How We Write: Time to Revise…

“Being practical, yet innovative…” A friend and freelance client emailed that sentiment to me during an exchange about the beautiful novel I’m helping her take apart and revise. I’m pushing her to dig deep. She’s wanting to keep as much as possible of the beautiful inspiration that drove her to write in the first place. And she should–as long as the reader feels equally inspired to devour her beautiful words. Which is what revision is all about, and what makes it so hard and time consuming, and why the majority of those who attempt to publish never make it to a book contract–it’s VERY hard to craft a story that readers will love half as much as you did when you first envisioned it.


Let me repeat. Rewriting a manuscript until it’s reader-ready is hard. Brutal. Seldom pretty, at least at first. And it takes time.To analyze. Re-evaluate. Re-focus. And only then, to revise what you’ve already painstakingly completed. The process takes a creative artist out of her comfort zone and dumps her into the hell of picking apart word and character and theme and plot choices, drilling deeper until the true meaning and purpose of each piece is (effortlessly) crystal clear to a reader.

This isn’t a post on the method and technique of revision. I’ve done that already, so scroll back through How We Write, or attend one of the half-dozen workshops I’m already scheduled to give this year, the majority of which will include a discussion of rewriting. This is a blog about attitude. Fortitude. Determination to maintain your unique writer’s voice, while doing the writer’s day-to-day job of reaching others through story.

If you can’t commit to doing that, once it’s made very clear to you how hard and uncomfortable and unpleasant that part of your job can be, then that successfully published novel of your dreams won’t become a reality, no matter how wonderful your original idea might have been. I fact, it’s that very commitment to making your story everything it should be that protects that innovation bursting to live through your imagination.


By successful, I mean a story that reaches into readers hearts and souls and pulls out the best and worst of who they are, all while you’re transporting them to a fictional place that existed only in your mind before they began reading your words. You can epublsh anything you want these days, but if you’re wondering why your self-published fair isn’t hitting the top of the charts, take a look at the work you have or haven’t done rewriting/recrafting your novel and accept what might be missing in your process. Honesty. Practicality. Innovation. And, yes, time.

Good writing is good writing. But good story requires time to create and craft and recraft, until you’ve hit the mark. Readers engage with emotion and characters, and the growth of character over time, through a series of dilemmas and conflict that pushes the character and reader toward a satisfying (though not always happy) ending. Most of us can’t pluck something like that out of our imaginations, throw it on the page, and have a successful novel in first draft form. MOST of us require pass after pass through the raw beauty of what we’ve done, until we even understand what we’ve done, let alone can plan and execute a revision that gets us closer to a good story. Most of us need time.


Give yourself that time. Give yourself a good critique group or, if you’re lucky, the benefit of a good editor’s (often brutal) insight into your creation. Be practical, but innovative. Be vigilant in maintaining your unique writer’s voice, but be open to change. See your vision, while accepting what the reader sees beyond your own experience. These are the things that will make or break your success at this job.

I’ve been through that gauntlet 16 times with published works, and countless others with the proposals and manuscripts that haven’t made it to contract. Then there are the projects I’ve helped other writers create, each of which have come to be very special to me as I see them grow (or sometimes stagnate). And what I can say for certain, as a publishing insider, is that the time you spend revising/rewriting is the MOST critical part of your writing process. Don’t skimp on it. Don’t deny your novel (and your readers) your absolute best, no matter how hard the work ahead of you might be.

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2 Responses to “How We Write: Time to Revise…”

  1. Susie says:

    Thank you, very honest and to the point.

  2. I like how Steven King’s mentor put it: Kill your darlings!!! That version of the same sentiment imparts to me a bit of the ruthless love we must turn on our own creations, and after a while, even killings out darlings is fun.

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