Writing Excuses 10.47: Q&A on Revision

And now for your questions about revision. Or rather, questions from the WXR attendees, who were aboard the Independence of the Seas with us (the answers to these questions are secreted away in the audio file…):

  • During revision, when do you think it’s acceptable to throw the whole thing out?
  • How do you fit the whole structure in your head?
  • What do you find you most often need to add?
  • What do you do when your revisions have made things worse?
  • How do you avoid over-writing during the revision process?
  • When revising, how many passes do you make, and what order are they in?
  • Do you take the sounds of words into account when writing and revising?

This episode was engineered aboard The Independence of the Seas by Bert Grimm, and mastered in a concrete bunker somewhere in the midwest by Alex Jackson.


Read your piece aloud. The whole thing. Yes, THE WHOLE THING. Take notes while you do so.

Blindsight, by Peter Watts, narrated by T. Ryder Smith

10 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 10.47: Q&A on Revision”

  1. Many thanks for the podcast – very inspiring.

    Maybe this question could go into a future Q&A session. If there’s a better place to post Q’s please let me/us know.

    I’m a busy man; job, family with part-time, on-line MA in progress. The slots in the day where I carry out my MA stuff are where I would write creatively. I write alot, but technical/ academic essays. I’m frustrated that I don’t have enough time to write the stories in my head. Is essay writing actually good practice for the creative writing I want to do when I have more time in the future?

  2. Thank you so much for this wonderful well of inspiration and knowledge. I learn something new every time I listen to an episode, even those I have heard more than once. Who needs a college when we have you? It is a fantastic way for us who live far from science-fiction writing- communities to feel connected to a family of friendly writers, even if we don’t actually know each other. My writing benefits enormously.

  3. Speaking of discovery writing, you guys should get a couple of guest speakers on sometimes who are hardcore discovery writers. You haven’t done that before, as far as I’m aware, and I think it would be cool to hear how they go about writing.

  4. Good episode. A lot of useful things to think over. Reading aloud is always extraordinarily good advice.

    It’s interesting that there isn’t a lot of consideration of theme when writing from everyone. I guess I tend to agree that theme mostly comes out of the unconscious during the writing process, though I also think that once a story is written it does become possible to look at it and think ‘what is this really about, deep down?’ and then go back and try to work out what your unconscious was trying to say.

    Theme can link very strongly to emotional arcs of characters, but it can also link very strongly to the ‘antagonistic force’ (to borrow a term from Le Guin) of the story. That is, not all antagonists are pushing the same agenda… if the story is about standing against a particular antagonistic force (prejudice, slavery, right makes right, corruption of tradition, desire for power etc,) then being at least somewhat aware of the particular flavour of villainy is I think important… this is probably more true of genre works than non-genre works, though I guess internal conflict could be teased apart in the same way. Internal conflict can be wilful ignorance, or fear, or pride or a bunch of things, so that maybe that’s important too? I now wonder if Jane Austen, for example, named Pride and Prejudice before or after writing it? If before, then I suspect she had an idea of the theme in mind. If after, she probably worked it out once done, and presumably did some retrofitting to make sure it all held together?

    Anyway, I guess I’m just saying that I think from certain storytelling standpoints considering theme can be important, but at the same time is is probably best not to allow yourself to get bogged down in a tedium of knowing symbolism and winks and nods. That will tend to result in something a little too clever and trite, often as not. It might even be the reason a lot of writers steer away from considering theme: it’s very easy to be heavy handed and do it badly, and after seeing a few awful examples in workshops I suspect writers tend to get a bit leery of the whole idea.


  5. I started listening to WE back in February, and since then have made my way through all 10 seasons to land here.

    Now, sitting and looking at some of my old projects, I can finally begin to see the reasons behind my feeling they weren’t “right.” I’m encouraged, I’m enthused, but most of all I’m writing. Sometimes I think you wonderful hosts need to repeat one of your older mantras that seemed to drop out of use in the early seasons. Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.

    Inspired by the ‘cast, I’ve also been doing more reading on writing than I had before. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ has some very… we’ll call them different philosophical outlooks on writing, but his segment on revisions is interesting to contrast to this last month of episodes. I would suggest all WE listeners go (or go back) and check it out.

    The main question I’m left with on the episode topic is as follows: How do you stop from revising too early? Whether it’s realizing a secondary plotline needs to happen when you’re 50% through the first draft, or that you’ve left a major plothole that will require a new chapter back near the beginning, I find now as I put into practice what I’ve been learning that the outline can (and needs to) change. Do you leave it until your follow up, or go back and write what’s missing?

    A big thanks to all four of you, and the many, many guests, who have inspired me over the past year of listening. Hopefully someday I can pay it forward, or maybe even back.

  6. @Chris Probably someone should ask the ‘casters to talk about that whole metaphor / symbolism / allegory thing at some point.

    @Mary Version control: if you have the right tools, seeing what you changed and when is easy. Coders use such tools to find such things all the time. The one that you might just find super quick and powerful is “git”, for snapshots. If your file format is text-ish enough, you can even use it to show individual line changes all the way back to when you started that project.

  7. Bless you! As a professional audiobook narrator, I’m astounded that so few authors have taken the step to read their book aloud. You can find SO many issues (and really terrible dialogue) that way.

    So again, thank you for putting this (and all the episodes) out there!

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