Your fingers fly over the keyboard as you start to type the last paragraph of your story. Someone calls your name but you can barely hear over the clacking of the keys and the beating of your heart. You wipe away the sweat dripping from your chin. You type the last word of the last sentence then press the period key. You lean back in your seat, satisfied. You have finally forced out the story that had been consuming your thoughts and your time. Now what?
First, celebrate. It does not matter if you have just finished a novel or a short story, the initial completion of a work calls for celebration. Have a cocktail. Walk the dog. Sleep in. Purchase an Oreo cupcake from that tiny bakery on the corner. You have earned it!
Second, consider your revision approach. Sometimes when we are done, we are so proud of ourselves we want to immediately submit our work. For some writers (a slim few), that might be possible. For everyone else, a revision is necessary. There are probably thousands of websites and books that offer a myriad of approaches. Each writer operates differently and you might have to experiment with several before you find a revision method that works for you. I am still experimenting, however I have found a couple of general guidelines that have worked for me. I will share them with you:
Let it “Marinate”
Although it might be tempting to revise what was just written because it is fresh in the mind, the piece needs time to breathe. I normally wait until I cannot remember exactly when I wrote the piece and/or when I have forgotten certain scenes of the piece. When the piece feels foreign, it makes me less sentimental and I am able to regard it objectively. It helps me figure out what to keep and what to chuck.
I try to read through my entire draft without stopping for the “small stuff” (I must admit, this is often hard). Before you start making grammatical changes or refining your characters, you must first make sure that a story actually exists. Can you state what your story is about in one line? If not, how can you expect your audience to understand your story? As a reader for a literary magazine, I have often had to say “NO” to work with amazing scenes, poignant sentences, and no story. With those stories, I am not sure what I read or what I am supposed to take away from them. It is always evident when a writer has fixed the micro and not the macro.
Be Open to Change
In a way, this goes hand-in-hand with the first guideline. The longer the time between the initial draft and the revision, the more likely you will be open to making big changes. I once wrote several (horrible) drafts of a story where a boy recalled the time a new kid with wings transferred to his school. That story morphed into a middle-aged man struggling with both his broken marriage and new Neanderthal-ish neighbors. Those two stories do not resemble one another but the first was the genesis for the second (and much better) story.
Hopefully you will find one of these guidelines useful. The key is that we must continue to revise, contemplate, and shape in order to mold our ideas into the stories they were meant to be.