Sunday, October 4, 2009

Revisions, Revisions!

I'm a pro at revisions by now. Not so much at getting them done right the first time, or fifth time, but at receiving revision letters. And, as hard as it can be sometimes, it has been a valuable experience for me as a writer.

I read that 80-90% of revision letters from publishers are ignored. In that, the person who receives them never follows up. I think there are a few reasons for this, one is that it's daunting to have to re-imagine something you've already done, and sometimes it's tough to know where to go. Another reason is the writer's worst enemy: ego.

It's hard to have someone essentially tear apart something that means a lot to you. I've been the recipient of three revision letters, all for the same MS. The last of which meant doing a complete rewrite on the last half of the MS.

I've come to realize a few things through this experience. While I don't believe there's room for self-doubt and false modesty in writing, I also don't think there's room for the big ego. The editor is a part of the publishing world, and the editor knows what sells. If the editor can sell your book, they will buy it. So it's my job as the writer to create a product that will sell. And if an editor is willing to help with that, all the better! Those revision letters are like gold mines. An opportunity to glean information, and valuable help with creating a better story, from a professional in the industry.

A revision letter is a blessing, not a curse. An editor won't waste their time if they don't believe in you. The fact that they're taking the time to help you along is an incredible opportunity.

The other thing I've learned? Nothing I write is sacred. It can all go. And in the end, I may very well have something much better.

As I mentioned, my last revision letter called for a rewrite of more than half of my MS. That scared the pants off of me to be honest. How could I change something so major? How could I think of another, better way, to end the book? So I took a few days to quietly panic and reassess what I had done, then I looked at the letter again, took a deep breath and deleted more than 25,000 words.

The end result? It's much better than what I had done originally. But I had to be willing to sacrifice the original to get there. And I'm so glad I did. With help, I crafted a much better story than what I had done on my own. The outside perspective didn't take away from my original vision, it added to it in ways I couldn't have imagined by myself.

I'm also blessed to have an amazingly supportive, brutally honest, writing group. Their help and perspective on each revision letter I've received has really helped me think about the criticisms on my work from a lot of different angles.

Revisions are part of writing. Taking criticism is part of writing. And if we can embrace it, I truly believe that's when we can be better.


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