Two weeks ago I finished a round of revisions on The Steampunk Novel. They were changes I feel made the book stronger. Changes an agent had requested to see. But there were still days it was difficult to stick with my plan of attack.
"Maybe this is good enough." That thought crossed my mind a lot. Especially while I was trying to brainstorm how to keep a chapter I knew was weakening the whole second act. (It wasn't a bad chapter, it was just slow. And very little happened and then only by accident.) "Maybe I should just leave the rest alone. It's pretty good."
And it was "pretty good". But I don't want just "pretty good". I want "really good" and "the best I can do".
Eventually I cut out the chapter I had and wrote a new one. And it was better than "pretty good".
But it made me think about the challenge of keeping the excitement in a project after the first draft. First drafts have their own pitfalls. The whole "Where the hell is this story going?" and "OMG! Why does every word look stupid!" problems. And let's not forget "I'm so sick of this story". But with first drafts the excitement usually comes back. We remind ourselves that we want to see how it all turns out (even for those of us who outline the ending is not always a guarantee), that we want to mark "Write First Draft of Project X" off our to-do list, we want to write those magical words "THE END" and throw up our hands and say "Yes! Done!"
And then we realize we aren't done and there's another draft waiting to be done and maybe one (or four) after that. And that's about the time I start thinking "This is pretty good. Maybe I should just leave it alone."
So, how do I keep my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard while revising? Well, not every day is the same but here are some things that work for me.
1. Set page goals. I think the most I've done was 80 pages in a day. (And that included writing about 40 of them from scratch.) Most days I try for 10 pages.
2. Schedule breaks. Revising (for me) requires more analysis of what's one the page and that means making sure I'm not getting foggy headed or blurry eyed from too much done at once. I try and stop about every 30-45 minutes and do something else for a little bit. (Refill coffee, get a snack, use the bathroom, check my email, whatever.)
3. Trust your gut. If something seems off, it probably is. While your inner editor may be screaming for you to set the whole manuscript on fire, that's a little extreme. But when a chapter seems clunky or slow or incomplete, I stop and pay special attention because that's usually a spot that needs more than just a few whacks with the editing machete and/or revision bat.
4. Take your time. Sometimes you just have to wait for your brain to sort out the issues that have you stumped. Having deadlines (real or self-imposed) may be pushing you to hurryhurryhurry, but don't be afraid to walk away for an afternoon and let the dust settle. You'd be surprised at what you'll see when you come back.
5. Trust your gut. I know, I already said that. But in this case I'm talking about NOT fiddling with stuff. It's hard to stop tweaking a manuscript once you start, but you'll reach a point where you'll start to think "This is ready". For me that thought is usually followed by a loud mental voice that says "No it's not. You suck at writing. This can't be finished." In which case, the revision bat serves a different purpose. But, trust your gut and don't overthink the revisions.