This week, I submitted to my agent what I hope will be the final version of my latest manuscript. Thinking back to other books I’ve written over the past ten years, I realize my revision process has changed and improved A LOT. It’s partly because people tend to get better at something with practice. But it’s also because I’ve become more disciplined and I’ve learned my own strengths and weaknesses.
So how has my revision process improved?
1. I don’t write and revise at the same time.
Writing and revising are two separate processes, and it’s not efficient for me to bounce back and forth. I learned this lesson through NaNoWriMo. Writing 50,000 words in one month taught me that finishing a full draft of my novel AND THEN going back to revise is a much more efficient process. I wrote this latest book in a three-week period. I let it sit for a few weeks. Then I tackled revisions. Overall, the writing/revision/agent and beta-reader feedback/second-round revision process took me five months, compared to the year-long period it previously took me to write some chapters, revise, write some chapters, revise, revise, send to a CP, revise, write some more chapters…you get the picture!
2. I better understand my writing process.
I’m a pantser and a plot-driven writer. As a consequence, most of my earlier books required almost a full rewrite when I reached the mid-point and realized my story didn’t have enough conflict or my characters lacked depth. I have no trouble with pacing and twists and action, but if I don’t figure out my characters and their internal conflicts before I start, I’ll be in major trouble. So, I know now to plan these two aspects out first. If I get them right, the plot will easily flow and I won’t be faced with a major rewrite.
3. The technical aspects of my writing have improved.
When I started, I suffered from the same issues that many new writers struggle with – passive writing, telling and not showing, shallow POV, author intrusion, weak dialogue, too much backstory, etc. Because I’d never taken any writing classes, I didn’t know how to look for these weaknesses in my own writing or how to fix them. When I decided to get serious about writing, I knew I had to be able to edit my own work. Sure I could work with critique partners or hire an editor, but in the end, it was my responsibility to learn my craft. So I took A LOT of classes in all the areas where I thought I might be weak. I’m not saying that my writing is perfect now, but I know how to quickly find and revise these issues in my drafts.
4. I’ve learned what to do with feedback.
When you first let someone read your writing, it’s a bit terrifying. You’re exposing something very personal. So, you tend to glow at the positive comments and shrivel up at the negative ones. But the negative ones (hopefully given in the form of constructive criticism) are actually the most important. Of course, it’s wonderful when someone tells you that they LOVE a line in your book or are totally swooning over your hero. First, it makes you feel good and validates all the long hours you spent writing this book, and second, it gives you an idea of what’s working. But it’s the negative comments that help identify required revisions, which is the whole aim of the exercise!
Unfortunately, addressing criticism is not always straightforward. A typo or small correction is easy to make, but what if someone has a major criticism? What if they hate your main character or a central plot element? What if they think the book is too edgy or too sweet? What it they hate the ending? It’s easy to get defensive. It’s so easy to say to yourself, “They clearly don’t understand what I’m going for here. They don’t get my writing.”
This is where experience comes in. Over time, I’ve learned to let these comments simmer for a while. I try not to make quick judgments or decisions. I compare feedback between other beta readers or critique partners if possible. I discuss the comment with the reviewer and often with my daughter, who is a great sounding board. Taking some time gives me perspective and eventually I’ll have the light bulb moment - I’ll see exactly where the comment is coming from and exactly how to fix it. Sometimes a criticism that seems monumental only requires subtle changes. Sometimes the criticism is identifying the symptom of a problem and not the source. For instance, in earlier versions of my debut book, many agents felt my main character was too naïve and innocent, but that was the point of her character. She was supposed to be naïve and innocent. I was pulling my hair out. If I had to make her more jaded, I may as well write a different story. As it turns out, the real issue was that I hadn’t given her enough of a character arc. The real issue is that she remained too naïve and innocent. She needed to grow more by the end. That was something more easily fixed.
Occasionally, I’ll choose to not make a suggested change because it doesn’t feel right for my story or for my voice, but by fully considering it, I can feel confident in my decision. I know it’s not just me being defensive or close-minded.
5. I’ve worked with an amazing editor.
I’m a person that learns best by example. So when I had the chance to work with an amazing editor for my debut novel, The Secret to Letting Go, it changed my perspective on the revision process. Working with Karen Grove at Entangled showed me how much the editing process can improve a story and how rewarding it can be. So, I’ve started to enjoy the revision process. It no longer feels endless or overwhelming. And when you enjoy something, it’s easier to keep your butt in the chair and get it done!
So, what’s you revision process like? Have you experienced any of the things I have? What do you like more – writing or revising? I’d love to hear from you.