How Many Times Does It Take To Get It Right?

When I was writing my last post, I saw an interesting little tracking tool in my WordPress navigation bar: “Revisions.” A week or two before, I’d commented on another blogger’s post that I, like her, was a first-draft gal—I wrote the first thing that came to mind and pretty much left it at that. I might tweak it slightly, to correct little misspellings, etc. But that was it.

Interesting how perception and reality don’t live in the same universe.

Because I love facts, I checked the revision counts for all my posts. This is only my 13th, so it didn’t take that long. On average I revise these conglomerations of words 41 times.

The fewest number of revisions came in at 13, with the most at 84.

That seems a little nuts to me. How about you?

Can you tell which is version 19 and which is version 55? Yeah, me neither.

Can you tell which is version 19 and which is version 55? Yeah, me neither.

My husband (who is an artist/illustrator) and I have had many conversations about our paralyzing inability to let our pieces go. We have the worst time calling things “finished.”

In my defense, I used to work as a copy editor so the need to tweak is part of me now and not something I can just toss aside.

Also in my defense, I’ve been the victim of NSS (not saving syndrome) and have lost some important words. So I probably over save. Never mind that WordPress has built-in autosave. Still doesn’t feel like enough for me (even though it’s every two minutes).

I think the reason I’m so revision-spastic is it’s important to me to get it right, whatever ‘it’ may be at a given moment. I think it’s also because I’ve made enough mistakes to realize that the first round of anything is mostly crap. Actually it’s crap with sprinkles—makes it a little more palatable.

In a recent blog post, I talked about the thousands of seemingly inconsequential decisions we make in a given day and their unforeseen consequences.

Those aren’t the decisions that get me worked up though. I mean, we can’t really be held responsible for those finger-snap decisions. Especially when you consider that we spend 95 to 99% of our life working from the programming in our subconscious mind. It’s a wonder how we accomplish anything purposeful.

I’m talking about the conscious choices we make. And more importantly the do-overs we beg the universe for because we want one more chance to make it right.

I feel pretty lucky. I don’t have a ton of mistakes I wish I could go back and fix. But what I lack in quantity, I make up for in quality—I’m talking putrid boils of mistakes.

Even if I could fix those carbuncles, I wonder, how many times would it take me to get it right? And what might I screw up by “fixing” them?

My husband and I recently watched the movie About Time, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy. The main character Tim finds out on his 21st birthday that he, like every male in his family, has the ability to travel back in time. Basically, he has nearly unlimited do-overs. He uses them to find the love of his life, which of course takes multiple revisions to get right.

Before Tim’s father dies, he tells him that the secret formula for happiness is to live each day twice.

The first time, live it ordinary, like everyone else.

The second time, live it just like the first, but this time notice all the sweetness in life that gets choked out by tension and worry.

Our girl, age 7...nothing sweeter than her.

Our girl, age 7…nothing sweeter than her.

Tim does just that, for a while.

Eventually, he realizes his need for do-overs, his need to revise his life, wasn’t necessary at all.

The truth is, I now don’t travel back at all. Not even for the day. I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day to enjoy it as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.

That’s an awesome philosophy, and one that I promise myself to practice every day.

But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop revising the hell out of my blog posts or other pieces of writing.

So, what does this mean for my current work-in-progress? If it takes me an average of 41 times to revise an 800-word blog post, then I’m on track for about 3,600 revisions of my 70,000-word YA novel. Which means it will be in publishable shape about 50 years after my death.

Better go revise my What Kelly’s Working On page (for the 15th time).

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So what about you? Are you revision-spastic like me or are you a first-draft girl, no matter what you’re working on? What would you do if you had the ability to travel back in time? What one wrong move would you change? And what’s an acceptable (i.e. normal) amount of times to revise a blog post??

Photo Credit: Naomî via Compfight cc and Chris Roberts.

13 thoughts on “How Many Times Does It Take To Get It Right?

  1. As a victim of NSS (I’ve lost countless stories), I can definitely commiserate.

    My thought is that I don’t mind revisions, as long as I continuously move forward. I believe in Progress Over Perfection, meaning try to do it as well as you can, but in the hope of continuous movement, take the next step.

    Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing!

  2. My name is Sara and I’m a reviserer. Once I’ve written something? I Cannot. Leave. It. Alone. Even when blog posts are out there I read and reread and edit. To a lesser extent I even do the same with comments.. Even Tweets and Facebook posts! What I *do* want to have done with and leave alone is my MS – I’m so sick of it. I don’t want to play anymore! But I also want it to be good… So I’m going into my penultimate rewrite.. Wish me luck :p

  3. I just finished reading a post about perfectionism and the mess that we get ourselves into by maintaining that mindset. I’ve been a terrible perfectionist my whole life. Lots of childhood trauma issues that created that need for control and I’m just now dealing with it in a positive way. Lots and lots of therapy! But aside from therapy (and some really great books – “A Guide To Rational Living” – I cannot recommend this book enough. It will change your life, even if you don’t think your life needs changing.) having the blog has really helped me to, as Kristen and Seth say, SHIP.

