The Horrible, Soul-Sucking Misery (and Joy) of Revision

Writing is revision. Some writers require less of it. Some more. I fall into the last category. I’ve rewritten, revised, added to, cut out and re-edited THE TROUBLE WITH FATE eight times to date. That’s high. But it was my first book. I hope to get smarter, but I don’t count on it.

Why was it worth doing all those revisions? I earned my agent on my fifth draft. I sold my book on my sixth.

Here’s the thing, oh-fellow-writer. You’re going to make mistakes. Everybody does. If you want to sell your book, by all that is holy and wonderful, do not allow yourself to mutter any of the following statements.

I Don’t Need Any Revision

Oh, dear. The first step to rehab is to acknowledge that your book has flaws. Yes, your book. No matter how tempting it is to title your manuscript: ANOTHER Work of Staggering Genius, it still has a weakness. Somewhere. Sitting there waiting for someone to point it out. Maybe you’ve lost your story question. Maybe you’ve lost momentum. Maybe you have a sink hole in your plot as deep as the one that swallowed Atlantis. Doesn’t matter. Every first draft has a problem. You’re just too close to see it. You need a beta reader—someone who is not a friend, family member or work-buddy. Take your time on this. Find someone who knows something about writing. Then ask them to read your book.

My Beta Reader is an Asshole.

Yes, that may be true. But resist the urge to lean over and jab them in the eye with your dinner fork. Listen carefully. Refrain from explanation or rebuttal. Make notes. Say thank you, and find another person. Same rules apply. Let them read it. Then, do the whole, miserable, you-suck thing all over again. Did you hear any echoes there?  Rule: if one person points to something specific and says ‘meh,’ it’s an opinion, when two people do, it’s a trend. That’s the flaw in your first draft.

Nobody Will Notice

 They will. You think you’ve distracted them with some beautiful prose, or maybe you were counting on dazzling them with the next scene. Uh, uh. They’ve noticed. How could they not? Up to then, you had them. They’d been following your story’s narrative and were caught up in whatever was happening on the page. Likely, they were starting to care about your characters. Then you tripped them up with something that took them out of the story. Don’t do ever do that. Make sure your characters are consistent in motivation, reaction and tone.

 But it Was So Good

Perhaps you have wonderful descriptive powers. Maybe you think you can offer your readers scene after scene of your protagonist doing happy things. Collecting butterflies, making bread in the kitchen, tangling the sheets, holding hands. Nice, but eventually, boring. If your want your book to pop, work the conflict. Make your characters hurt. Think of the worst thing that can happen to them. Now think of the how you can twist that to make it even more terrible. Your readers aren’t there for a pleasure tour. They want to experience the highs and the lows. Give them a book that they can’t stand the thought of putting down.

 The Agent/Editor Will See Past the Errors

Never forget that an agent’s right pinkie is approximately three inches away from the delete key. Your book is one of 100,000 (or there about). You’d have to blind them with your naked talent to make it worth them spending even ten minutes telling you how best to revise your book. It very rarely happens. Why blow your chance? Agents and editors have long memories. Don’t mess up that first opportunity because you were too lazy to go back and fix your own work. No one is EVER going to do it for you.

 I’d Cut You Out of My Life But You’re So Damn Beautiful

Here’s something that always slows down revision. You’ve written something—a scene, a paragraph, a sentence, a unique piece of imagery—and you can’t stand the thought of cutting it. Doesn’t matter if it slows down your momentum. Doesn’t matter if it doesn’t belong in that chapter. You got something beautiful on the page, and it’s simply too lovely to cut.

Kill it.

Or, if you can’t bear to do that, do what I do: every day I have two open documents. One’s the manuscript, the other’s the dump document. The latter is where the orphan paragraphs go. Sometimes I find a new home for them. Sometimes I don’t. But note this—I didn’t really lose them. They’re there. Waiting for me. Good friends. We spent time together. Too bad it didn’t work out.

