I’m currently on Round 4 (I think) of revisions on my literary fiction novel. Let me tell you, friend, revisions are TOUGH! When I faced Round 3, I didn’t want to continue. I was tired and discouraged and overwhelmed and so many more feels. At that point my manuscript was this incredibly needy beast of a book with issues out the wazoo and no hope for an eventual final draft in my sight.
“I have to make this accident more medically accurate.”
“Now, this scene needs a few tweaks to make it Marine Corps right, but then I have to make sure people with no experience with the Corps understand it, too.”
“I still don’t totally understand WHY Jack is reacting like this! What is his deep-seated motivation behind this action? I should know this by now, right? I mean, I did create him.”
“I’m on page 1 of … 237!?!?!”
“And, these ten scenes need total rewrites. Where’s the coffee?”
Revisions are enough to make even the most seasoned writers want to curl up in the fetal position in a corner. But, we push past that. We rip apart and rewrite. We dig deeper for the reason behind every action and we cut anything that doesn’t move our characters and story along.
Writers lovingly, proudly create a first draft and then we slash it until the pages run red and our hands hang numb. And then we do it again. And again—as many times as it takes to turn that helpless baby into something that can stand on its own in the harsh book world.
We do this because we’re committed to our craft, to our readers and to our story. We do it because only the best will do when we bare our souls to the critics as they peel back that front cover.
Today I wanted to share with you a few things I’ve learned in the process. I hope this will give readers a glimpse at just how intense this part of the writing process is … and why it takes so long. And, just maybe, I will encourage a writer who’s standing at the foot of the revision mountain wondering—as I did—how on earth they can ever climb that high when they can’t even see the top.
Understand the characteristics of a revision.
All revisions have two things in common: they are crazy hard and absolutely vital. If you can accept those two facts, you should be able to take those first few steps up your mountain.
It will be hard. So hard.
If it were easy, everyone would do it!
We’ve all heard that before, right? Well, it certainly fits here. Relatively speaking, writing a first draft is the easy part. The revision stage is where a writer determines just how committed they are.
After my first two rounds, my manuscript was decent, even fit for reading consumption, I’d say. I could have stopped there. But …
I knew it needed depth. I knew it could be better, but I needed some help. So, my critique partner stepped in (more on her below). She dissected it, pointed out the diseased parts and the ones that needed more surgery and handed it back on a sterile field to put back together.
I didn’t want to. I wanted to go pass out in an on-call room and let another surgeon handle it. (I agree. This has become a really weird analogy. Just roll with it!)
So, my book book lay there, open on the table, exposed and a mess of mush while I fretted and rung my hands and wondered which vital organ to work on first.
And then I had a discussion with myself. (I highly recommend doing that from time to time … it’s very beneficial.) I asked why the heck I was doing this to begin with. I reviewed all my reasons one by one until I was smiling and reaching for my red pen.
I was finally ready to make the next round of cuts and stitches.
Once I got to The End one more time, I caught a glimpse of the mountain peak ahead. I do believe that will be one gorgeous view, if I do say so myself.
But, to get there, I’ve got more rounds to make. The difference now lies within me. See, I’ve recognized that second characteristic of revisions …
It will be worth it. Infinitely worth it.
A few times in Round 3 when I slogged through a particularly rough scene where I either had to rewrite it or give it the depth and heart and purpose it hadn’t had before, I sat back and let the tears well because it had been totally, completely worth it. What lay before me showed me a story that was no longer just good. It was outstanding.
I thought of my family and friends … all those who have helped me with this book, encouraged me on the journey and believed in me. I knew that scene had now become worthy of their pride. And then I thought of my readers, and I knew I could now unreservedly slide this scene into their hands.
Be honest …
Honesty’s the best policy, right? (I’m just full of these little cliché one-liners today, aren’t I?) Well, you guessed it, that goes for life in general and revisions in particular. But, it’s more specific than that. I see two parts to it. You must first be honest …
… with yourself.
Many times while writing the first draft, I thought to myself, “Well, that kind of sucked, but I don’t want to think of a different way to say it. It’s good enough.” Or, “I am totally skirting the underlying motivation behind why he just did this ridiculous thing, but … maybe no one will notice. It’s just too hard to dig deep into something like this.”
I knew what my manuscript lacked and what it needed (for the most part), but I was not being honest with myself. And, I was being downright lazy. I had to remind myself of those first two things I mentioned above—hard, sure; but totally worth every drop of sweat. Because, you also have to be honest …
… for your reader.
I don’t care how great your story is. I don’t care how likable the characters or exciting the adventure or picturesque the setting, if you aren’t honest with yourself about what needs to be done and then commit to doing the hard work of making it better, your reader will know. They will weep for a great story that almost was. Or, if you were super dishonest and lazy and didn’t give more than a round before tossing it their way, they will gnash their teeth. (Ever read a Goodreads review? Gnashing.)
While writing is a solitary profession, we do not have to trudge through the entire process alone—nor should we!
My critique partners challenge me. They question me. They make me far better than I could be on my own, and I wouldn’t trade them for all the books in Belle’s library. (In case you missed it, that’s a super huge compliment.)
Mea Smith was my book’s first reader. She confirmed much of what I knew and opened my eyes to so much more that my manuscript desperately needed. Those confirmations got me off the lazy couch. Her further critique helped me see the other issues because I was too close to the story. When something has lived inside of you for a year and a half, it’s a little hard to be objective. Without her, my book wouldn’t be where it is now.
After this round, I have more selfless critique partners ready and willing to give me their feedback and suggestions; plus, a duo of expert readers who have not only supported me from day one but also believed that I could do honor to the United States Marine Corps through this story. That’s a trust I will not break.
Help comes for writers at every stage. Brainstorming during the plotting of a story seed, tossing out synonyms when you just can’t think of another word for looked, ripping a story to shreds to make it the best it can be and shouting to the masses praise for the book they watched their friend sweat and bleed to create and perfect.
So, writer friends, sip your coffee, settle in again to that chair with the permanent indentation of your rump, dig deeper, remember why you’re doing this, be honest, get help and …
EMBRACE THOSE REVISIONS!
Readers, what do you think about the revision process? Have you ever considered how many rounds your favorite books may have gone through? If you have any questions about the process, ask away!
Writers, where are you in the process—across a valley from the mountain, at the foot of the mountain or sitting happily on the peak? How do you motivate yourself when it comes to revisions? Do you find writing or revising harder … or something else?
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