Revising My Novel, Attempt 500

I’ll admit, I have been putting this off: I have two first drafts of novels completed, both very different but both needing a LOT of work. I always thought that once I completed a novel, it would be easy to just polish it up, check for grammar, maybe get creative with a thesaurus. What I’m finding is that my first drafts are written in more of a jot-it-down-now-make-it-pretty-later style. And making it pretty is not nearly as easy as I thought it would be!

Anyway, the one I’ve been working on lately is one loosely based on my time working as a steward on a small cruise ship. I’d been exploring different ways of rewriting, namely, working directly off the already completed MS document versus printing out the manuscript and rereading that while starting on a new document. Neither one was working and I wasn’t sure why: I liked the storyline and I liked my characters. I didn’t need any of the major changes often found in a revision—switching viewpoints, changing the setting or deleting major scenes—so I wasn’t sure what exactly was the problem. I started obsessively searching online, hoping the powers of Google could tell me what I was doing wrong. Then, I had my epiphany: Most of what I had written was so vanilla that I was sick of looking at it, let alone able to put the effort into making it better. I was keeping the story too similar to what had actually happened, without allowing myself to really get creative with the people and the plot.

So! I pulled out my spiral notebook and spent some time nailing down the theme, sub-themes, the story arc and a brief description of each of the characters. I made a list of plot highlights and crises, adding and deleting from my original draft, and tried to imagine how I could make each one just a little more dramatic, make things more tense for my heroine and push the stakes even higher. I jotted down the main scenes and then I pulled up a clean, white document and started fresh.

Yesterday, I spent Nora’s entire nap writing, and I felt really good about what I’d accomplished. It was the lead-up to my heroine starting on the boat and, using my previous methods, it was one of those scenes that I was so sick of that just looking at it gave me writer’s block. Going off my notes, I realized that this was a place where, instead of trying to rush her onto the boat, I should be setting up her character traits and future dilemmas. The result, while it will still need some tweaking, is much more interesting—something even I now enjoy reading!

I definitely don’t feel like my first draft was a waste, but I will be using it as more of an outline as I work to finish this first revision. Wish me luck!

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