Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Art of Revision

(The above pic is the only known photo of Lester, the Revision Duck Mafia's highest paid assassin.)

Between receiving a revision letter from Holly for CASTING STONES and handing out plenty of revision notes myself in my synopsis workshop this week, revising has been on my mind. There are several ways a writer can approach the task of taking someone else's critique and applying it to her work without losing the precious sense of ownership that comes from wringing every single word out of that lively, secret space in her imagination.

I can't tell you how YOU should go about it. I can only tell you what works (and doesn't work) for me. And I can assure you, if you intend to pursue writing as a career, revising will be just as much a way of life as the initial writing itself.

What works for me:

1. Let it sink in: The first 24 hours after getting a critique can be difficult. Not just because I feel like changing my name to Silas and moving to the outer reaches of Mongolia, but because I don't yet have a true sense of direction. The story as I know it now has pitfalls, black holes, and wobbly edges where before it was bright, shining, and whole. I'm afraid the entire house of cards will collapse if I poke at it, so consequently, I have no idea where to start.

Giving myself a day or three to let it sink in, let the panic ease, and let the creativity flow again is wise.

2. Talk it out: Talking through my plot works well for me because it unlocks ideas that were currently circling my brain in silence, waiting for me to acknowledge their existence. I'm careful to talk it out with those who already know my story and whom I trust have the ability to push my budding ideas into something gloriously workable by the end of the convo. This time, I talked plot with Myra, gained some traction, shelved it for another day while my brain busily leaped through ideas, making connections and sparking more ideas, and then I ran the entire thing by Holly, who gave guidance on the final pieces and sent me to my keyboard with her blessing.

The wonderful thing about talking it out, for me, is that it gives me what I need for point #3.

3. Internalize the feedback and make it your own: This is essential. Letting the critique sink in, playing with the new pieces until they fit, and then getting excited about the new and improved direction of the story brings the whole process to life. Now, instead of slogging through pitfalls and applying someone else's thoughts to my manuscript, I'm blazing a path to greater things using someone's feedback as my springboard. The momentum is mine. The passion is mine. The story is mine.

4. Organize the process: I make a plan based on what needs to be accomplished. I like to knock the small stuff out of the way first--word changes, small fixes--and then line up my tasks--layering, scene re-writes, scenes to be added--and do a read-through of the manuscript, putting in the changes as I go. I find this helps me get a sense of the story as a whole and I'm able to keep the continuity of the characters' emotional arcs front and center while I work. That way, when I reach The End, I'm confident the entire manuscript has been tightened and polished to within an inch of its life.

What works for you when you're revising?


  1. Actually, you pretty much listed exactly how I go about revising. I would say that I don't talk much to anyne about whatever I'm revising unless I have a specific question. But usually I do go back and talk to the revisor.

  2. Talky, talky, talky, always me and the talky.


    You're invaluable to me, friend. Thanks for letting me bend your ear, and glad for once I could help you.

  3. Awesome. One day when I have written my own novel (or published work of any kind) I will have a process of which to go by when it comes to revisions.

    Thank you!

  4. I was just referred over here from Sarahjayne's blog and in good timing too. I'm doing lots of revising and it was good to see that we share a lot of the same feelings on this. Plus I like a few things you posted that I don't do! Thanks! ;)

  5. This is some great advice. Any negative feedback is hard to hear, but if the point is to make the manuscript stronger, it's got to be done.


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