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The Art of Revisions

There’s an art and a craft to everything we do in publishing and revisions are not immune to that. We all know that learning the craft of writing is part of the writing process. I have talked quite a bit about learning the craft of the query, not just for querying, but because you’ll need it even when published.

What we haven’t talked enough about is the art and craft of revisions. Every book a BookEnds agent takes on will go through a revision process. But revisions are a tricky thing and just as subjective as anything else about this business. They also tend to have a learning curve.

One of the things agents and editors learn and need to learn over the course of their careers is understanding each author’s ability and what she is able to do. When I send a round of revisions there is a stopping point for every author and I don’t mean the point where she’s tired. I mean the point where she has done the best she can do and the book needs to go out.

So often we have a vision of the book that might not align with that of the author, or might not align with the author’s abilities. It’s up to agents and editors to learn enough about the author to understand those abilities.

But revisions aren’t just something agents and editors need to learn. There is a craft to revisions that authors can grow and hone as well. One of the most important things is to stop saying, “I can’t” or “I don’t.” I find the biggest obstruction to revisions is the author’s idea of what she can or cannot do. Ultimately, what she is willing to do.

It’s your book. You can can do anything you want.

As with learning any craft so much is dependent on mindset. The craft of revisions means accepting that the book isn’t done. That the final product might not fully match your first vision, but will hopefully be better. It’s opening your mind to new ideas and new directions.

Weirdly, the hardest part about revisions is believing. Believing that you can write something and your book can be something you never envisioned. It’s learning to believe in yourself (and your book) as much as someone else does.

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7 comments

  1. Thank you so very much for this blog. At the tender age of (mmff-mmff), I’m writing my first novel and am on my third rewrite. I’m aware there comes a point when a writer must stop. I’m thisclose. But I’m also aware I’m learning some important techniques that are new to me.
    I recently spoke to a writer on Twitter who revised her work for *15 years* and has just been published! What an achievement! She believed in her work and in herself.
    You’ve just written: “The hardest part about revisions is believing. Believing that you can write something and your book can be something you never envisioned.”
    For me, at least, writing is hard work – 5o% inspiration and 50% perspiration. Your comment about belief resonates 100%.

    1. As a writer on my (mmff-mmff) round of revisions, that’s very encouraging to hear. So often, you hear about how the first book (or first 5) are learning, and deserve to be trunked, not fixed.

  2. I know when working with critique partners and beta readers, they’ll often present edits, but I can read those edits as “this doesn’t work” and fix it any way that makes sense to me.

    When working with agents and publishers, is there as much freedom in determining what *I* feel is right for the story? Or do I need to have good justifications if I decide to go ‘off script’ for my fixes?

  3. I don’t find it weird that believing is the hardest part of revisions. It’s the thing that I struggle with the most because I actually enjoy revising. But believing I can do it well and make my story better is what holds me back.

  4. I firmly believe in the value of an honest beta reader. As much as you want to hear “I loved it!” a trusted beta may identify problems you didn’t notice – brutal to hear, but often *necessary* to hear. Better a beta to say uh-uh than an dismissive agent or publisher!
    I also believe it’s better to let a work sit awhile rather than rip it apart right away. If you believe in your work and believe in yourself, you may just want to follow your heart. The choice is yours to make. Allowing your subconscious mind to drift over days, weeks or months will often produce an answer.
    Many famous writers faced rejection, but continued to submit their work until they met success. What those stories tend not to say, is if and how those writers revised their work as the result of those rejections.
    Although rarely practised today, a field left in fallow will produce a better crop. A field left forgotten and untended will produce only weeds. Never abandon your work!

  5. I have recently found that if I have a clear image in my head of a scene/ character (visuals, flavor, emotions, etc.), then I can usually make the plot work with it. If the image is not clear, and I try to write, or rewrite, it never works. That has helped me realize which things to cut. Once, it was my main character. Argh!

    Also I can’t remember who said this, but I once heard, “if it occurs to you to cut it, you probably should.” Sometimes you know something intuitively about what works and what doesn’t, but your conscious brain doesn’t take it seriously at first. I think listening to your intuition in writing is something that comes with practice. At least, I hope so!

  6. I have never minded doing revisions on my manuscripts because I have learned it takes a team to produce the best book possible. Having a multitude of eyes and active brains looking over my work and giving suggestions to make a story better makes me look smarter than I really am.

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