Bleeding Pages: The Strange Dichotomy of Revision

Editing brings a strange mix of exhilaration and despair. The latter because re-reading the draft exposes every weakness, cliché, and logical inconsistency until I want to lobotomize myself with a mechanical pencil; and the former because devising improvements for these problems makes me feel like an evil genius (or at least one of the more devious sidekicks). In both extremes of the process, it’s a hell of a lot more work than I expected. It’s also weirdly visceral. Any violent verb seems to apply. One chops out raw chunks of prose, breaking the story’s bones and stitching them back together. Even without the iconic red pen, pages bleed.

Back in my days of teenaged fanfic, “revision” meant checking punctuation and changing a few adjectives before presenting the work to my squealing, delighted girlfriends. Now that I’ve graduated to more serious literary efforts, it means total story overhaul. Take chapter ten. When I first wrote it, I thought it was great. Returning to it for edits, I realize it doesn’t read as well as it wrote. In fact, I hate it. I want to delete all eighteen pages with a cold stab of the backspace key. Well, maybe not all. The kiss scene is salvageable (what, tell you more and ruin the teaser? I think not) but also highlights pacing problems with the romantic subplot as a whole. Comprehensive editing seems to have the same features as a well-structured plot: each problem solved creates two new ones!

Revisions would be a lot dizzying if I had a paper copy and a cool silver pen, but my inner environmentalist refuses to waste 300 pieces of paper.

Revisions would be a lot dizzying if I had a paper copy and a trusty red pen, but my inner environmentalist refuses to waste 300 pieces of paper.

What’s really daunting is the middle. Damn middles. The water conflicts didn’t develop into the battles I imagined, so I’m reworking that aspect of the story to be more physical (more fight scenes!). I’ve also decided that another character must die. No, I’m not trying to generate artificial drama by axing half the cast. This character’s death provides necessary motivation for another character’s arc. The story gods demand sacrifice, and I am but the priestess channeling their will.

All this is taking much more time than I planned. December spoiled me with a month off between jobs. Now that I’m working full-time again, I’m back to weaseling half-hours of authorship between dinner and passing out in front of The Big Bang Theory. The book may not be ready by March as I’d hoped, but I’d rather take the few extra weeks to do it right. Blue Karma, comin’ at ya sometime this spring!

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