Ah, revision – guaranteed to bring a writer’s ego crashing back to earth.
Dean Wesley Smith, a multi-published author, advises never to revise. He writes his first draft, checks for typos and publishes.
Maybe when I’ve written as many books as he has I’ll be able to do the same, but for now I think my readers (and my reputation as a writer) will be better served by removing some of the first-draft suckitude from my manuscript. And even the second-draft suckitude.
I was still finding gems on the second revision pass. The prize for most uses of one word in the same short sentence goes to:
“The worst part was, he was probably right, but I was out of options.”
That’s three occurrences of the word “was” in a total fourteen words, or 21%. Not bad, eh?
“Was” is a particular problem child of mine. I’m aware that when I’m writing first draft, creating the story, I tend to overuse basic sentence structures like “there was a something-or-other”. That’s fine. First draft isn’t meant to be about crafting beautiful prose. First draft is when I’m discovering the story, dealing with plot and characters and “big picture” issues, and I don’t want to break the creative flow by considering syntax too much.
But it means I end up with a lot of sentences like: “There was a lot of junk in the drawer.” That’s a grammatically correct sentence that conveys the necessary information, but it’s passive and dull. Too many of those suck the life out of your story. A better sentence would be something like: “The drawer bulged with junk”, which brings a picture to life in the reader’s mind.
Which is where revision comes in!
In revision “he was much taller than me” becomes “he towered over me”. “I should know what this little piece of rock was” becomes “I should recognise this little piece of rock”.
Cool, isn’t it? Swap out “was” for a more active verb, and the writing automatically improves.
After I’d finished two major revision passes through the novel I went hunting specific words. “Was” occurred 1467 times. Eek! Obviously a lot of those had to stay, but the tired old “there was a something” ones came out. I managed to kill off almost 300 of those suckers.
“Just” is another one I can’t seem to resist. There were 240 of those. That shows up a lot! The Find function commented jauntily. Rude piece of software. Bet it had a conniption when it counted the “wases”.
Actually I was expecting a lot more “justs”, though I did nuke what felt like a thousand of them on the second revision, so that might explain it.
The manuscript is just about ready (see? those pesky “justs” sneak in everywhere) to show to my beta readers. I’m pleased but frankly astonished to have made it this far – a real live almost-finished book! One small step for man, one giant leap for procrastinators.
Fingers crossed they don’t want me to rewrite the whole thing. Or add any wases.