    Of course, yes, I am most definitely revision-spastic (LOL) and will sacrifice sleep before I let something go that hasn’t passed inspection and gotten the Kelly stamp of approval, but each time I write something I try to bring my number of revisions down just a bit. Of course, to cheat lately, I won’t hit “save draft” for the FIRST time until I’m fairly happy with it. That’s when it starts counting. I think. 😉

    Now, you’ve probably noticed this, and I believe it’s because of the auto-save feature in WordPress, but when you “save draft” sometimes it’ll show multiples of that one save. In other words, I’ll save it for the first time and a few minutes later I’ll look at the revisions and it’ll say 4, when I know I only saved it once. So there’s definitely a discrepancy between what truly is and what the program says, but at least I’m consciously trying to change my obsessive habits in the revision phase. By cheating. LOL

    I’m actually going back to page one on my current book (which I have almost 300 pages done on) because it’s just not right. I’m going to do some stronger outlining and character sketches and then get back into it, but I must must must make a pact with myself, the breaking of which will lead to sudden and complete denial of all chocolate, that I will NOT go back and revise. Forward momentum until THE END. I have to do this until the shitty first draft is done or it will never be done. It’s already been too many years for this story to be languishing in my head. So yeah, with a longer piece, I think it’s important, if you’re like us, not to look backward because it’ll make facing forward that much more difficult.

    Maybe I can recruit you to be my accountability partner. Will you come take all the chocolate out of my house if I start to revise too early? 😉

    1. As much as I love chocolate, you can count on me!! It’s so nice to hear others are as mental, err, committed to good work as me. 🙂

      I think the thing that bothers me most is I don’t know that there’s a huge difference between version 5 as version 35, so why bother. Most people would never notice the difference. But most people aren’t writing my drafts—I am. So I guess that means it’s gotta be my way.

      And I don’t know why I can stop after a couple revisions on some pieces but others I could spend weeks on. Makes no rational sense. I’ll have to check out that book you mentioned—sounds right up my alley.

      So here’s some advice I’m sure you’ve probably considered before: try NaNoWriMo. I wrote my current WIP, my first novel, during last November’s NaNoWriMo. I don’t think I could have done it any other way. I think I’ve described my attention span as no longer than a flick of frog’s tongue, so there’s no way I could work on the first draft of a novel over months or years.

      Oddly enough this also worked for me because in order to hit the 50k-word goal to be considered a “winner” you absolutely cannot edit/revise. Forward momentum is the only way to get through. I seriously didn’t have a choice. And I had to hit that goal—I did with four days to spare and ended up with 62k words, with a middle section I had to skip over because I was stuck. That will probably add another 20k. But there is a shit-ton of shit to cut too. I was so embarrassed the first time I read through the full draft—it was that bad. The guts of the story is good and a few surprises manifested that I hadn’t planned for, and they were good ones too (added depth to the story). But GD, I read my NOVEL at the end of November, and I would never have had that amount of work completed had I not done it that way.

      I plan to do it again this November with my next idea. So consider it—it might work for you too!

      1. It’s funny you mention NaNoWriMo. I did it three and a half years ago and it was my undoing, strangely enough. I wrote my 50k, got about halfway through my novel and about 10k words into another one and…quit writing on December 1. Just quit.

        That experience DID something to me and I can’t really explain it or put it in words I even understand yet, but it was a very bad experience for me. I don’t know why. I didn’t work from any kind of outline at all, I literally just pantsed the whole time and it was just not anywhere close to what I wanted it to be. I know that’s all right in the end, because there’s always editing, but for some reason I just couldn’t see past the horrible vomit I saw on the page. Perfectionist anyone?

        Maybe if I have a clear outline of where I’m headed, I might give it another go, but I’m definitely a little gunshy after that first experience. What should have made me happy and proud turned around and blocked the crap out of me. I know there are other issues at play there and I’m exploring them. Hopefully by the time November rolls around, I’ll be right as rain and sane enough to whip out 50k or more without melting down this time. We’ll see. 😉

        Thanks for the suggestion, though. It’s a great way to be part of a large creative endeavor and I’m so glad it worked for you. Kudos on 62k! That’s amazing!

        1. Man, that sucks Kelly! I can see why you wouldn’t be so hot to try it again.

          My split was about 30% plotter/70% pantser. I had the full arc of the story clear in my mind before I started, and I kept pretty much to that. But there were days and hours when I didn’t know what to say next. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it worked for me in a way I didn’t think it could given my revision-spastic nature.

          1. I think that’s key – having the full arc of the story clear in your mind. I’m okay not knowing exactly what to say next, if I know what’s ultimately coming (or at least what I want to come provided my characters cooperate) but not knowing that is what totally stalled me.

            So glad it worked for you, though. It can be a great tool for people like us who can’t stop going back all the time. I may revisit the idea. 🙂

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