Neal’s Rules of Revising: Print It Out

So, I finally finished. I finished the first draft. Then the second and third, and I honestly and truly think that this fourth draft is the final one. And I learned a lot of very helpful things along the way so here is the first entry of “Neal’s Rules…,” a series that I’ll be returning to over the next few weeks, months, years, etc.

Of course, all rules can change. I expect after my next novel, I will have quite a few humbling corrections, but at least these rules will serve as a better (if shaky) foundation than what I had earlier, which was no foundation at all.

To get to the point, when revising, always print it out. I had spent a tremendous amount of time revising/editing earlier drafts, but when I finally printed out the draft and put pen to actual paper, I saw holes in the plot I didn’t notice earlier, annoying quirks or crutches that I have within my writing (e.g., repeating words, using the same facial expression, so much shrugging), seeing where the order of sections/chapters had to be changed to serve the plot, and so on.

Most crucially were the points where the plot felt “thin,” when the story was no longer immersive – instead of being inside my story, I was reading words on a page. While there are plenty of tools and techniques for correcting these moments, finding them in the text obviously must come first. On the screen, I would read past them, thinking all was well or wondering why I just could not get this scene right – but on paper, they jumped out.

To be honest, it was humbling. It is so easy to think you’re a horrible writer because you see some of your horrible writing. And the fixes weren’t always easy; it was rarely the case of adding more description or thinking of another word for “dark.” I had to dig deeper to find ways to engage the reader. I hope I succeeded. At the very least, it made me a better writer.

So, there it is, the first of Neal’s Rules for Editing: Print It Out (double-sided if possible so you save paper). More to come…

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