Friday, February 10, 2012

Revising: My Evolution

There was a time the term "revising" sent fire ants marching up and down my spine. It meant the fun part--the actual writing--was over, replaced by the mind-numbing, toe-curling nightmare of trying to gel my initial vision. I had no idea where to begin, and when I did throw myself into the draft, within two days my focus fled and I found myself trying to fix everything at once. No amount of Slurpees, chocolate, or "Best and Worst Beach Bodies" rag mags could erase the panic that set in.

There was also a time--a much earlier time--when I didn't think revising was a big deal. Well, let me back up...way back to my first novel. The one I wrote in four weeks. The one that induced champagne bubbles of joy in me every time I thought about it. It was the one that would get published. Of course. Of course!

The word revise seemed vague. After all, I'd written a good book, in logical order, with fabulous characters, a killer setting, and a finale to die for. Revise? What, like spell check and make sure I didn't misplace any commas?

Oh (insert laughter...sad, nonjoyous laughter), those were the days. Yes, I ran the spell-checker and read the book through for grammar issues.

And that was about it.

(Dear editor who had the misfortune to pick my book off the slush pile--I'm sorry. I owe you dinner.)

Okay, so book two got the full revision treatment, right?

Nope. Wrong again! It wasn't until I was writing book four that I discovered the blog community. I read cool terms like "critique partners," and "craft books."  Black Moment? What on earth is a black moment? Yes, I was the Rumpelstiltskin of the modern aspiring author age.

But time went on, and I purchased, read, and studied craft books. I found critique partners. I studied blogs, and I kept writing...and revising.

During this phase (see above reference to fire ants), I mistakenly thought I would somehow find the magic formula to be able to skip revising. I thought I would get to a point where I would write the perfect first draft. Revising no longer took one week. It went on for weeks, sometimes months. And it hurt. It bothered me I was not executing the way I wanted to.

Why couldn't I just be a good writer? Why couldn't I get it right the first time?

Fast forward to now.

Revising, for me, isn't something I'll someday be able to skip. But it's no longer torture, either. Actually, I enjoy it. I've accepted that I will NEVER write a perfect first draft. Revising is simply house-cleaning and decorating now. Sure, scrubbing the toilets isn't my favorite thing, but I like to spend time in a neat, tidy home, and someone has to clean it.

For any of you confused or frustrated by revising, I am nodding, high-fiving, and giving you a hug. I've been there. We all have our strengths, and evaluating a manuscript--mine or someone else's--has become one of mine. I've spent years polishing a system of revising that produces a quality manuscript, and I continue to pick up tips and practice new strategies. If I can do it, you can to!

How do you feel about revising?

The lovely Cheryl Reif is featuring my blog as her "blog of the week." How nice is that? I always learn something from the talented Ms. Reif, and I hope you'll stop by her blog, Cheryl Reif Writes, and check her out.

Have a fun weekend!


  1. I don't like all. It is tedious and no matter how much revising it do, it always needs more. I haven't found the right crit partner yet...well, one who really has the time to spend. I have one, but she's so busy, I always feel guilty asking her to crit. :) Maybe once I can get more help, I will feel better about it.

  2. I try and enjoy it. It's nice to see my work shape up the way it should. But there's something so refreshing about writing the first draft!

  3. Not sure I like it very much right now. ;)

  4. I write a fast and ugly first draft-so I feel like 90% of my time is spent revising. Sigh. I'd love to just write one first draft after another, but that's never going to happen. It's all about the rewriting for me!

  5. I live for revisions, to be able to shape the ms into a better, stronger story. Usually it's the first draft that makes me go cold, but not this time. This time I'm actually enjoying it.

  6. A Kahlua and cream makes me happy enough to sit down to the arduous task of editing and rewrites.

  7. I don't like revision simply because it gets me paranoid to the point where I stop taking risks, you know the "Good" kind that are supposed to help make my story better and uniquely mine?

    Plus, it gets hard to know when to stop "fretting" and revising and just send the d*** book out already, or work it more, and sometimes there is a difference between "Too paranoid to see the book's as good as I'm going to make it solo" and "I can't stand the sight of this manuscript and I want to do "The Next Book" people preach about/"

    Let's face it, unless your born a Type-A perfectionist, which I was not, it's just not easy to tell when it's healthy confidence or just aggravation and impatience quietly undermining your chances of success.

    From my experience, finding a critique partner who will tell you the truth, without adding to the stress you already put on yourself, is key, and it helps if they're not too close to the same wavelength, and I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out-

    If you know you're sensitive to extreme blunt or "harsh" feedback, try to find someone who's made of tougher stock in that department, but still likes what you write in terms of genre or subject matter, and I certainly have problems finding the right people, but be prepared to take the time needed to find the right fit.

  8. Good morning!

    Sherrinda: Oh, isn't that the trouble?? I know. Critique partnerships can be tricky. We don't always have the same time to give, but I'm a big believer in equality. If I critique your full ms, I expect you to critique mine. :)

    Laura: That's pretty much where I'm at too. Love writing a first draft, but love shaping a story too. :)

    Katie: Ha! You love it. Admit it!

