey-almond sponge layers? Yep. Will some of them be more basic: the vanilla layers? Yep. Will some of them be devlishly hard to make and stack with the others? Of course. Will some of them crumble and need to be replaced or started over? Absolutely.
But a novel can be built like this. And when it is, it turns from something painful and mysterious into a matter of showing up, rolling up our sleeves, being fine with getting covered in the ingredients and making a significant mess, and getting to work.
P.S. Next time I’ll be breaking down one of my own drafts into layers to show you how it works!
P.P.S. Also, more pictures of cake.
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