Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Revision Land: Revision Lessons From My Path to Publication

Sunday I submitted my revisions to my editor. Like all manuscripts, WHERE THE STAIRCASE ENDS has gone through several rewrites on its path to publication. But this round felt different.

First and foremost, it's nearing the end. This is about as close to a final draft as you can get without actually having the final product in your hands. Hell, I don't even think I can call it a manuscript anymore. It's practically a real honest-to-God book.  But the biggest realization I had is just how much I've changed since I started the very first baby draft of STAIRS several years ago.

Here are just a few of the revision-related lessons I've learned on this crazy path to publication.

1. When revising and/or reading edits, think less about the suggested changes and more about WHY the suggestions were made.

If you are repeatedly getting comments about a certain section of your story from critique partners and beta readers, take a moment to consider why. Your beta readers are probably honing in on a bigger challenge, even though the comments themselves might only manifest in the form of line edits. Often times readers can't put their finger on why something bothers them, so it's up to us - the people who created the world and the characters - to sit back and think about the bigger picture.

As an example, I had multiple beta readers make suggestions for how to tweak my original ending. Even after I'd incorporated some early feedback, I still got comments on that section.  But no one ever specifically said that the ending was bad or needed to be changed.  The comments typically read like line edits -- small changes vs. big changes that were easy to implement. It wasn't until I took a giant step back to ask myself why I kept getting comments on that section that the answer came to me: it was the wrong ending. But my beta readers didn't know it was the wrong ending. They just knew that something about it could be better, hence the repeated comments.

When offering up critiques to betas, it's so easy to get in line-edit mode. Same is true for receiving critiques - it's often much easier to accept the suggested changes than to sit back and think about why the changes were recommended in the first place. But if you really want to advance a MS forward, the why behind comments is the most important thing.

2. Learn to let go. Chopping can be cathartic! And it dramatically improves pacing.

I used to have trouble letting go of things I'd written. I'd revise, but was often guilty of revising around certain sentences vs. cutting them. Mostly because there were lines that I just loved and didn't want to let go of.  But the problem is that as stories evolve sometimes those original lines no longer fit, which means they will pull readers out of the story. You don't want readers stopping to admire a sentence - you want them enthralled in the whole story.

 Fast forward to this last round of edits. I was like Edward Scissorhands, and man did it feel good!  It also dramatically improved the pacing by trimming some of the fat to focus more on the action. I realize that while scene setting is important, too much of it comes at the expense of forward plot momentum.

What made me so receptive to cutting?  Well, for one thing I had some great inputs from my editor.  But the next point (#3) played an enormous role in giving me the clarity and fresh perspective I needed to let go of old words.

3. You need a serious break-up from your novel.  Like, for reals.

I've kind of beat this idea into the ground in previous posts (here) but it bears repeating because it's such an important lesson. Walk away -- and I mean really walk away -- from your manuscript. Shove it in a drawer, lock it in a box, do whatever you need to do -- just don't look at it for a while. You'll come back with fresh eyes and fresh perspective, and your book will be so much better for it.

4. Read, read and read some more.

You've heard this advice before, but it's still so, so important. Read within your genre, outside of your genre, and all the books in between.  Read everything you can get your hands on, and take the time to consider why the story works or doesn't work. And I include beta reading in this bucket - the more time you take to understand and articulate why things do and don't work for other stories, the more likely you will be able to see what does and doesn't work for your own story.

I realize that reading takes important time away from writing, but as with everything it's a balancing act. Would you ever want to watch a movie made by a director who doesn't watch any movies?  The same goes for writing - shop the world and learn from the best.

Happy writing (and revising)!


  1. Sometimes I really just hate revisions. It is liking ripping my baby to shreds. (Not that I've done that). But I liked your attitude on how it improves the pacing of the story. So true. And now thanks to the hit movie Frozen, I have my own theme song when editing . . . "Let It Go!" Maybe singing this hit song will help ease the pain of murdering my precious lines. :)

  2. Ha, love it! Nothing like a little inspiration music to get you cutting. :)