I used to write in a kind of haphazard way – just kind of threw words down in draft form – and relied on the revision process to make everything right. After a while I found that that strategy didn’t work quite as well as I’d hoped. The reason was that when I came to revise I always regretted not having done a better job first time around. I also found that when revising something I’d already written in draft format there was a huge reluctance to make anything other than minor changes to the text. It was even worse if something needed to be rewritten. I would tamper with it, tweak it or delete parts of it; anything to avoid doing what was obviously needing to be done.
Eventually I hit on the solution and made the decision that I would write the best I could first time round in order to avoid all the tedious rewriting and tinkering later. Kind of no-brainer, really. It worked. The only thing I found was that I had to be on form every time I sat down to write – or at least I had to force myself to be on form, to make what I wrote decent enough not to need the usual open heart surgery down the line. I’m sure that one decision has halved my writing workload over the years.
On the other hand, one area of revision that I have found indispensible is revising the plot. I usually write to a synopsis, which in this case is a condensed outline of the plot, chapter by chapter, stating roughly how the story moves along towards its conclusion. At some point, hopefully near the start, of writing a novel I come up with a full working synopsis to guide me through the book. However, I have also found that I have to keep making adjustments to it in order to get it to work properly. The last thing you need is to have written 40k-50k words, only to discover you’ve painted yourself into a corner and need to go back and rewrite chunks of the action or dialog, or worse, whole chapters. Don’t get me wrong; I still go back and rewrite from time to time, but writing a good synopsis, I have found, is one way of ensuring that it’s kept to a minimum.
There is more than one way of skinning a cat – if you happen to be of a particularly gruesome and revolting frame of mind – and there is more than one way of writing a novel. Mike Faricy, another indie novelist, doesn’t take that approach. He says that the plot unfolds as he is writing and that plot turns comes as just as much of a surprise to him as it does to the reader. I used to do that too, but it usually involved considerable rewriting and back-story insertion for me. Mike seems to have mastered it pretty well, because his plots hang together nicely as if he had planned the whole thing from the start. I like the idea of entertaining yourself as well as the reader. Maybe it’s something a lot of authors could learn from. Writing has to be fun; otherwise why do it?