Revising A Scene Before Moving On

Do you hear writers say – or if you are one, do you hear other writers say – to just get the story on the page, move on, don’t waste time with what you might later cut out? Put on all the flesh before you revise. Let the story be fat. Then find the bones. That’s what they say.

It’s the standard advice, the canon, the orthodoxy to be ignored to your detriment. I remember it from Annie Lamont’s Bird By Bird. She said to let your first draft be shitty!

I took this as gospel, then felt sinful in the church because of how often I went astray. Still do. Can’t help myself. Old habits die hard.

I write a scene. It looks pretty good. Next day I come back to take off from there. No time to waste. Needing to refresh, I intend to only stay a moment, to move right on. But no, here’s a place to fill in. She’d say this. He’d say that. He’d think this, not think that. I add, cut, fill, deepen, change. It’s a canvas, a sheet of paper on the easel, and I have the paint. This morning it looks pale in this corner, a shadow, a mere skeleton in need of nourishment right now. In that corner there’s purple prose, a Christmas tree with too many ornaments. Bring the eraser. Be gone all you unnecessary words!

I can’t move on until I see enough there. I must fill in or make it move by getting the junk out of the way. That’s what propels me to the next scene.

Writers, what happens for you in that critical first draft in which your job is to find the story? Tell us.

Readers, do you ever wonder what it would be like to write a story or just a scene? Try it. You might like it. Tell us how you imagine writers get it done. Do you like stories that are thick or thin?


4 thoughts on “Revising A Scene Before Moving On

  1. You/ve been doing a great deal of writing here, Jim!
    Being a non fiction writer puts me in a different mind frame from a fiction writer.
    Anyway, I am going to start substitute teaching and I already have a title for the book:
    Tales From a (Substitute) Teacher
    SImple enough.


  2. Karen, I wonder if there are similarities. Though you write nonfiction, what I’ve read and heard of your work has the elements of narrative. They are stories. Even the travelog. I would imagine that even your “Tales From A (Substitute) Teacher will have a narrative thread. But I understand your simple approach, and that you don’t conceptualize what you do, you just do it! That’s a bit like following your nose.

    Enjoy your (substitute) teaching and the tales it evokes.



  3. You’ve said it well here jim. And it’s my experience too. I write something and think it’s great. Close up shop for the night. Wake up in the morning and boom, omg, it sucks!!! Be gone, irrelevant awful words! Tewrite, rewrite,rewrite!
    One long ending rewrite!


    • Lisa, I love rewriting. Not just after the end of a long story. Even in the middle of a first draft, I’ll return to a small part of it and spend time adding, subtracting, and moving things around until the scene feels right and whole. Only then can I move on. When I find time to do this each day, I don’t lose the thread, and it begins to happen faster.

      Thanks for your thoughts.



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