I raised the question a while back as to when you can draw the line with a book, and send it off to a publisher. But of course, there is a question that needs to be dealt with earlier – how much time and effort should I devote to revising?
The short answer, alas, is usually ‘a lot, and rather more than you would have hoped’. I readily confess that I need – always – to do a lot of revising. Take My Breath Away remains the book that I revised most heavily – cutting it from 150,000 words to 85,000 in the process. I still feel a bit faint when I remember that agonising process...
How to go about revising? Well, there is no all-encompassing answer – there are various possible approaches. I think it is easier to cut than to expand. If a story is wordy, it can be trimmed. But if it’s anorexic, it may require significant additional plotting and development, which is harder to achieve. I don’t worry too much if my initial writing is a bit wordy, but I do try to remedy this at re-write time.
There are other things to do, as well. Ensuring consistency of theme and mood is often important. So is eliminating inconsistencies of style, and repetitions. But I don’t, personally, find revision too boring (unlike proof checking, which is incredibly tedious). It offers a chance to make a book much better. And I am firmly of the view that a few relatively limited changes can often make a disproportionately significant difference to the quality of a book.
Authors who skimp on revision do so at their peril. Many years ago, I met a writer who announced she never revised. I felt this was a mistake. And it may not be a coincidence that she has more or less disappeared from sight since then. A pity, since she was a nice person and a good writer. But even a good book can be improved by revision.