February 22, 2016

Commandment #5: Remember the Importance of Revision

Your first draft should never be your published draft. I don't often speak in absolutes, but in this case, the only exception I can imagine is if you're publishing a first draft alongside a finished version to illustrate the enormous difference.

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As a writer, revision is one of your best friends. Not only does it transform your work, but the knowledge that you can revise down the line also gives you the freedom to write a less-than-perfect draft now, so that you can have something to work with later. It is this knowledge that allows many writers to push past their inhibitions, or even their fears, and start down the path of creating.

Whether you're writing flash fiction or epic novels, or anything in between, your first draft is unlikely to be the best version you could write. It's important to know when you've done all you can do—and not to get stuck in an infinite loop of revisions—but you can't decide you're done before you've even started. Though most readers will never know that you've written 5 or 20 or 100 different drafts of your story before it ever reached their hands, you still don't have the right to skip this crucial step. It's disrespectful—to your readers, to your fellow writers, and to your own work. It implies none of them are worth the effort.

Revision also isn't something that writers "grow out of"—and more-experienced writers, including those published many times over, know that. It is an unrealistic dream that one day, you'll write a perfect first draft of a novel. Most likely, you'll never write a perfect second draft, either. And that's okay, because that's why you revise; it's why you're likely to need multiple passes through, even when working with the best editor. In fact, a perfect first draft shouldn't even be your goal. With experience, your initial drafts may become more cohesive, closer to the finished product, but you'll also start seeing all the many ways that revising augments your work.

Think of it like a gem, mined from the ground. The mining itself is important; it brings the gem out into the world. But after that's done, the rock still needs to be cut and polished to showcase its beauty in the best possible way. By stopping when the rough stone has been mined (i.e., the story has been drafted), you're doing your work a great disservice, impeding the world's ability to appreciate—or even notice—its beauty.

So respect the process of revision. And respect the critique partners, beta readers, and editors who help you along the way.

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