Today I wanted to write a quick blog about revising, something that all writers should be very acquainted with but many aren’t. Revision is part of the process. It doesn’t matter if you are Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or someone brand new; if you write novels, you must plan on revising.
I personally love revisions. They are where the heart of the story really comes to life. It’s exciting for me to dig deeper and get to know my characters better and help them tell their story even better than I had originally planned it. I know that may sound a bit crazy, but trust me, it’s not. My characters always have the final say in how their story is told.
You may have heard the term “pantser”? Yup, that’s me, on the first draft. I am the writer who just sits down sometimes with not much more than a name of a character or an idea, and I pound the keys until 70,000-90,000 words later I have a novel. Then, the work begins, and I revise and revise and revise and then when I think it’s done, I start taking it to workshops, and I revise again.
Let’s talk about the process after you do all that, and I really hope that you will, you will then give the book to your agent, or you will get an agent or a new agent, and most likely you will face another revision there. Don’t feel bad, it’s just what happens.
When the book is sold, guess what? Yup, more revisions. Expect it, it’s part of it. Your editor will know how to sell your book. He/she will know what is working and what isn’t. Remember they do this for a living, they know the market, they know what their houses already have in the pipeline, and they know how to tell your story, listen to them. Remember that Katie Holmes commercial for Garnier hair coloring? The tag line was “Trust them, they’re experts.” This is the same thing.
You must trust the people who know better than you. I know it’s hard to do sometimes, but usually the editor, at least the good ones, have reasons for what they are saying in your editorial letter. Be thankful they didn’t just say, “this is brilliant, here’s your pub date.” I had that happen with one of my adult (chick lit) novels, I went with a small publishing house that wasn’t right for me, and I was new, and all excited to have a deal, so when they said that I was happy. I thought that it meant I was so good that I didn’t need to change anything. Well, then it went to copy editing, and I think it was run through Word or something because it was published with lots of mistakes. The book didn’t sell well, and I learned a valuable lesson.
Sometimes you may not agree with your editor, and that’s okay, but talk to her. You are a team working together; it’s important to understand this step and why she is asking for these changes.
Before you even get to this step, with the editor, make sure that someone better than you reads your entire manuscript and gives you thoughtful notes on the story, plot, character, voice, structure, and what isn’t working. You need that. We all do. You can have a mentor do it, or you can go to a week long whole novel retreat, do a class online, but you must not skip this step.
True story, my current WIP is a young adult coming of age story about a spoiled teen who thinks that his whole world is falling apart even though it’s not until it does. I wrote the first draft of this in NaNoWriMo last year (after writing it as an adult novel a while back, so I knew the story, but was just telling it differently). Then I workshopped it at an SCBWI retreat with an editor. Then I went to an SCBWI conference and did a one on one critique with an editor at one of my favorite houses; then I worked on it until June revising with their comments and also my crit groups, and what I know of revisions myself.
I thought it was done, and I sent it off to the Highlights Foundation for the upcoming Whole Novel Workshop thinking that I would only be polishing. Well, I have since taken our 36,000 words that were in a second character’s POV, that I was struggling with the whole year. I changed the setting, I changed my MC’s intentions, I changed so many things that I can’t tell you and guess what? It’s so much stronger. I’m working on it now with a teacher/mentor from Highlights, who is doing an online class, and it’s getting stronger with every pass. I am now at the word level. I call this stage the shining stage. I polished the story, plot, scenes, and now I’m making word choices, it’s HARD work, but worth it.
I’m not saying hold onto your work forever. You do need to say, “it’s done” and let it go. But all these revisions I have done have still been less than a year. I’m planning to send it out in the early spring, only because the holidays are here. Some writers never think their work is ready, but that’s a horse of another color. There is a difference to being Goerge McFly “I don’t let anyone read my work. What if they don’t like it? What if they tell me I’m no good. I don’t think I could take that kind of rejection.” and jumping the shark too soon.
My advice is to revise. Pay attention to your story, dig deep and don’t be in a hurry to sell it. If you send it out too soon, it won’t sell, and or if it does get picked up, it won’t sell on the shelves. You need it to be great.
Study, work hard, work with people who are above you. Listen to what people are saying. Trust yourself.
When you do get an agent, or when your agent sends to editors, accept that you aren’t done yet, and do the revisions. If you feel strongly about a story, still listen, you may find that changing that thing you think you can’t change, can change. Talk to your editor about it, and trust yourself. I’m not saying to just do whatever anyone says, but honestly most of the editors I know at the big publishing houses are right.
Okay, happy writing!! Go forth and be brilliant.
I have a list of resources on my website RESOURCES
and if you have specific questions, post or email me.
If you are doing NaNoWriMo-which I recommend for a first draft, I’m stephnewyork so add me as a buddy. 🙂