- I try to keep a light heart: Revision can be an expanding part of the creative process. With the right editorial people, revision can bring out the best in a story.
- I slow my roll: I’m not gonna lie: seeing lots of “suggestions for improvement” on my work inspires many (ahem) feelings. I now read those suggestions, put them away, do other things, and come back to the work in 24 hours, rather than respond immediately. Considered overnight, most suggestions have turned out to be spot-on, but I couldn’t see that at first glance. The suggestions that still don’t seem right simply become points for discussion.
- I read differently now. I can’t read anything without seeing where tighter editing might have improved a work—not only my own, but everyone’s!
- True confession: despite having a master’s degree in English and reading voraciously for decades, I did not know that every scene in a novel is supposed to move the story forward. I really did not ever grasp that fact! After working on revisions for my first novel, where I was asked “What’s the point?” about a couple of scenes, I learned that “It’s funny!” is not enough justification for a scene to exist. This has been a game changer for me! Now, when I edit my own work before sending it in, I ruthlessly slash every scene that does not advance the story. Or, if I love the scene too much to cut it, I add what that scene needs to make it an integral part of the story.
- I am grateful for everyone who takes the time to study what I have written and make suggestions which I may or may not follow. Every writer wants to be carefully read.
Please share your thoughts on writing and revision here!
9 thoughts on “What I Am Learning about Revision from My Agent and Editors”
Good thoughts. I know how easy it is to become too fond of one’s own voice and too reluctant to cut “good stuff.” I’m not sure I have overcome it to the degree that you have. I assume that you also have an “out-takes” file somewhere for the stuff that might be useful elsewhere later.
How did you guess, Hilary? I cut 15,000 words out of my first novel at the (excellent) suggestion of my (also excellent) agent. Not to worry, though. Those 15,000 words became the beginning of my second novel!
These are great things to keep in mind. I love the editing process, more than writing the first draft, but sometimes it is hard getting feedback from my agent and editors and it all seems negative, or at least constructive, rather than ‘this is great!’ and ‘this is great too!’. What I remind myself is that my agent liked my work enough to take me on, and my editors liked my novel enough to buy it!
Those are helpful, affirming thoughts, aren’t they? I remind myself of these things, too. It is intriguing that you like the editing process more than writing the first draft!
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At what point did you submit your first draft? How did you know when you needed to stop writing?
I always seem to be endlessly looking backwards and ‘tweaking’ here and there which can be very destructive to the overall flow of a story. I just wondered how/when you realised you had done enough and submitted your draft to your editor?
Is this something that you learn instinctively one you have a good relationship with your editor? Do they get to know you and your working practices?
From what I have learned, it seems that it is rare to successfully submit an unfinished novel. I think in non-fiction it might be ok to submit just a proposal and some sample chapters. But these days, if you’re writing a novel, an agent will want to see the completed draft.
Keep in mind, no matter how perfect you try to get it, the agent is likely to have suggestions for change, even if she accepts it. And after that, the editor at the publishing house will also have ideas for changes.
So to answer your questions: I did not submit my first draft, but revised to make it as good as I could first.
I also had “beta readers,” which helped enormously. Although other writers I’ve spoken to have said they do not have beta readers, because they are afraid that would undermine their confidence. Beta readers are (positive) people in your life–maybe in a local writers’ group–who would be kind enough to read your work and give you feedback.
I’d recommend taking a look at the Faber UK course. I took the one called Writing a Novel, and found it helped give me understand how a novel is structured. Knowing that helps you see when the book is finished.
In every novel, there is a dilemma. This is a problem that the main character has, a problem that cannot be solved without creating a worse problem. So, I guess you could say, the novel is finished when the dilemma is resolved. Either happily–or unhappily.
Best wishes, Jack, on your novel!
Thanks for your reply – that is really interesting. I will try and identify and build a group of positive people that I think could help in the review process. Apart from the usual close circle of family and friends who will always only ever say ‘nice’ and ‘that is great’, but it doesn’t really help much!?
I am also an Alumni of Faber and have recently completed their short courses on Research, Character and Plot. I am thinking of applying for the ‘Write a Novel’ this September and I am hoping it will provide all the structure, support and deadlines that I need. My only hesitation was whether or not to do the ‘Find Your Voice’ with PWA first? How and when did you realise that you had ‘found your voice’ and could transfer that to the page?
Yes, there is only a point in getting feedback from people who will tell you honestly, from their point of view, what does and doesn’t work in your writing. This is always their opinion, and you’re free to disregard it. But if you have beta readers who are too tender with your feelings, or who lack objectivity with your writing, then it’s no help, really!
In my town, we have a writers’ group that has been meeting twice a month at the library for forty years! It was very helpful for me to get reactions to my work there. The participants didn’t know me, and were honest. It was funny to see them arguing over whether I should or shouldn’t change something in my work: “This character is not like-able. You need to give her a redeeming quality.” “Oh, yes, she is too like-able! She’s funny! Don’t change her.” (Ultimately it’s up to the writer, but the reactions are very helpful.)
The course on finding your voice sounds interesting. I’ve never taken that one.
I did take the novel course, and recommend it!
Hi Keziah – thanks for the tips.
The writing group sounds like a great idea – I will see if I can find one in my own town. I want some honest (perhaps brutal?) feedback so that I can learn and progress.
I am looking forward to reading your novel – I am sure it will be great!
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