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They Say You Have to Revise…

People say you have to revise. You never know who “people” are. It’s everyone. You know, people.

It’s what everybody knows. So people say you have to revise.

They say it, but that doesn’t make it true…

For example, I didn’t start selling until I stopped rewriting. Nowadays, I write a first draft, type the end, check it for spelling errors (with word’s spellchecker mostly) and send it out.

So far, that method has netted me 56 sales, of which 37 to pro magazines like Analog, DSF, Nature Futures, IGMS etc. (not saying this to brag, but to show that yes, you can be a selling writer without revision – and most professional writers that I know off revise very little or nothing at all.)

That said, it all depends on how your brain works. My main strengths are pattern matching ability, and the ability to jump to conclusions (it’s a writing superpower, and let no one tell you differently!)

So when I write, I write one draft, starting each session by reading what I wrote the last session and adding in a few details (usually description which I tend to omit). That’s all the “rewriting” I do.

Occasionally, I do stall out on a story and then, I can’t do anything about it. My stories get set in concrete. Once my brain has decided, my only option is to go back to a point where the story worked, and throw out everything after that, drafting in a new direction, ignoring my previous ideas completely.

I can’t revise a story, and yes, that’s a weakness, but as my skill grows, I stall out less and less.

On the other hand, I can’t plot to save my life. Or rather, I can plot, but once my brain has told the story, it’s done. I can’t write it. It feels like work, a struggle to put words on paper. That’s another weakness, because when I do work for hire, I have to do a very, very broad synopsis that my brain can play with, or I won’t get it written.

Neither can I do the type of thematic or structural analysis that professors of literature love. I see the whole story when I read it, but sub-dividing it into pieces feels completely wrong to me. My brain revolts and calls me a stupid arse. And shuts down, refusing to write.

On the plus side, I write fast, and I tend to finish what I write.

Could I learn to plot? Maybe. But likely not. I’ve tried, many times, and I’ve tried doing plotting exercises, but none of that has helped in any way. It just won’t stick in my head.

Can a plotter learn to pants? Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve heard of people who find pantsing, and then become pantsers, but most of them seem to be writers who drop into it and realize that it’s the way their brains always wanted to write (I was one of those.) Whether you can teach yourself to pantse if your brain wants to plot is a completely different matter.

I’m not saying you can’t. I’m just saying that I don’t know how to do it. Strange are the ways of the mind, and only you know how your mind works. But be open to the possibility that you can become a pantser.

But most of us have learned the old mantra of “you must revise”. It’s where the “people” come from, us. We’re the people.

So if you don’t think that you should pantse, and haven’t tried it, I can recommend Dean Wesley Smith’s “Writing into the Dark.” It opened my eyes to the fact that it’s OK to write the way your brain works.

And if you think that you should only pantse, and have never tried plotting, I can recommend Libbie Hawker’s “Take of Your Pants.” I read it, liked it, tried it, and realized it didn’t work for me.

But it just might for you…

Luck and Persistence!

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