Revision Confession

In theory, I embrace revisions. Revisions give me a chance to improve a book, to take a good story and make it great. Revisions mean I can identify themes, strengthen characters and motivation, and hone dialogue. Revisions are good. And sometimes they’re easy. And sometimes they’re really hard.

I just wrapped up hard revisions last night. After four 17 hour writing days in a row, I completed the revisions on my Harlequin Hollywood story. I think the book is definitely better now. Or at least, its different than it was now. Maybe its not better at all. Maybe I made just a lot of new, and worse, choices during the revision process.

I thought these revisions were going to be easy. I thought it was a slam dunk–add some lines here, add some lines there, build on character, clarify motivation, delete a scene, add to the resolution…turns out, it wasn’t a slam dunk at all. What I thought would take me maybe a day, took four days where I started at my computer at 7 am and didn’t finish until close to midnight every night.

It started, of course, with chapter one. And three days later, I was still working on chapter one. A tweak here, a tweak there, and suddenly I had another version, and the versions just kept getting worse.

Here’s a little known fact about rewriting: the more you do it, sometimes the worse the writing gets. It’s true. We can rewrite and edit our prose–and voice–to death. While rewriting, we’re so intent on getting it ‘right’, that we come back at the same lines, again and again, tightening, layering, fixing, fleshing out until the words are thick and heavy and pedantic. It’s like poor little Heidi wearing her entire wardrobe as she climbs the Swiss Alps to her grandfather’s house. She’s got so many layers on, the poor girl can hardly move, and maybe she can get up the mountain, but its not graceful or quick.

I don’t want my writing, especially my chapter 1, to be Heidi waddling her way up the Alpine slope. I want my chapter 1 to read fast, to grab the reader and drag them into the story by the throat and keep him there until the book ends, but the way my revisions were going, chapter 1 just kept getting thicker, and slower, and as I read it, I realized, it’d lost its energy, lost its sense of movement and had become a chapter 1 of telling, instead of doing. In the rewrite, I managed to edit out the action and leave only exposition. How?

Here I am, a reasonably competent writer, so how did I lose the energy and buzz and excitement that should jump start every new book?

It was by thinking too hard, trying too hard, layering in too much and not seeing that chapter 1 is just a teaser, a taste of what’s to come. You don’t have to answer everything in chapter 1. That’s why you’ve another 14 or 22 chapters. The point of chapter 1 is just to get the reader started.

Fortunately, after three days of rewriting twenty pages, I returned to my first attempt at revising chapter 1, saved that, used that and finally moved on to chapter 2. The rest of the revision moved along more briskly as well. I gave myself permission to stop analyzing quite so hard–overthinking kills creativity–and just use my gut. I’ve good instincts and I pressed myself to write fast, to believe in the subconscious and my unmangeable muse, and get it done.

And guess what? It worked. So the next time you get a revision letter, or a rejection letter and you want to revise, here’s the way I tackle rewriting:

1) Read points and revision suggestions–all the way through.

2) Sleep on letter and reread again next day.

3) Take coffee break or brisk walk and return to letter. Highlight points that are easy, note points and suggestions that are questionable.

4) Tackle easy points and changes first.

5) Dive into more challenging revisions next, but focusing on one problem at a time to keep from being overwhelmed.

6) Cross off each change–congratulate yourself on handling revisions like a pro.

7) When revisions are completed, reread through revision letter and make sure you took care of everything asked, or anything problematic.

8) Send off revised manuscript.

9) Celebrate.

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