I’m going to assume you know how to swim.
I do. I mean, I used to be quite an impressive little swimmer as a young girl when I was on the swim team for the Wood Valley Country Club back in the 1980s. I don’t swim as fast now as I did back then, but that’s another story. Anyway, that kind of swimming has nothing to do with doing book revisions, but doing book revisions seems to have some interesting similarities to the stages one goes through in learning how to swim.
You know how when a very small child first gets into a swimming pool, they always want to be sure they can touch the bottom of the pool with their feet, or at least stay close to the side of the pool? For me, learning how to revise a novel has felt a lot like that.
It was a huge deal to finish my first draft, and although I knew going into the revisions process that I would have to make some big changes, it’s taken time for me to get to the point where I feel like I’m actually getting somewhere. Here is the general progression I’ve experienced:
Clinging to the Side of the Pool
When you first get into a swimming pool without your mom or dad, you will try to stay close to the edges of the pool. It feels safer. You’re not comfortable with swimming yet, but you are determined to learn.
This is like going through and making those minor little edits in your novel. If you’re like me, you’ll try to do this on the screen. You’re not even ready to print the thing out yet.
Maybe you’ll change a bit of phrasing, or even a character’s name. You’re not really ready to start making any big changes yet. You’ve spent so much time writing, you’re not ready to let go of what you have done… not yet, anyway.
Once you’ve realized that your body will not just sink right down to the bottom of the pool, you may start feeling comfortable enough to try to doggy-paddle. For a while, you might cling to one of those floaty-noodle-thingies, but the end result is the same. You can certainly get across the pool by doggy-paddling, but it’s slow-going, and mostly you’re using up a lot of energy without moving ahead very easily or efficiently.
Again, this is like learning to start revising your novel in earnest. Maybe here is where you start working on individual sections of dialogue, or fixing superfluous language and redundant phrasing. These things are important, and they will help you move ahead, but it will happen slowly, and it will take a lot of energy. No big progress happens here, but at least you’re starting to move forward.
Proper Strokes and Flips
Eventually, you’ll get more comfortable in the water. Rather than just doggy-paddling, you might start doing proper strokes, or maybe you’ll get confident enough to do occasional flips in the pool.
I would compare this to getting to that point in the revisions process when you realize that you need to get out a colored pen and start marking up your manuscript. You’ll start crossing out entire lines, or marking whole scenes or chapters for possible removal. Maybe you’re not be ready to rewrite those scenes yet, but you are making notes in the margins and you’ll come back to them later.
Diving into the Deep End
Once you’re a pretty confident swimmer, you’ll think nothing of diving (or jumping) right into the deep end. Even though you might not feel the bottom with your feet, you still know you can get across.
This is where you might start moving whole scenes around, or even cutting them out altogether. Perhaps you’ll ratchet up the tension by adding all kinds of new conflicts for your main character. Then again, maybe you’ve decided to change the point of view for your whole novel. The deep end of doing revisions is where your novel will begin to take its final shape. You’re intimately familiar with the story and characters now, so you know what it’s going to take to make your novel the best it can be.
Flying Through the Water
I’ve heard different things from different people, but at some point in the revisions process, things will start to get easier. Rather than slowly trudging through, painstakingly making changes, it will become more effortless and fun. You’ll stop wanting to procrastinate and avoid it as a scary, painful endeavor, and instead you’ll be able to jump right in and swim through the rest of what’s necessary to get your book out there.