Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Revision Notes

I've embarked on the painful and arduous task of editing Crash, which in its final word count is 136K. I've just done my initial read through and I realize this is going to be tough. Not only do I need to shave off 16K AT THE LEAST, but I also have to add things in. Not to mention the airtight, swift plot leaves little elbow room. I know editing this book is going to be like sawing off an arm and a leg.

I know there are lots of other writers out there struggling with revision. Revising is a lot like playing hide and seek blind. You have no idea what's ahead unless you walk into it, and it's impossible to determine how well you're hidden until you're found, (or not found). In the end, you just have to go by feeling.

It's easy to get stressed about revisions, especially when you have notes from an agent/editor/beta reader. Revisions hit the same nerve as rejections, because either way someone is sitting down and saying, "There's something wrong with your manuscript." And it can hurt. Every writer, on some level, wants their manuscript to be perfect. And even though revision notes may begin with "I really like this..." it's the "but" that follows that stings, even in a minor, miniscule way.

So when you get those revision notes, what do you do? How do you know the agent isn't going in a completely different direction than you want to? How do you know if your editor isn't misunderstanding your book? How do you know if your beta reader is just bat-shit crazy?

For the most part, it's easy. For some edit notes, you read them and it's like a light goes off. "OF COURSE THAT'S WHAT I SHOULD DO HOW COULD I NOT SEE IT BEFORE OMIGAWSH YOU'RE A GENIUS." And then there's less happy moments. Notes that you grimace at, knowing the workload involved, but grudgingly admit it's probably a good move. And then there are others. Ones that you're really not sure will make your book any better. It just sounds like a lot of work for work's sake. And then there are some that MAY make the book better, but you really would rather not make the changes, for one reason or another.

When stepping into uncertain pastures, sometimes it's good to take a day or two, or maybe even a week or two, to think about it. Whoever gave you those revision notes isn't expecting you to finish in a day. Take some time. Figure out a game plan before charging forwards.

When you're faced with suggestions you aren't necessarily against, but aren't sure will actually do anything, sometimes it's easier to do a taste test. If the suggestion is something concrete, like adding scenes with two characters together, write one. Read through it, see how you feel. And then read it in context. Start reading a chapter or two before the scene and read through until one or two chapters after. How does it read? If you're STILL not sure, try another scene. And another. Read through. How do you feel about it NOW?

When it comes to the last type of revision, the one you're not sure about but you don't want to do, often this comes down to killing your darlings. Killing your darlings is hard, and sometimes it's for the best. If you're like me, and you have to axe your favorite part, then sometimes it's better to save the passages or lines or whatever in a blank word document. If you're lucky, you can use those parts again in different forms.

And if this is the case, and you're reluctant to murder your babies, then seriously, my best advice is to take the plunge. Just test drive it out and see how it feels. When it comes to killing your darlings, most writers would rather step back and say no, their emotional attachment making it difficult for them to decide whether to keep it or toss it. Because of this, it’s best not to think of it. Just try it. The good thing is you can always change it back if you decide that just doesn't work for you. So long as you save a document for each draft, or at least have a system for saving old versions of your work, you're golden.

And honestly? Sometimes you'll find agents/editors/beta readers who really don't know what they're talking about. Maybe they want to go in a completely different direction than you do. And sometimes you just need to put your foot down and say no. Sometimes you had it right all along.

So what are your revision tips? I need some help getting through my own editing rounds, so any advice is really appreciated!



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