How We Write: Revising WITHOUT Fear

I received editorial revisions the other day. I’m a multi-published author. So, no big deal, right? WRONG. Revisions are hard. They’re built that way. If they were easy, everyone would be published traditionally and selling millions. And any working writer that tells you differently is just plain fibbing.This post is for everyone who wants to see their words in print, the published and the unpublished and the newly “WINNING” nanowrimo masses and those who think it’s always easier in someone else’s writing reality. 

rewriting R

The reality is, the better you revise, the better your book will typically read for your reader. The more push it will have from your imprint. The more established you will find yourself within the very small world of publishing. Those who’re self-publishing without the benefit of a third-party editor, you’re in the same boat, except that you have to see the holes in your story that are more and more difficult to see the deeper you get into creating it. So we all schedule and accept it into our process the way you do everything else right?

revisions calendar

Yeah. No.

Why is it so hard?

Two reasons, one that veers toward mechanics and one that takes a head trip inward to the heart of all that we do for our creative dreams.

1. Revising is analysis. It’s ripping apart something we’ve created with great care, seeing it through new eyes, and throwing out, reworking, and going back to the beginning as much as is needed to make what we thought we’d created actually appear in a reader’s mind. I personally believe everyone can be taught this set of tools. Some will do it better and more naturally than others, but everyone can learn how to make what they’ve done better. Those who refuse to learn are setting themselves up to fail. That’s the tough-love part of this post, and of the hands-on rewriting workshops I travel all over the country teaching.

If you don’t think you need to rewrite, if you don’t want to look at the ugly just under the surface of what you think is beautiful just the way you’ve written it, if you don’t want to hear others’ take on what works and what doesn’t, really hear it from the standpoint of doing whatever it takes to make your story come alive outside the world that lives and breathes in your own imagination, well that’s a personal choice. In my opinion, a lazy one. Self-indulgent and self-fulfilling. It’s a road easy to veer down, and difficult to talk yourself back from. It’s a landscape of beautiful but blinding trees that will forever distract you from the forest (the reading world) you say you want to make your home.

revisions book

You might be asking if the stakes are that high and the solution is that simple (learn the craft of rewriting if you want to become the best writer/creator you can be), why don’t more writers embrace revisions?

2) Revising is terrifying.

revision fear

Which is a dynamic that both sucks and never really goes away. Can we dig deep enough? Can we let go of the tangents and wrong turns that we love so much. Can we produce the depth of character and story and plotting that will make this story sing? And more basically, will we fail?

More than any other job I’ve had, and I’ve made mega bucks more doing a lot of things than I ever have writing fiction, the best creative writing begins with embracing the very real possibility that you will fail. Only when we risk everything, only when we’re willing to throw every word out every day in order to rewrite what truly needs to be there, do we begin creating from our hearts.

Rewriting requires us to listen to ourselves (and, really, don’t we all begin writing in order to quiet those inner voices?). It requires us to listen to our editors and readers and critique partners, whose jobs aren’t to exclaim as they turn every page just how wonderful and magical our words are.

In our revisions we face ourselves more honestly, I believe, than we ever do in the draft. Drafting is about momentum and believing we can do it. Rewriting is about stopping and accepting where we’ve fallen short, then having the courage to dive back in and work harder, work even when it hurts, for the sake of the story we’ve only just begun.

As I teach (and I try to believe myself every time I get a revision letter), you must put your self-esteem on the shelf when you revise. Rewriting isn’t about you or your writing skills or being rejected or accepted by your editor. It’s about a story that needs to be told, and readers who will never experience it if you don’t do the work. It’s about whether or not you have what it takes to keep going.

Terrifying, yes.

Doable, yes.

So what if it feels bad for a moment or two, or a day or two, or a week or month or two, until you get it right? Revising is your job. Revising is your storytelling, at it’s most unpredictably beautiful. You owe it to your stories and the world waiting to read them. Get good at it. Get to work.

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