There are very few writers (arguably none) who can write a perfect first draft. Some of us revise just a little. And some of us revise so much we end up with a story completely different from the original. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, chances are there will come a time when you need to heavily revise your story (e.g., major plot changes, adding/removing characters, changing the setting, etc.). There are few things more painful than turning your story into something different–sometimes entirely different–so here are a few tips on staying sane through this process.
1. Don’t act like it’s plastic surgery.
You’re not enhancing your stories lips or sucking out its cellulite. It may seem like that right now, but any time you approach revising as making your story “prettier,” “better,” or “more,” you’re going to end up with a weirder looking version of what you already have. This is not plastic surgery. A better (and easier) approach is to think of the story as a puzzle with extra pieces. Right now, you’re using pieces that weren’t meant to be there. It either looks like a science experiment gone wrong or a picture that just isn’t quite right. That’s because the extra pieces are taking up spaces that were meant for something else. It’s your job to take out the extras and put the right pieces where they should be. That may also mean not replacing pieces or creating entirely new ones.
You got into writing because you liked it (hopefully). So have fun. Try out new ideas. Take out old ones. See what adds to your story rather than hinders it. Experiment with ideas. Sure, some things might explode, but maybe that’s what you needed all this time. Don’t be afraid to try something new. If it doesn’t work, get rid of it. This is your story, and it doesn’t have to look any one way.
3. Cut everything you hate.
I really mean this. Everything you don’t like about your story needs to go first. Don’t try to change it. Don’t try to make it better. Just cut it out. You’ll feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Trust me.
4. Get at least three opinions on the gray areas.
You’re going to have aspects of your story that you’re not in love with but aren’t sure you need to cut. Get at least three opinions on these areas before you cut anything. Chances are someone is going to see the gold in it that you couldn’t, or you’ll be met with overwhelming indifference. In the case of the former, see if you can add more to the gold. In the case of the latter, cut it. Your story doesn’t need dead-weight.
5. Get a partner…or two…or ten.
Get someone you can bounce ideas off of. The more people you have, the more ideas you’ll get. I know; I know. You want to hole up in your house and keep your mess of a story to yourself, but I promise the sun won’t kill you, nor will letting people read your work. Part of becoming a better writer is taking criticism. It’s also disagreeing with criticism. Get people to do some of the brainstorming for you. The ideas you can both agree on and that light you up are going to be the best ones.
6. Keep writing.
Sitting idly will get you nowhere. You can think up entire novels, but that won’t make a difference in reality if you don’t sit down and write it. Even if it’s just a couple notes on your phone, write something.