Revisionitis

The other day, I started reading my own novel on my Nook. I smiled as the familiar words flowed across the screen; it was like visiting old friends.

But then I noticed something I wish I’d done differently. Just a small thing; a sentence that, were I writing it now, I would have worded another way. A more concise way.

A better way.

And the more I read, the more little things I found. An unecessary adverb here. A wordy description there. And redundancies all over the place.

I didn’t even make it past the prologue before I turned off my Nook, irritated to the max. Why had I written the story that way? And how, in my 20+ rounds of revision, did I not catch the things that needed improvement?

The answer is twofold: First, that old saying that “Revision is never done” is true. (And if you’re thinking, “Huh, I didn’t know that was a saying,” well, it might not be. But I say it, so now it’s a saying. Ha.) No matter how much we edit our work, there’s always more. Why?

Because the more we write, the better we get, which means more of our writing weaknesses are revealed.

As you have already deduced, this is a blessing and a curse. It’s great that we’re improving. But it’s painful to go back and read our old stuff.

The second part of the answer is that I suffer from something called Revisionitis. Not only is my editing never done, but even when it’s to the point that I cannot make it any better, I continue to change things–even though the changes I make don’t necessarily improve the story.

Do you do this, too?

For example, I might take this sentence: “The dog, who was brown and small, went over the fence.”

And change it to: “The small brown dog jumped over the fence.” This is a much better sentence. I could stop here. But oh no, that would be too easy.

Instead of leaving well enough alone, I’ll change it to: “The small brown dog leaped over the fence.”

Why? Because in my mind, “leaped” is better than “jumped.” Is it really better? No. It paints the same picture in the reader’s mind. But I continue to change things around, editing for the sake of editing.

Revisionitis: It’s why I can’t re-read THE CLEARING. Because I’ll end up wasting a bunch of time, going back through a manuscript that’s already been published, trying to make it perfect.

Again.

I bet most, if not all, authors struggle with this–especially the established ones with several books out. Don’t you think?

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15 thoughts on “Revisionitis

  1. Alexandra Shostak says:

    Yes, I have revisionitis, too. Even after everything big, medium, and small has been hammered out, I have to keep rereading my ms in case I catch some word that needs to be moved or changed, in case a comma has to be deleted or in case I find a place I should’ve used a semicolon. It’s terrible.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      I’m the same way! Sometimes I obsess over things like commas. Like, OBSESS. It’s gotta be unhealthy.

  2. Sara McClung says:

    I can’t tell you how many authors I’ve heard say they never reread their books once they’re in print for that EXACT reading. Orson Scott Card is one.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      Really? Okay, that makes me feel better. Because if I read that thing again, I’m going to feel the compulsion to edit it. But I will probably have to read it before I write the sequel. *headdesk*

  3. Connie Keller says:

    I have a friend who is a very successful writer, and she’s told me that she cringes when she looks at the first few books that she wrote which were published.

  4. Heather McCorkle says:

    I do this! I think we all do. It’s the perfectionist in each author. We care so much for our stories and our characters that we want the very best for them. The thing is, there is always room for improvement, and that’s okay! Embrace the concept and it will ease your mind. ๐Ÿ™‚ Your book was wonderful.

  5. Shallee says:

    I know what you mean. I have a hard time with revisionitis as well, going back over sections again and again and making little changes that may or may not matter. And then I read it over months later and STILL change things. In the end, when I get down to tinkering like that, I know I just need to let it be. It’s as done as I’m going to get it at that point!

    Thanks for sharing, it’s always comforting to hear that other writers as just as nit-picky as me. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. hal lilburn says:

    Davinci said something that I fully agree with: “Art is never finished, just abandoned”
    here here Leo. My first YA novel is coming out in 2012 and I am revising like crazy!

  7. Melissa Garrett says:

    Ugh. I totally suffer from this, which is why I strive for “good enough” and not “perfect.” If I can read through one of my manuscripts once and not feel like I need to change a million different things, I consider it done. And then I don’t look at it ever again. I know if I picked up PRECIPICE and started reading it, I’d wish I’d written it differently.

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