Revision and version control

I just got back the full copy-edit of Surreality from Brian along with some really great comments. Looking at edited drafts or starting any revision process can make you feel like you’ve screwed everything up, that nothing of what you’ve written on the page is any good and you should just pack it up and go home.

You’re already home? Go crawl under your covers and don’t come out for a week.

The thing is, this way is thinking is wrong for a couple of reasons:

1) Just by sheer percentages a lot of what you wrote is actually doing just fine. Even if you get a draft back with hundreds or even thousands of edits, a novel is tens of thousands of words. Something obviously worked, and some things can be improved.

2) It’s ironic that I’m starting this (hopefully final) revision of Surreality at a moment when I’m also doing some significant editing to technical documentation at work. I’ve been working on this technical doc on and off for about a year for a software product we released a few months ago. As things change, things in the manual need to change with them. This happens for a couple of reasons: the way the software works changes OR people who’ve read the doc need some additional explanation or things said a different way to understand it.

For a technical document this is always going to happen. Hopefully, software improves, and your ability to communicate about it improves as well. Writing technical documentation benefited a lot from my work on the fractal book, and conversely, writing this doc I think will help in future projects.

The point is, revision is just part of the game. You’re a better writer, a better version of the guy who wrote the first sentence of this story God knows how long ago. There will be things to fix, and it’s okay.

3) A separate but no less important point is that you can have blind spots to your writing; areas of the draft you would never in a million years interpret one way that pretty much every one else would. You could have said something sexist, or illogical, or stupid, and it takes the right pair of eyes (often not yours) to pull the scales away and see the work for what it is or how it will be perceived. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, it’s just that some sections need adjusting and it takes outside help to see that. And the change can be subtle, but vastly affect how a character is perceived. Call characters out on their bullshit. It’s okay for some characters to have shitty views, or do bad things, but don’t let them get away with it.

4) Don’t quit because you’re tired. I’ve been working on Surreality for a long time. I want it to be done, and I want to share it with all of you, but I also want it to represent the writer I am, not the writer I was. That takes work, and that’s okay. I’ve put untold thousands of hours into this project. What’s a couple hundred more to make it better?

So take a moment and be depressed, then move on and get to work.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Revision and version control

  1. Amen to all of this. When I get comments on my own writing, anything less than “This is the most perfect prose since the invention of words” feels like a knife in the gut. It’s just surgery, except we don’t seem to have invented anesthesia yet. C’est la vie. And props to you for taking it all in such a positive way and moving on.

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