Revisions Redux

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On the subject of revisions that David started yesterday…I remember when my Tor editor sent my first editorial letter. It wasn’t very long, mostly because the main revision he wanted was a bit huge. Monstrously so. Enough that I dissolved into tears for about a day when it first arrived. For a few hours, I was utterly frustrated. I didn’t think I could face the work ahead. But I listened to my friend Faith, and let myself freak out for a day. Miraculously, the next morning I felt a little better. I started thinking of how I could accomplish what my editor asked for. The day after that was a little better, and soon I was typing away, making the changes and enjoying the new look my book was achieving.

I’m a slow writer, as I’ve mentioned three or four hundred times around here. I’m slow because I like every sentence to be right and proper and good before I leave it behind. It’s not the easiest way to write a story, but I realized long ago that it’s my way. The only trouble is that I start to become impatient with myself, worrying that I should hurry up and get to the end. Have you ever worried hard about something? It’s like trying to run through a brick wall – no matter how hard you pump those legs, you’re just not moving. For someone who already writes slowly, this is misery. The slow writing grinds to a halt, and I find myself questioning every word that came before instead of pushing on through to the end. But while finishing “Kestrel’s Dance”, I suddenly realized something wonderful about that editorial revision letter. Are you ready? Here it comes.

I don’t have to worry about being perfect.

Honestly, up until that moment of revelation, I’d been feeling as if I was knee-deep in mud, unable to move forward or back, until it occurred to me that the important part wasn’t getting every sentence, every word, every comma right. It was getting to the end.

This is not to say I shouldn’t write the best story I can the first time around. And God knows I’m not suggesting that my editor should write even one word of my story. What I mean is that instead of ripping my own creative guts out in an attempt at perfection, I can relax, tell my story and depend on my editor to tell me where I should have taken the left turn to Albuquerque, because it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. Can you see how incredibly freeing that thought is? It’s the thought that helped me over the hump of the last five chapters in “Kestrel’s Dance”, and it’s what helps me find speed when my process is slowing down even more than usual.
Hooray for editors and revisions!

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9 comments to Revisions Redux

  • Great point, Misty. I’m drafting right now and (because of other commitments) having to do it in bits without the continuity I feel I need. I can only get through it by reminding myself that I’m just getting story down right now, that I’ll have bags of time to revise and polish later. Unless I don’t get the story down, in which case I’ll be hurtling towards my deadline and having to buld the entire finished book from nothing. Scary stuff.

  • I write the same way you do, Misty. I polish as I go, which means that I write more slowly that some people, but that I have a bit less polishing to do when the first draft is finished. But when I get stuck, I often need to remind myself of the same thing. I shouldn’t be striving for perfection. I can fix stuff later, with the help of my editor and agent. And with the use of my own internal editor. Sometimes I can’t get it right the first time around, but upon rereading the book, the solutions to what had seemed to be insurmountable problems seem obvious.

  • Yea, Misty! You have grown by giant leaps and bounds with that one realization >> I don’t have to worry about being perfect.

    Here at MW, we always say that one’s book (especially the first) has to be nearly perfect. We go on and on about the first pages, the importance of each para, sentence, and word. And sometimes we forget the most important part — that we need to get to the end. Near perfection can come later, in a polish or a rewrite.

    Get to the end. I needed to hear that!!! I am stuck (and have been for 3 weeks) on the same fifty pages, trying to become satisfied with this section before the climactic part starts. And all I need is to get to the end, then I’ll know what this part needs and can fix it. Thank you! I feel better. Whoowhoo! Huge hugs!

  • Sarah

    I’m constantly amazed by this paradox that if we let go of perfectionism, we actually produce better work in the long run. I was raised to be a perfectionist and I’m naturally uptight that way anyway, so it’s been a real struggle to let go of the idea if something isn’t perfect the first time it’s a failure. As I look back at my life, especially my writing life, I see how destructive that attitude has been. Some of my best work has been produced under the “screw getting it right! just get it onto the page!” kind of pressure. And huge swathes of work has gone unfinished or undone because I couldn’t make it “good enough” to please myself so I gave up trying. I’ve had dozens of teachers tell me that you learn by failing and trying again and failing and trying, but I always thought they were just copping out. It took me years to accept that letting myself not be perfect could actually make me better as a writer.

    Ah well. Onward! (as a professor I knew liked to say in the face of pessimism and deadlock.) No mourning for past mistakes. Just Onward!

  • I’m with Sarah. Sometimes I get so caught up in trying to get it right the first time that I can’t produce at all, and I get frozen before the computer screen.

    Thanks for sharing this, Misty. It’s a great reminder to take to heart.

  • Razziecat

    As someone who is still learning, this is a problem I only hope to have someday, but I find it encouraging to read. It lets me know that even writers who’ve got a bunch of books under their belt still sometimes struggle to get the next one done, and you still have that emotional reaction when you’re asked to make changes. When I joined an online writing workshop, I sometimes got paralyzed by the critiques. I especially like the idea of waiting a day for the stomach-clenching, hair-pulling “arghh!” phase to pass so I can put those critiques to good use. I think that’s where I went wrong before: I’d either feel overwhelmed, or I’d try to put every suggestion into the rewrite and get bogged down. This time around, I’m going to prioritize getting to the end (one of my biggest problems) and remember to give the critiques time to settle a bit in my mind before I tackle the rewrites.

  • I like to think of it as not so much not worrying about being perfect the first time through as the only way to be perfect is for your work to be reviewed and critiqued. Ultimately I write so others can enjoy my story so it’s no good if I’m the only one who thinks my work is excellent. I want other people to provide suggestions on how to improve what I’ve written so I can know how to make my work better in the sense that others want to read it.
    I’ve not really had that strong emotional response to criticism, but none-the-less find I need to give a critique time to gestate before I’m ready to come up with a solution that resolves the problems raised.

  • Sometimes us writers are such a bloody dense lot!!!!!!!!! And it takes a post like this to give us a good clout behind the ear…. Like Faith, I’ve been stuck on editing a single chapter for a couple of weeks…. time to let it go and move on to the next one…. thanks for the whack Misty

  • Young_Writer

    I won’t let my mom read my novels beacse she found six mistakes on the first page. 🙂 One was actually somethign I needed to change, though, I’ll give her that.