    Julie: Oh, the fantasy! One first draft after another. Wouldn't that be fun??

    Stina: That is so interesting. The first draft is your trouble spot. I get it. The first few chapters kill me. I struggle to find my way through those bad boys! The rest of the first draft is much easier. :)

    Em: Mm...mudslides. A revising must? :)

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  9. Taurean: I hear you! I have a system of revising that takes the "am I done?" out of the equation. I start with big issues. Sometimes my cp's get the book at this point. The next phase is chapter by chapter--mainly balancing dialogue, narrative, setting, etc.--then I move on to line edits. Sometimes I sent the cp's the book at this point instead of earlier. Then I read the entire book out loud and call it good. Works for me! But I have to admit, revising my way takes a lot of time. Not everyone works well this way!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  10. Revisions rock! That's when I get to take my lumpy, bumpy, rather jumpy first draft and shape it into something that shows promise. Even after a revision pass--or two, three, or even more--it will still need the final polish that makes it shine, but that can be fun, too. I love watching a story get better before my eyes. I find few things to be as rewarding.

  11. I used to think revisions were fixing typos! ROFL!

    I've discovered some of the best work comes in this stage. Maybe most of it. Loved this post, Jill!

    You're so funny! :)

  12. Excellent post, Jill.

    I am here.

    No longer torture for me either. And I remember thinking spell-checker held the key to correction. Tee hee. I was a funny lady back then. :D

    ~ Wendy

  13. This is a fabulous post, Jill. Revising can be torturous, but I know (way, way back in a dark corner of my mind) it makes my stories stronger.

    I like to compare revising to getting a massage. Not a gentle, relaxing body massage. A deep tissue massage. An excruciating process that makes me groan and moan and cringe in pain, yet--in a very strange way--it feels good to get it done.

    :) Happy Friday!

  14. you're telling me I'm never going to write the perfect first draft? Cause I kind of like "just spell check and go". I don't think I grew out of the just spell check and go phase until...well, way later than I should have. I still wish it was that way, but I know my stories are leaps and bounds better than they started off because of revisions. Now if only I could embrace the idea that one revision isn't going to get my story where it needs to be.

  15. I love the revision process, but there is always a nagging sense that I can't quite make the story live up to the initial idea I had. As you said, to capture the initial vision.

  16. I like revisions now that I really understand the craft-I also learn from requested revisions - they make my writing better. It took years, and tons of revisions to get there. It's the revisions that shape and mold the manuscript into a novel.

  17. Revisions to me are like big overhauls. I'm finding myself cutting scenes, inserting new dialogue in one place and deleting it in another. The revisions on my manuscript currently are teaching me the importance of using character development before I write, lol. It really helps to figure out your characters' personalities and motivations beforehand as opposed to 200 pages after the fact!

    I agree, Jill. Revising is never done.

  18. I LOVE the revising process. I enjoy it more than the actual writing process. Call me crazy, but it's almost like decorating a cake. The inside is delicious, but I need to make the exterior really pretty, too.
    I celebrate when I finish writing just so that I can start the revising and editing. Yep, I'm weird like that.

  19. Thanks for the encouraging post, Jill! Revising may not be thrilling, but it's one of those necessities in the life of a writer. Way to go! Loved the pic of the 'fire' ant. Have a fabulous weekend!

  20. Keli: I am so with you on loving watching my book get better. That's the real joy of revising!

    Jessica: Oh, you and I are soo much alike! :)

    Wendy: I was a funny lady too. Oh, the lack of knowledge!!

    C.E: What a fabulous analogy! A deep, painful massage--that's revising. :)

    Cindy: ha! ha! I don't know? Maybe your writing style means you DO write a perfect first draft! I only know my own process. :)

    Erica: I hear you. But sometimes I find my book is so much better than my initial vision, too. :)

    Loree: Anytime we get advice from a professional, we win! Sure, it can be a little painful, but it's worth it!

    Angie: Double ugh, for me!

    Brandi: Ha! I know! I use OneNote to create folders on plotting issues--I keep them open while I'm writing. It helps a lot!

    Jennifer: So true! My first drafts usually need more setting details and introspection. It really is like decorating a cake!

    Maria: It's true. Revising--for me--is very slow, arduous and taxing. But it's worth it. You have a fab weekend too!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  21. Congrats on your blog being featured by Cheryl Reif!

    At one time, revisions were enough to send me into a "terrible twos tantrum." Now, I break it into smaller pieces, and eat that elephant.

  22. Hi Jill, Love the fire ants analogy! That used to be my experience, too--I think because I my concept of revision was to change a word here and there and then be surprised when the story didn't seem to improve.

    Now I love revision, because it brings about an almost magical transformation. It uses my analytical side, but still feels like art.

  23. I hate that part, but oh, does it ever have to be done!


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