Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Right now I’m doing a whole lot of revising/editing on a book I recently finished. Sometimes this is the best part of the process for me–the first draft is down, the story is told, and now I’m in the process of fixing it up and making it shine. It’s a time for clipping and adding and rearranging, and honestly, I like it a lot. Probably because in most aspects of my life I like to organize and sort things. This is the stage where I get to work on putting everything in order. It’s funny because when I initially started writing  years ago, I HATED doing edits and revision. I don’t know what led me to love it, but I’m glad I do now.

I’m finding, as I often do when I revise, that I have a bad habit of repeating myself. Thankfully, I can spot it and eliminate it as I edit, but I still get irritated at myself that I do this. To clarify: for some reason, as I write, I feel the need to keep bringing up the “point” of the story–whatever the main character’s struggle and main issue is, they keep circling back and focusing on it. I know this isn’t needed, because you really only need to say it once, and then reinforce it with the events as they unfold. Yet, I keep doing it!

I usually feel when I’m writing if I don’t occasionally remind the reader “x character feels y about this situation” that I’m either not giving the situation enough gravity, or the reader will forget. The funny part is when I revise I see these things sticking out as the unnecessary bells and whistles they are and quickly pluck them out. So why write them in the first place?! I could save myself so much time if I left them out to begin with!

I think the reasons I do this may be one of two, or a combination of both:

  1. It’s part of the process of talking myself through the story. Even though it’s a lot of useless repeating, I’m mostly talking to myself and reminding myself of plot points when I do this. It helps me stay on the path. When I revise, I can take these markers out, but during the first draft they help me stay on course.
  2. Anxiety. I feel if my character doesn’t think about the problem enough, then their journey isn’t going to seem realistic. I mean, when something big is happening to you, isn’t it all you can think about? Doesn’t it consume most of your life? If my characters don’t keep circling back to the problem, it’s not REAL.

Number one is useful, but I end up overwriting when I lean on it too much. Number two really isn’t true, because telling a story isn’t the same as living real life. The reader doesn’t need to be told every other page that the character is focused on the situation they’re dealing with, because we’re watching them deal with it. The fact it weighs heavy on their mind can be just as easily, and much less invasively, merely implied. In both cases, I need to trust myself–and the reader! I don’t need to beat anyone over the head with plot points.

Despite the fact I know and understand these things, I still catch it during revisions on every book I write. It’s almost like filler and it annoys me when I see it–even though when I was writing it, it seemed like the right thing to do. Going forward, I’m going to try to be more mindful while I’m writing. If I catch myself repeating, I’ll try to ask myself instead how I can remind the reader with actions instead. I give anyone who’s editing right now this piece of advice: look for what you constantly repeat, or draw attention to, and ask yourself why. Also pluck it out, even if it seems more “realistic” to keep bringing it up, because I assure you the story is already keeping these things in the reader’s mind.

Do you find yourself circling the same points when you go back and do your revisions? Have you managed to spot it while you’re writing and stop yourself?

15 Comments

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  1. Well, you know, I really think it’s part of the drafting process. I know there are authors who write first drafts that are almost polished (yeas, I do know a couple fo them), but as for my self, my first drafts are messy. I write down anything with no thought for what they sound like at that stage. So yeah, I also repeate things, because I think, let’s hear how they sound, I’ll just keep them in the place they sound better.
    Really, my first drafts are inintelligible but to myself 😉
    So I wouldn’t worry about the repeats in the first draft. To some extent, I think they are supposed to be there.

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    1. Ha! First draft nearly polished? If I can ever achieve that superpower, I’d be most grateful. I’m like you–it’s a mess until I fix it. If I can ever change that, it’ll be a small miracle!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. I’ll either repeat the same words or phrases within a short section (sighing is one thing my character’s can do a billion times) or, as you say, repeating the point of the story. Like you, if I don’t include it enough, I’ll think it isn’t realistic – or the story won’t make sense.

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  3. One time I actually wrote the beginning of a chapter twice, and this was after going over it four times. Luckily, my editor, who thought she was losing her mind, caught it. A fellow author told me he keeps a notepad next to his computer and if something comes to him for a previous chapter he jots it down. That way when he does the first draft he can refer to them to make the change. This has helped me to not repeat myself, too. @v@ ❤

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