After the First Draft – the difference between an edit, revision and re-write

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

So, I finished the first draft of Divided Elements last month. And, no, I didn’t celebrate. Which surprised me, because after a year of slaving away to beat this story out of my psyche, I was all kinds of ready to celebrate. But, when you are faced with the final product in all its glory and with all of its flaws, you gain a new appreciation of the kind of work that is necessary to make your rough hewn story match your original vision. 

Looking over my first draft, and with the help of my critique group, I have learnt a lot about not only my story, but  also my identity as a writer. These lessons are the key driving forces guiding me into the next stage of my writing process – the rewrite.

Yes, I said re-write – not edit, not revision. Re-write.

What’s the difference? 

An edit is a review, assessment and amendment from a distance. Most edits are undertaken by an outsider – someone distanced enough from the project to view it objectively and offer insight into assumptions, oversights, gaps and flaws. Editing your own work is difficult, but possible – it requires distance from your own work (usually by letting the work ‘rest’ before you even glance at it again) and an approach from a position of understanding the excellence you seek to achiever (usually by reading awesome books by talented writers, gaining insight from industry players on what works, and getting your hands on all the right writing guides).

A revision is a tinkering at the edges. For me, it is the equivalent of a line edit or proofread – focussing on the finer, micro details and ignoring the larger structure (even if it riddled with flaws). Revisions are best left til the eleventh hour, once everything else has been fixed. No point fixing a paint chip if your entire chassis is structurally defective. Revisions that take place too early are usually a symptom of being too close to the work – you’re too attached, too biased, blind to your errors and issues. Not being able to see the forest for the trees is a real thing – it’s the whole Cameron Frye complex – you’re focusing on the dots and have lost sight of the picture. 

A re-write is the thing between an edit and revision – it needs to come from an intimate and personal place that only the writer knows, it needs to be infused with their voice and their vision and, yet, it needs to be focused on the bigger picture – the structural elements of plot, character and theme. Re-writes mimic the first draft approach and typically benefit from lots of thinking and (if you’re a plotter) lots of outlining. But, unlike the first draft, it benefits from what has come before and the insight that brings – a fuller exploration of your ideas and a more informed gut instinct of whether it is working (in its individual parts and as a whole).

Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing my experiences with my  novel ‘cut and polish’ and, hopefully, I’ll be able to turn this rough carbon allotrope into an FL (or at least a VS1)… ūüôā


Image courtesy of Steve Jurvetson via Flickr Creative Commons

After the First Draft – the difference between an edit, revision and re-write

Form Follows Function – The Ongoing Process of Structuring Your Novel

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

It is a common misconception amongst writers that the structuring process is an activity undertaken only at the beginning of the writing process. Structuring is firmly located after generating your story idea and definitely before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). After your structure is developed, it’s just a matter of using the blueprint to herd the plethora of chaotic words, sentences and paragraphs into a coherent story. Right?

Hmmm, maybe not.


Every new beginning…

As you know, I recently hit the¬†midpoint¬†of Divided Elements, my first novel.¬†In many ways it felt like I had finished a mini-novel – there was a full character arc, an ending with clear references to the beginning, major conflict and a very definite sense of beginning, middle and end. But as Dan Wilson sang, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” and Maria Von Trapp mused, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window”, the¬†ending of this mini-novel is just the catalyst for the next mini-novel, the closed door to¬†the first half of the story just the¬†opened window of the second half.

Don’t get me wrong – I was prepared for this. I had diligently structured my novel from¬†the¬†first to last scene and had a very clear outline for how the second half of Act II and all of Act III would play out. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how the fleshing out of the first half outline – with new characters, interesting dialogue, hidden motivations and complex character reactions – would create an internal logic that was completely at odds with this outline.

Suddenly, I found that the earlier reactions of¬†my protagonist were hinting¬†at a vulnerability I hadn’t planned for, a vulnerability that would take her on a different journey of discovery from the midpoint towards her “all is lost” moment. I discovered¬†secondary characters with motivations and secrets that would cause different opportunities and threats for the protagonist in reaching her end-goal. I found that the dialogue and interaction between characters were creating an unexpected dynamic between them that would, in turn, create new and unexpected tensions over the following scenes and chapters.

In summary, I learnt that¬†the micro-level stuff – the stuff you can’t plan and outline – was having major consequences for the macro-level structure.¬†

My response? I rewrote the outline for the next half of my novel Рa process I am still playing with. I am using my newly-developed knowledge of my characters, world and conflicts to reshape the rest of the story. And this knowledge can only come with a deep and intimate understanding of your story Рsomething you can never have at the beginning of your writing process, when characters, events and tensions are just ideas floating in your head.

In trying to capture the importance of how the detail of the early scenes sets the logic for the following scenes, I was reminded of how, in 1896, proto-modern architect Louis Sullivan famously argued that form follows function.

In his classic (albeit prosaically-titled) essay on The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered, he wrote:

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.

In other words, it is paramount that your writing follow a consistent, internal logic Рthat your creativity in the writing process (the form) follows a structural integrity that is both continuous and progressive across the full narrative (the function). 

In order to achieve this continuous and logical progression of the narrative, you may find yourself (like me) needing to review and restructure your novel outline. In this way, novel structuring is not a static process undertaken only at the beginning of a novel’s development, but a dynamic process that should be undertaken regularly and used a tool to strengthen the internal logic of your narrative.

Let me know what you think – do you find yourself changing your novel outline or structure because of micro-level details in earlier scenes or chapters?

Form Follows Function – The Ongoing Process of Structuring Your Novel

Understanding the role of the First Draft

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

The messiness of first drafts can either be terrifying or liberating (or occasionally, both). Initially, I wasn’t a big fan. I’m an impatient learner – I want to get things right (if not perfect) the first time around. I’m the sort of person who will pick up a guitar and expect to be playing full melodies within weeks of learning the basic chords. So the idea of labouring through a very average first draft of my novel wasn’t appealing. Twelve thousand words later, I am coming around.

Wise words from authors and bloggers have helped (this post by Standout Books is a great one – Writing your first draft is not as scary as it seems), but there was a particular article which was like a lightning bolt of inspiration directly to my brain.

I wish I could share it with you, because it really was awesome, but alas, I have lost it to the immensity of the internet. I do, however, remember its central tenet, which I will now do my best to faithfully recreate.

Remember the word ladders we used to do in school – the ones where you would have to move from one word to another in a five or so steps by changing one letter at time? First drafts are a lot like the first word, with revisions representing the subsequent words until you get to the final draft – the final word.

Look at the four sentences below:

1. The man stepped out into the cold July winds and buttoned his coat up against the onslaught of icy snowflakes.

2. He stepped out into the night. Icy snowflakes attacked him immediately, striking the bare flesh of his face left unprotected.

3. An icy tempest of bitter winds and sharp snowflakes assaulted him as soon as he stepped out.

4. Beyond the room, snowflakes like icy daggers attacked him with the full force of the winter tempest.

With each sentence there is a clear and easy transition to the next, but when you compare the first and the last, there is a huge gulf between them. The last sentence cannot be reached in a single leap – it is the product of an evolution and can only be generated by way of a series of steps. That’s why you need to find the shape of your novel in the first draft, before you can properly write it.

This idea gives me huge amounts of comfort – firstly, because it declares the necessary evil of a messy first draft; secondly, because it shows that the first draft is really the first step to creating an amazing final draft.


Understanding the role of the First Draft