Under Writing and Revisions

The narrative part is over. What I want is to enrich and stabilise.” Virginia Woolf

Yes, thank you Ms. Woolf, I was beginning to feel very, very alone in my revision process. So many writers say they tend to over write first drafts. Hemingway recommended slicing off the first three chapters during revisions. Stephen King recommends cutting about 10% of your first draft for your second.  I do this, but what I find more often is that I must add more to subsequent drafts. My first drafts are spare, action oriented, and plot driven. I tend to stay away from interior monologue, descriptions, elaboration, and motive. The scenes fall like dots on a timeline, broken only by dialogue.

When I turn in my work to my critique partner and my editor they usually ask for more. And yet, as my critique partner also tells me, “Trust your reader.” Don’t over-explain. Don’t give three sentences to describe it when it can be done in one. I find myself going mad trying to find the balance between too much and not enough, like some fumbling Goldilocks with a keyboard searching for “just right” within a house full of extremes.

I will say, though, apart from the difficulties of this balancing act, this has been a tremendously productive week for revisions. New scenes that add weight to characterization have emerged that provide a strong support for what’s there. New ideas have come that solve some plotting problems. I’ve found new ways to show my characters in action and provide more motives for their decisions. I feel like there’s more muscle in the draft, and it’s giving my manuscript balance and momentum.

Still, though, there’s a need for more. Much, much more.

Writers, I’m curious about how you emerge from a first draft. Do you need more or less? How do you find the balance between too much and not enough?


6 thoughts on “Under Writing and Revisions

  1. I end up underwriting, leaving out many of the descriptive details, then realizing later I’ll need to fix it. I try to remember to go back and make a note. Since I hand write every thing, I usually end up expanding upon the scene as I type it up. Still working on the balance and I guess that will come with time.

    • erikarobuck says:

      Tracy Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring) hand writes first, and edits while she types her work into the computer. I was thinking of trying that with my next book. It seems an authentic way to conjure character for first person narrative historical fiction.

      • Dear Erika:

        I do the same as Chevalier. I write by hand, as it seems still the best way to transfer my thoughts to paper. Essentially, it’s like taking notes on what’s going on in my head.

        Now, I’m almost to the revision process, which will involve printing out what I’ve edited into manuscript form on my laptop from my original handwritten manuscript, and going over it again, by hand, like an editor.

        I’m also planning to read some of it outloud, to myself, because while you hear your voice when you read, it sounds almost like someone else reading it to you–like the narrator–when you read out loud, and I also catch things that way I might pass over just reading to myself without a sound.

        It’s an old editing trick for catching incorrectly structured sentences, etc., letting your tongue taste the words in each sentence.

        There’s additive sculpture, when you throw clay at the right place to fill something out, and there’s subtractive, when you carve away the excess blocking the form you’re bringing to life. I’m planning to engage in subtractive sculpture, having thrown a bunch of clay at this thing up to this point.

        Good luck, as always.


  2. Kelly says:

    sweet friend,

    trust YOURSELF
    trust YOURSELF
    trust YOURSELF

    with love

  3. Elaine Allen says:

    Hi Erika. I found your blog when I came across your page on Facebook! I too am a sparse writer. I think a few words can be so much more impactful than two pages. But I write children’s stories which have to be quick and catch the readers’ interest. I think adults look for more than an interesting story; we look for an escape. When I read your book I too wanted to read more–and that’s a compliment! I just wanted to spend more time with the characters. I told another friend who had read your book, “I wish there were 200 more pages!” It’s like when I finish a Jane Austin novel, I feel like I’m losing a friend that has kept me company. I think if I were in your shoes I would go back and read some of your favorite books that helped you escape the world around you for hours at a time and see what the author did to accomplish that. That said, I loved your book, and I am looking forward to the next one!

    • erikarobuck says:

      Thanks, Elaine! I used to be a teacher, and I recognize your book! I’m sure writing for children is very different from writing for adults, though our common ground is giving our readers–no matter what ages and stages–an escape. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

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