I did the math the other day and worked out that, if I revised one chapter per day from that day, I would be finished on my birthday, April 27.
I have been trying to apply my drafting philosophy to my revision process, which is to ‘just get it done’ and not worry about quality control. The reason I am trying to apply this philosophy to this process is because one: I know how to do it, and two: it does feel right to just keep going and not worry so much about how good my work actually is. But that simultaneously seems utterly counter-intuitive. What good is critique if it’s not critical? If I just bang it out as fast as I can, what value does my critique actually have? Is it critical and valuable feedback if I’m rapid-firing it rather than reading the thing over a few times before making an informed decision? Do I need to treat my critique as an essay of sorts, and go back and do revisions of my revision notes?
But the main issue that I want to address is that of quantity. I want to bang this revision out as fast as I can, because I see it as an obstacle that is holding me back from writing the second draft. I do think that this is a problem in and of itself, because supposedly this revision process is one that I do in order to inform and direct that second draft. And indeed, one of the issues I have run across is one of not actually feeling like I’ve read my manuscript at all. I read until I find something that I want to critique, make a critique, and then continue reading, leather rinse repeat, and ultimately what I’ve read feels very disjointed and – most importantly – not at all like a story. And I think that’s why I don’t feel like this revision is really working, because story is pretty much the most important thing at this point, making sure that the story flows smoothly, that it is coherent, that it is satisfying and engaging, seeing where it does not seem sufficient in any of these regards or where something takes me, as a reader, out of the story altogether. So far what I’m getting a sense of is not the story, but the technicalities; my most frequently-recurring critique is ‘show don’t tell’, embarrassingly enough, but in terms of the characters, their consistency, their motivations, and what actually happens in this story, I really couldn’t tell you. I honestly could not tell you. I could give you the gist of it, but I could have given you the gist of it without going back and doing these critiques anyway; I’m working from an older document, as it were, from an older save file, and so the experience of this new playthrough is much the same as the experience of ending the first one. I’m not getting anything new out of it.
And maybe this is okay. Maybe this is normal. Maybe a feeling of newness and of being a reader rather than a writer is not what I ought to be aiming for if what I want at the end of this process is a clear and critical critique on my work. Like so much of what I’m trying to do, I don’t know if what I’m doing is working towards the goal that I am attempting to reach. I don’t want to say that it’s wrong or right, because I am wary of giving or taking advice on ‘how to write’, when ‘writing’ is, at the end of the day, something that you do, not that other people do for you, and therefore their rules and their priorities will only intersect with yours to a point, and at the end of the day the best learning that you can do comes from your own mistakes, not the tips and tricks handed down to you of others, nor the formulae or ‘top ten tips’ abound whether in hard copy or digital format, except as part of that self-revising process. But as for what works towards a specific goal – I have no clue if what I’m doing is getting me there.
What I do know, though, is what’s happening right now: the revision process is crawling along at a pathetic pace, I don’t feel like I’m really taking anything in as I read it in terms of having a ‘reading experience’, and I feel that my note-making up to this point has been less critical and objective and comprehensive and, well, good than it needs to be in order to be as useful as I want it to be.
But that doesn’t mean that everything I’ve done has been totally useless. Not necessarily. I think my lamentations on not feeling like I’ve really read this manuscript is because I’m not trying to read it; I’m trying to critique it. Granted, you do kind of have to read something in order to critique it, which is where my frustration comes in, but at the very least I am doing the whole critiquing thing. But maybe it’s that I determined to read and critique at the same time that is the issue, and I should have read first and then critiqued. The things that I do not know are numerous and varied.
Ultimately, though, one way or another, I want to work up a head of steam with this thing; I want to be doing lots of it, and I’m not sure how to do that while also doing work that will actually be worth having done. However, I think that if I focus on quantity for now, the strategies for also exacting quality from the process will reveal themselves naturally. That’s my theory and I’m going to test it.
I really want this second draft to be good. Like, I really want it to be good. I want it to be awesome. And I’ve never done one before, so I really want to get onto it.
I hope this works out, sooner rather than later. Don’t we all.