When to revise?

Danny (an old high school friend, perhaps?) asks:

When you write, do you draft everything quickly and then rewrite later, or do you craft each sentence until it is done?

Every writer is different. There are some who just blaze through their first draft as quickly as possible, doing all the revision later on. Stephen King writes like this and describes the process in his book, On Writing. He explains that if he doesn’t get the first draft out fast enough, he loses the sense of the characters. He writes at least ten pages a day, which in my world would be a lot.

Then again, he writes fulltime and has managed to write multiple novels in a single year, whereas mine seem to take about two years to finish.

Others write, edit and revise each sentence before moving onto the next, tinkering and rewriting until they have achieved perfection, so that when they are done their first draft, the book is essentially done. Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors, wrote this way. He would write and rewrite a page until it was done, and when it was done, it was done.

I fall somewhere in the middle.

Ideally, I’d like to think that I write like Vonnegut, crafting each sentence and paragraph until they are perfect. Sharing chapters with readers the way that I do necessitates this style to a degree. There has to be at least a little polish to the pages before I can ask friends to read them. But it’s also the way in which I am most comfortable. I can’t stand the thought of unfinished business, so to leave an unrevised page behind doesn’t sit right with me. I want it cleaned up and ready to go before moving on.

But invariably, revision is required. When I finished Something Missing, I felt that it was done. Click the save icon and move onto the next book. Don’t look back. But since that moment, the manuscript has been revised a great deal, first with the help my agent, Taryn, and then with my editor, Melissa. Between the two of them, they guided me through the process of shifting chapters in order to improve pacing, expanding upon elements of the story that I had never considered important, and retracting sections of the text that were unnecessary. It took some time, but the book is much the better for the work we did.

A copyeditor then cleaned up some of my prose (each change made with my approval) and I just finished a proofread in which still more changes, albeit minor, were made.

What I came to learn is that there is no correct process to writing a book. It must be your process. Don’t try to emulate King’s or Vonnegut’s style. Just write. See what happens. I fear that some people spend too much time thinking about writing when they should just be writing.

I know I did.