Can I Get a Revision? Amen!

Everyone has their hang-ups when it comes to writing. For a lot of people, finding the time or motivation to write is their biggest problem. For a friend of mine, it’s discovering the confidence to write, and keep writing until the end of a story regardless of whether it comes out the way she imagined. For me, it’s more a question of perspective.

When it comes to the revision process, (or, as it’s sometimes referred to in the industry, the “R&R”–revise and resend process) perspective is the key, the oracle, the “one ring,” if you will. Perspective can make or break the future of your story. (It can also rule your story, and in the darkness, bind… you know what, I’m a gigantic nerd.) It’s simple, really. Whether it’s a matter of time or distance–or both–a writer needs to have a different perspective while they’re revising than the one they had while they were creating.

Not enough new perspective, for example, will make a revising author overly emotional and stubborn when it comes to cutting and rewriting. Like a nervous new parent, you’ll regard your recently “finished” manuscript with tear-filled eyes, blinded by the love they feel for this little bastard darling of a first [complete] idea. If you’re like me, you might even entertain ideas of just sending it out into the world as-is to “see what happens.” (Not that I did this, mind you. But you’d be surprised at what seems like a good idea at 2:00am.)

On the other hand, if you wait too long, or get “too much” perspective, you could fall into what I like to call the “Pit of Literary Despair.” For example, some people like to read other authors’ bestselling books while they’re writing. I find this counterproductive. Because, let’s be honest, kids. How many people’s’ first work is going to stand up against something that’s already gone through the publishing wringer? Not many, I’m guessing. You can also fall into the chasm of “too much” online research. Let’s say, for example, that your newly completed WIP is a dystopian YA about robot fairies. Tons of industry blogs talk about how this and that is “on its way out.” So what do you do? Do you abandon the MS that you spent months, even years, writing? Or do you revise and query it anyway, because HEY, WHY THE HELL NOT? You never know whether you’ll be the one to “bring back” something other people thought was circling the drain.

Finally, there’s a part of this process I like to call “outsider perspective.” Seek it early, but don’t seek it before you’re ready to REALLY listen. Beta readers can sense fear, just like Rottweilers. And if you’re like me, and your friends are really nice, they might see your tentative wincing as a cue to pull their punches. They might not tell you what they honestly think might be wrong with your story. And then you’ll have to find out the hard way, from one of your top-choice agents when they tell you, “it’s almost there, but not quite.”

Perspective. On top of everything else, it’s something that we authors really have to fight for. Personally, I feel really lucky to have the chance to gain perspective through doing. But it’s also something that can happen vicariously, if you can force yourself to shut up and really LISTEN.