He’s a Terrific Character

 If he or she is too big for this book, save them for the next. I say this having just cut out two really great characters from THE THING ABOUT WEREWOLVES. One guy I’d nailed. He was great. But he was too vivid, and that charming guy stole every scene he walked through. Bye, bye, handsome. See you in the next novel.

It’s Faster to Tell it Than to Show it

And sometimes it is. I broke the Tell Rule in the preface of my first novel. It worked, but it was a risk. Then I had to work my ass off to make sure I’d earned the right to have done so. How to explain? Okay, remember how your mother told you not to put a key into the electrical socket? You filed it away, but you forgot. One day your Mom was in another room, and you found this key sitting on top of her pile of bills, and beneath that was a socket…What happened after that would never have occurred if dear Mom had demonstrated how dumb that was. If you’d seen her hand trembling like a flea with argue, likely you would have done two things. First, spared a moment to think “glad it wasn’t me,” and then felt bad. Empathy, that’s the kachiing factor. Most of us don’t like to see other people hurt. We have a personal response if we’re right there watching Mom’s hair lift from the nape of her neck. Tell vs. Show. One’s harder, but its return on investment is huge.

So, What of My Backstory is Bigger Than My Novel’s?

Then write that book. Otherwise, go for the chop. If it makes your reader’s head hurt, they’re going to put down the book. Remember? That’s a bad thing.

My Editor Will Fix It For Me

I’m laughing too hard now to write anything for that one. Go ahead, talk amongst yourselves. I need to get a tissue to mop my tears of mirth.

My editor is the Heavenly Holly Blanck. She’s great and surprisingly, tough. She asked me to add a scene into THE TROUBLE WITH FATE. I spent a day pacing and muttering, but I figured out where and how to insert it into the manuscript. It was a bitch to write, and added another 10K to the word count. But, it hugely improved the book.

However, she didn’t write the material for me. She didn’t push me aside, and murmur, “Don’t worry, I’ll do it for you.” That’s not her job. This is your book, your work, your words.

Don’t hate revision.  It can work for you.

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Right now, I’m revising my first draft of THE THING ABOUT WEREWOLVES. Rewrites, tweaks, thinning out, filling in.  I’ve got a couple of months, I want to take my time. Besides, I write crappy first drafts. As I reread this blog this afternoon, I realized that a certain problem I’d been wrestling could be fixed, if only I’d stopped to consider something I brought up in this post. *head smack*  Yeah. Lot’s of learning up ahead for this girl…On the other hand, I think I’ve figured out how to fix that squidgey part at the end:-)

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About Leigh Evans

Leigh's an urban fantasy writer, living in Southern Ontario.
This entry was posted in Hedi Peacock, St. Martin's Press, The Thing about Werewolves, The Trouble With Fate. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Horrible, Soul-Sucking Misery (and Joy) of Revision

  1. B says:

    =)

    Thanks for the inspiring words! We all need a wallop over the head from time to time!!

    ya know… for those of us chugging away at our interminable first drafts…

  2. Leigh Evans says:

    Keep chugging. Allow yourself to put on the page whatever you feel you need to in that first draft. You can, and likely will, change it:-)

  3. One of my favourite revision-related quotes, by Vladimir Nabokov: “I have written – often several times – every word I have ever published.” Oh–and then there’s C.J. Cherryh’s “It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly.” These two should know.

    I’m lucky enough to be intimately acquainted with your own hard-earned revision wisdom. Can’t wait to read the results, a year from now!

  4. Lynn says:

    This is such a good reminder of what I need to remember. Thanks. 🙂

  5. Ellie James says:

    Excellent advice, shared with grace and humor! I love your brutally beautiful honesty! And I know you’re going to be just fine!

  6. Thank you for the time and careful insight that went into this! It was very helpful—I questioned my ability to ever write another novel because I rewrote (literally) this first one thirteen times! I cut my favorite parts that meant the most to me. And you have just made that all better. I am forever grateful and sincere.

  7. The Maze says:

    I’m nowhere near revision stage. However this is one of those “look out for that pothole!” moments… It’s something approaching. Will I dodge it successfully? We’ll see.

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