Space to Think: A Process for Revising Fiction

Contributing writer Savanah Burns wrote this article on the process of revision. The featured image was taken by Lionel Gustave.

“if you have to wait for it [inspiration] to roar out of / you, / then wait patiently. / if it never does roar out of you, do something else.”

–Charles Bukowski, “so you want to be a writer?” poets.org.

Sometimes, it is hard to find the words to put down on a page. Sometimes, it is hard to know what is on and off the page because so much time has been invested into pouring yourself onto those pages. Sometimes, you finish a draft and you don’t know what to do next. There are countless way to revise a draft. Here is one of the many possible ways to revise your short story draft.

1. Walk Away

But, before you revise, let your draft rest. Enjoy that satisfaction from finishing your story’s first draft. Celebrate by walking away for a time, whether it be a couple of days or a couple of weeks.

Sometimes not writing is as important as the moments you do. By allowing yourself time away from the page, you get to forget the freshest version of what you wrote. Take this time to breathe and rest. Listen to music, hang out with friends, read, and the like. But do not forsake your piece.

2. Reflect

Let the story continue to be made in your mind. And know, those details aren’t yet in the draft. Prepare your mind for knowing your work needs tweaks, revisions, and edits.

3. Revisit and Mark It Up

When you return, the time you took to let you and your draft breath may give you distance and insight. Insight into slow passages, confusing descriptions, themes that could be elaborated on, new eyes to see your characters for who they are and not who you want them to be, as well as any typos, etc. Read and analyze your work. What is on and off the page? What do is needs more work? What parts need work? Note: The parts that work, might be different from the sections you like. Try to distinguish the two from each other for a better edit. It will take honesty.

4. Be Balanced

I have noticed that novice writers tend to write and rewrite their opening. First, this is a method of revision that leads one to walk in circles. If your story isn’t finished and refined on an idea level, then it is pointless to spend time fine-tuning the grammar and polishing the story at a sentence level.

To avoid this, I have three suggestions. First, edit content and ideas before you mess with anything else. Secondly, make a revision plan. In other words, take the notes you took when you revisited, read, and analyzed your story. Use them to help focus how you want to further develop and change your story. If you didn’t make too many marks or notes, then ask yourself questions about literary elements you use.

5. Revise

Take the next week or however long to implement your revision plan.

6. Get Substantial Feedback

Once you’re done, send your work to a peer who will be honest and have substantial feedback to give. In other words, pick someone who won’t merely tell you “good job.” If you don’t know anyone like that, or are worried about negative comments, remember that you are the writer and you control what happens to your story. Also, you can always send your story to someone who will read your work and then give them pointed questions that correspond with how you revised your story. This will give your peer reviewer direction in forming their opinion, while allowing you to know they won’t comment on the aspects of your story you have yet to change.

7. Let Your Feedback Rest

The downside to feedback is the negative comments. When you get your feedback, only read them. Next, walk about from the feedback to your draft. After a week or so, when your emotions have cleared, give them a response in ink. Accept and decline the ones you want.

8. Incorporate Feedback

Next, add the feedback that is most helpful, even the comments that were hard to accept (but you know need to be incorporated in some way or form).

9. Repeat?

Take the time to decide if you want to go through another round of revisions. If you want, you could technically go through as many as you want.

10. Polish It

However, if you don’t want to, you can start polishing your draft. Proof read to find and fix grammar issues at a sentence level.

11. Submit To Be Published

The last step is to find a place you think your work matches, in the hopes that the publisher or magazine might select your story for publication. You can visit Poetry & Writers (https://www.pw.org/) and submit to a contest on there. The Texas Review Press should be listed.

After all, The Texas Review magazine (http://www.texasreviewpress.org/journal/current.html) is bi-annual and the contests hosted through The Texas Review Press (http://www.texasreviewpress.org/press/competitions.html) can lead to having your name on a cover of a book.

If selected, you’ll start the publishing process. However, that’s something to worry about when you get there.

For now, good luck on revision.

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