Revising a manuscript can be a daunting task. It’s hard to know where to begin. Well, let Dinty Moore break it down for you. Today, we are pleased to share with you sage advice on revision from nonfiction writer, teacher, and editor Dinty Moore. Moore’s piece is featured in Signature’s 2017 Ultimate Writing Guide which is full of useful and inspiring essays on craft. The best part? You can download the guide to your desktop in minutes. Thank you to Signature for allowing us to share this essay. Download Signature’s complete guide here.
Working one-on-one with first-time memoirists and novelists at various summer writing workshops over the past many years, I often find myself needing to deliver the hard news. Perhaps the most difficult lesson I have to pass along is this:
Once you are done writing your book, you aren’t really done writing your book. When I say this, foreheads inevitably furrow. Faces fall.
Being reminded of just how much effort is required even after you’ve put a period on the final sentence of the final chapter of a multi-year project can be deeply discouraging.
Because yes, revision does take effort and time. It needn’t, however, be painful.
The blank page is a frightening void. An early draft, however, filled with words — all pointing in the right direction, but in need of some tender loving care — can be exhilarating. Words are like clay: you can push them around and make all manner of shapes with them. And clay reminds us of childhood. And childhood reminds us of the time when we were the most playful, most creative, and least haunted by voices telling us we can’t do things well enough.
In other words, you can approach revision with your head low and your shoulders tensed, thinking, “Boy my sentences are so sloppy and wordy, and everything seems slow. All in all, I’m a pathetic failure.”
Or you can approach revision thinking, “Hey, here’s my chance to get it right. Let’s play around.”
Too many areas of life don’t afford you a second chance, but writing does, and you should see that as a good thing. So, here’s my advice: