First Time’s a Charm


When I was in school, lo these many moons ago, the common wisdom was to save time at the end of the exam to review your answers.

I don’t know if that’s still the advice these days. But it never worked for me. I found that, if I went back and changed my initial answer, I nearly always changed it wrong. Seriously – the questions I’d miss on the test would be the ones I changed upon review.

I don’t know what this says about me, but I’ve noticed it in other areas of my life, too. The first time I try a recipe, it comes out perfectly. After that, not so much. When I try to photograph something, inevitably my first shot is the best. This generally works out fine for me. I prefer to be decisive – make a decision, commit to a course of action and have done – so my experience that my first attempt is usually the best reinforces that preference.

The downside of this is, I really don’t like revising.

In fact, I’ve become superstitious enough over the years about “changing my first answer,” that I fret that revising makes my story worse.

I know, I know. You hear that noise, like marbles clattering around in a jar of olive oil? That’s my critique partners rolling their eyes at me.

Revising is necessary. I understand that, here in my head. It’s my heart that gets all nervous about it.

I once had a John Irving quote that I cut out of a magazine somewhere, that I recall as being “I have learned to have no fear of revising.” I’m almost certain he said it about Cider House Rules. However, the closest I can come online is this one:

No, this isn’t religion, there’s no fear in changing the text.

Superstition and religion. Do I detect a recurring theme?

At any rate, I’ve nearly completed the revision of Act I of The Body Gift. I’m tossed between the exhilaration of seeing how much better the story flows now and genuine terror that I’ve ruined it forever.

(Yes, I know I can change it back – this isn’t rational.)

But, when they’re not rolling their eyes at me, my CPs are reading it and pronouncing it much better.

I don’t know if I get an “A” on it, yet, but at least I haven’t changed it wrong.

4 Replies to “First Time’s a Charm”

  1. I totally empathize with the superstition part, if not the getting it right the first time part. Have you tried considering revisions an integral part of the "first" draft? That way they're not so much a change as they are a completion.

  2. Unless something "feels" right, I always change it until it does feel right. I'm a revising fool and if my CPs or agent says something needs to be fixed, I look at it from every angle and eventually follow their lead. They're not as caught up in the story as I am, so I trust their judgment. It isn't the easiest thing to do, but it has seemed to help me in the end. And this is after I've gone at a scene multiple times until I get the right slant.

  3. That's a great suggestion, Linda – though I suspect I can't fool myself. This is clearly a character-building area for me.

    Danica, you are clearly far more Zen than I!

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