The Revision Process – and why I (hate) love it.
When I wrote the last line of my first full manuscript I jumped up and down for joy and eagerly accepted the glass of champagne my husband offered me. I was high. I was elated. I had never felt so good about what I had written.
And I never would again.
What I didn’t know that snowy Christmas day was that writing is actually all about revision. Not getting that first draft done. For that first monster of a YA fantasy manuscript (which weighed in at around 220,000 words or maybe even more) I wrote all the scenes by hand and then reworked it as I typed them up. I thought this was a great system and never felt my first draft was a ‘rough’ draft because of it.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I began querying my baby. And received… complete silence.
I started to doubt. Big time. I was already in several crit groups, I had recently joined SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators) and I had worked really hard on my book. It wasn’t my first attempt at writing, and I didn’t feel like a newbie – although my word count shows that I was.
Luckily, I finally got a personalized rejection from a friend of a friend who worked at Random House. His feedback was very direct. And harsh. The manuscript wasn’t in publishable condition even if the plotting was good. Overall, the manuscript wasn’t compelling. And it was way too long. By 100,000 words at least.
After a few days (or rather weeks) of avoiding my no longer favorite baby, I swallowed my pride and sat back down. And that was the beginning of what was to become a whole new world of writing for me: that of revision.
I have always loved writing – the ideas, the excitement of figuring out characters, plots, worlds. And since I even enjoyed getting feedback and making scenes better, I thought I knew about revision.
But I didn’t.
Revision on a larger level means pulling back and analyzing what is going on with the whole manuscript. From the plot to the character arcs to the pacing. And for this manuscript I hated it – because I discovered I had made so many plot twists I couldn’t figure out how to unravel it all. And I now knew I needed to cut half the manuscript. To say I resisted all that cutting would be to put it mildly. I bled all over my computer as I slashed and cut. But I finally got through it after nearly as many months revising as I had originally taken to write it.
And so, with my new favorite baby ready to go, I queried again.
Only to find out that this latest draft was also just a draft. A better one, yes. But still not market ready. And this time, as I once again attacked the revision process, I took a class on tension and discovered how to improve each and every scene without losing sight of the overall plot arc. I began detailing motivation and objectives and turning points. And the manuscript began to improve.
It was during this revision that I discovered the joys of revising. The manuscript I had was like a lump of clay. It had all the elements of being something, but it wasn’t yet shaped and polished and made appealing. I learned to massage scenes knowing what I wanted out of it for the book at the same time as I analyzed what the characters’ motivations were. My characters deepened and became more fleshed out. They became more believable and distinct. They no longer followed the plot but became active elements in making the plot move forward.
Even after that round of revisions, there were still others. In fact, since this is a manuscript I eventually put to the side since I wasn’t sure how to correct some of it’s inherent problems, it may one day see a new round of revisions. Or not.
But all the work and blood and tears that went into that first, completed, manuscript (which I was so sure was finished so many different times) taught me that revisions are where you dig in to your story, your characters and your craft. Each wave of revision, starting from the broader issues before going to the nitty gritty ones, improves the manuscript. Each wave of revision is another chance to love your characters, improve your story, create more tension and make your work shine.
And even once the manuscript is polished enough to land an agent or get a new contract, there will be yet another round of revisions before he or she sends it out on submission. And then once an editor buys it, there will be yet another round of revisions.
So embrace those revisions and enjoy making your book better each time!
Born in the US, Dina has lived on 4 continents, worked as a graphic artist for television and as a consultant in the fashion industry. Somewhere between New York and Paris she picked up an MBA and a black belt. Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium, where she lives with her husband, two children, three horses and a cat.
Dina’s debut YA novel, Dragon Fire, was published by Twilight Times.