The Writer


“Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing.”
—Bernard Malamud

Malamud’s quote can certainly be true, especially when you see your novel coming together and feel the joy of accomplishment and creation (no matter how painful the effort). Yet revision can seem far from pleasurable when the plot remains unfocused, characters lack sufficient motivation, or the language refuses to sing. Revision can seem impossible when a novel is in shambles, with no clear hope of improvement in the near future.

But if that’s the case for your own project, all is not lost.

What you need is a solid approach.

A novel is an art form, and like other art forms, it requires a method – one that helps you achieve a unified work worthy of public viewing.

One thing is abundantly clear: Revision is part of that method. But at what stage in the process should a writer revise? And by what means? And in what order?

To answer these questions, we consulted several professional writers on their revision methods as well as their best advice for other writers.

Here’s what they had to say.

Revising as you draft

When is the best time to revise your novel?

If you revise as you go, will you stifle your imaginative powers? Will you lose momentum – that flash fire of creativity?

As with so many other writing issues, different writers hold different opinions.

You should definitely revise as you draft, says Anthony Varallo, prize-winning author of The Lines. “Otherwise you aren’t really writing – you’re typing. And although it might be fun to type out a whole novel in a rush, Kerouac-style, you really aren’t doing the work of writing, which isn’t merely to get words on the page but to get just the right words, in the best possible order, on the page. I don’t see how you could do that without revising as you go.”

But what about loss of momentum? “Momentum is what the reader experiences,” says Varallo, “when s/he reads the final product, not what the writer experiences while writing it. Slow writing beats fast writing.”

In writing her acclaimed first novel, The Age of Light, Whitney Scharer spent considerable time getting her first draft down. “It took me five years to write my novel, so I don’t know if I’m the best person to ask about momentum!” she says.

For that debut novel, Scharer revised as she drafted, but she’s rethinking that process for her second novel: “I hope to get to a finished first draft more quickly, since so many changes are made once you know the entire shape of the story,” she says. That said, “I’m sure I’ll still do some revision as I go along, because

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