Why Revision is Where the Magic Happens
This is a guest post by Jessica Bayliss.
Hello, Wonderful Writers! I’ve been deficient in my blogging over the last couple of months. I’ve heard how jammed launch-time can be, and now I know first hand. They weren’t lying. It’s an intensely busy time. But TEN AFTER CLOSING is a month old, and now I’m getting back into my normal rhythm, which means it’s time to return to my It’s a Writer Thing series.
My primary writing motto is: Finish what you start, and revise what you finish. Every time.
Both of these things can be challenging for different reasons, but today, with the Pitch Wars Mentee Announcement getting closer, I’ve been thinking a lot about revisions.
Drafting used to be my favorite part of the writing process, but not anymore. Now, I LOVE revising! I think revision has a bad reputation. Here are some myths about revising that I’d like to debunk today.
MYTH 1: REVISIONS = EDITS
No, no, no. Revision isn’t the same as editing, though editing is part of revision.
Revision is the act of taking a manuscript, figuring out what you have, and wrapping your brain around what could make the story better. During revision, I discover themes to enhance, come up with plot twists I hadn’t seen before, deepen character, enhance character motivation, re-think voice, and sometimes I discover a great new idea that changes everything. And, if you have an agent or are working with an editor, sometimes THEY will suggest an idea that changes everything (even though that can mean a lot of work). You may be groaning now. More work? Nnnnooo! But whenever one of those ideas come up or when my agent gives some tough feedback, I’m happy about that. I want the book to be better. I’m excited by tantalizing new angles on my project. It’s a good thing.
MYTH 2: IF YOU NEED TO REVISE, YOU’RE BOOK MUST BE BAD.
Even when a book has significant problems, I still think this statement is a myth. Think about everything that goes into a novel. You’ve got a basic concept and vibe. There’s plot. There’s often world-building and a whole set of rules. There’s pacing, tension, voice, emotion. Books are multi-layered and complex entities, there is a lot to attend to. That means that every first draft will include elements that are great AND a bunch of elements that need attention. Simple as that.
We just can’t do it all in the first run-through. Or second. Or third.
Every writer has a process, and for some it takes less time to get a manuscript from draft one to finished; for others, it can take a dozen passes. That part says nothing about the quality of a book, either. I made a meme a couple years ago that says: A good writer isn’t someone who writes the perfect book; it’s the person who sticks with the book until it’s perfect. To me, that captures my entire point here. In other words, writing is SUPPOSED to be a process.
If manuscripts were supposed to be perfect right off the bat, there’d be no such thing as a first draft.
MYTH 3: REVISION IS ABOUT FIXING WHAT IS BAD.
Hopefully by now you get that, though revision involves improving weaker aspects of the manuscript, it’s also about looking for ways to improve the MS. During revision I’m literally a hunt for anything that can add to what I already have. Yes, be on the lookout for weaker aspects of your MS, but also think hard about exciting new additions to take it to the next level.
MYTH 4: GOOD WRITERS DON’T NEED TO REVISE
Remember my meme? A good writer is the person who sticks with the book until it’s perfect. But, more than that, I think the process of revision actually makes us better writers. During revision, we practice the skill of looking at a book from multiple angles with a critical eye. Then we practice the skills needed to address all those angles, and we get better as a result. We learn from every revision we do.
MYTH 5: REVISING IS BORING
Anything but. The first read-through is a process of discovery, a time to read the book with fresh eyes, to see the MS from a different place than where you left it in draft one. For me, this is exciting, and I’m always full of new inspiration. You may say, but I’m a plotter; I already thought of everything. I disagree. I’m a plotter too, and that process of discovery is ALWAYS part of my revision, no matter how detailed my initial plot was.
My process for making any revision fun is to ask myself this question: If I were the person buying this book, what would I want to see in it to make it the perfect book for me? This question always results in ideas that get me more fired up.
MYTH 6: REVISION MAKES THE WHOLE THING TAKE TOO LONG
No! I write all my first drafts in a month. My process of intensive revision means I can blow through that first draft quickly with no pressure. I don’t have to stress over it. I don’t have to edit it. I can just get the main idea out so I can reach the end. And here’s something that happens every time, too: that process of getting the entirety of the main plot out ALWAYS results in new inspiration.
Let me share something I commonly experience while writing a first draft. I’ll get stuck on an scene with no idea what to do to flesh it out. Sound familiar? And annoying? I used to stay with that scene and agonize over it, but I approach that situation differently now. I skip over problem-scenes and just finish the book. What I’ve learned is, it’s that process of getting to the end that lets my brain work out the problem and supply the ideas I needed to fix those big blank spots. If I pause when those stuck-points happen, sure, I’ll eventually work out what needs to go in there, but by doing it this way, not only do I have a complete draft, by the time I get to the end, that idea arrives anyway. And I didn’t waste any time. And since the first draft is done, I can turn to a different project for a while (maybe revise something already drafted) before returning to it to begin revision.
Trust the process. It may be messy, but it always gets us there!
Thank you for checking out this post. As always, I’ll end with the words my dear friend told me at the very beginning of my journey: You can do it! You can write!
Check out Jessica’s other posts:
“Let’s Talk about Feedback”
“Seemingly Inconsequential Events”
“How Christopher Pike Saved Me From Drowning (Seriously)”
“Let’s Talk Some More About Feedback”
“Why Breaking into Publishing is Like Pac Man”
“Goals Vs. Outcomes”
“What Project Runway Taught Me about Being a Writer”
“The Many Faces of Critique Partners”
“My Process for Responding to Feedback”
“Harness The Power of Stimulus Control in your Writing”
“Turbo-Charge The Power of the Environment”
“It’s All About Control”
“Do Not Fear Rejection”
“Preparing for Pitch Wars”
“On Productivity and Finishing What You Started”
“On Plotters and Pantsers”
“Is THIS Why You Are Struggling to Finish that Book?”
“Why I Write”
“How I Write”
“Six Myths of Revision”
"Writer's Block: Part One"
"Writer's Block: Part Two"
Jessica Bayliss is an author of commercial fiction who loves nothing better than getting lost in a good story, whether in print or on film. When not busy with her latest fiction project, she can be found loving her friends and family—especially her husband, Eric—playing with one pesky Havanese, or trying to appease an ornery cockatiel, typically with a cup of coffee near at hand.