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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Revision Heck

There are two kinds of authors. (Well, really, a bazillion kinds, but in this particular case, usually two.)

There are authors who love writing first drafts and hate doing revisions. And authors who love doing revisions but hate first drafts. There may be some who love both, but I haven't met one yet :-)

The authors who hate the revision part call it "Revision Hell." And I am usually one of them. But something interesting happened while I was working on my latest book, SEEDS OF CHANGE. I kinda, sorta enjoyed the revision process. I'll tell you why.

Let me start with a confession. (No, not about that. We're not talking about my personal life here.) My confession is this: I don't tend to do a lot of revision. Or at least, I don't do big post-first draft revisions, in part because I edit as I go along (which catches a lot of the small stuff) and in part because I usually work from a very detailed outline (which prevents some of the big stuff from being a problem in the first place).

In fact, when I signed with my agent, Elaine Spencer, she told me that my manuscript (for Pentacles & Pentimentos) was the only one she ever sent out on submissions without having to edit it first. I tend to write very clean, tight books. And I learn from the mistake I make in each previous book, which means I'm making fewer  mistakes in the next one, in theory at least.

But SEEDS OF CHANGE fought me every step of the way. It didn't want to be written out first in outline form, although I had a pretty good idea of beginning and end, and some of what happened in the beginning. I had to do serious brainstorming with the fabulous Candace Havens and Heather Long before I could even get past chapter three. In short, the first draft process kicked my ass. And then when Elaine read it, she told me the manuscript needed some serious revision.

Normally, that would have freaked me out. But the truth was--I already knew it. And she liked what I had written, for the most part, she just thought the book needed MORE. More layers, deeper connections between the characters, more world building. And, thankfully, she had detailed notes and suggestions for how I could accomplish all those things. We had a great phone conversation to make sure we were both on the right page, and I sent both notes and ms to Lisa DiDio, the best critique partner on the planet for her input. And then I got to work.

 But to my surprise, instead of dreading the revisions, as I usually do, I mostly enjoyed them. I had lots of great pieces to work with (thanks to Elaine and Lisa) and plenty of ideas of my own on how to add things--it was more like trying to figure out what the bits and pieces were, and where they should be put to add the most to the story. In short, it was a puzzle--and I LIKE puzzles.

It took me all month, pretty much, but I've finished the major revisions. I'll spend the next few days doing another read-through and making sure I didn't miss something [when you make a lot of substantive changes, it is easy for small things to be left that no longer fit with the new stuff], and then send the new and improved version off to Elaine. Hopefully, before my birthday on Saturday, so I can actually relax.

I started the revisions with 90,553 words and ended up with 110,409 (and since I cut one huge scene, there were more words added than it looks like: 26K words and 81 pages of new material, in fact). The book is much improved and I learned some new skills along the way. It wasn't always fun, but it was an interesting challenge. Hopefully I will be a better writer for having done it.

And from now on, I won't worry quite so much about Revision Hell. Truth is, it isn't much worse than Revision Heck.

So, if you write--which part do you like better, first drafts or revisions? Inquiring minds want to know.


  1. I enjoy writing the first draft because as a pantster I get to discover my world and characters. The revision part hurts. So much is removed, added, and reworded to make the story better but it's still a difficult process.

  2. First drafts are fun because they just come out of my head and surprise me. Then I read them and think "I wrote that? Not bad!"

    I don't mind revising because as a tech writer I've revised the hell out of so many things I've written (software as a moving target anyone?). Plus, I know I change things as I write to make more sense, so I have to go back and fix things in the earlier parts of the story and make it work. There is no "foreshadowing"; there is only revising to put in what you found you needed later. (I learned this from Connie Willis at Clarion West in '93.)

  3. I'm with you, Beth :-)

    And Skye, I love watching the first draft come to life, and "meeting" my characters. You got to meet Connie Willis! Man, I'm jealous!!!!

  4. You have met someone who loves both: ME!

    I love the rush and ride and wild discovery of the intial draft, but I also love digging in and making each subsequent draft stronger, leaner and meaner. Draft 1 is like a dervish dance or a hot fast smooch against the wall. Draft 2? Mental pilates or a whole weekend of slow, leisurely kisses.

    1. Right--sorry...I meant someone SANE (lol). But seriously, your attitude is starting to rub off on me. Proof that it is a good idea to have a CP whose strengths lie in areas where yours don't.

  5. I try to edit as I go, but inevitably I find stuff later on that makes me cringe and wonder why I thought it was any good at all! Overall, I prefer drafting, but I understand revision.

  6. I understand revision...I just sometimes find it overwhelming, which for some reason I don't feel with first drafts most of the time. (This time--oy.)

    And the cringing is why I edit...so readers don't do it later!

  7. I love first drafts. It's all magic and discovery. Revision is less fun, but i been having better luck once I accepted that much of my work will be cut from the final product. But I'll always keep the first version, so it'll always be there.

  8. I'm another who loves both aspects. I'm also a pantser, although I have a rough draft before I start, and invariable things along the way turn out a bit different to how I imagined them, which is a bit part of the fun of writing. I also edit as I go, and sometimes I don't have much to do when I reach the end, but I know my current WIP will need several additions and some re-working, and I'm really looking forward to it. Only 4 chapters to go...