In the comments of my last post, the wonderful Leslye wrote: Not being able to see what’s wrong is why I have such a love/hate relationship with revising. I think I sometimes take the “kill your darlings” thing a bit too far and have to resist the temptation to change everything. I’ll brainstorm revision ideas that are essentially an entirely different book than the one I drafted. It’s such a balancing act!
To which I say: YES. I have the exact same problem. It truly is a balancing act, and requires a lot of self-awareness, both of myself and the work. I’ll feel insecure about a scene, start taking it apart — only to realize, hours or days later, that it was better before.
Sometimes, though, we have to go through that process in order to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes that’s the only way to see what’s wrong. It’s not always enough to brainstorm these things ahead of time (though I’m trying to do just that). The act of writing the book and then having it stare back at us is often required to unlock all these new ideas and perspectives. That’s why writing is a test of endurance. You can write the book — but the revision process is the second half of the race.
Related to this, I’d argue my own compulsion to change everything when revising (and again, I’m just speaking for myself, because every writer is different) most often comes about when I don’t truly know what’s going on in my novel, right from the start. I’m lost, winging it, pushing my way through the forest trying to draw a map, doing the best I can from moment to moment — and it’s only when I’m done do I realize there was a much better path, far more elegant and smooth, and now I have to start at the beginning of the forest — again — and redraw the map.
This has happened more often than I can count. Sometimes it’s invigorating — other times, not so much. You’d think I’d learn a better system, and I’m trying. I’m working hard to plot before I begin, to think carefully about what I’m doing, but I know that’s not always enough. My own impatience is to blame: my desire to leap ahead with an idea, regardless of whether there’s a story behind it.
But whether I’m lost and feeling my way through a book, or plotted to the gills, there’s always going to be room to make things better, or see through different eyes, or just flat-out not like what I’ve done. That’s the nature of this art, craft, work, calling. I’m my own worst enemy, but I also hold the keys to the kingdom.