Navigating the Revision Cave

Sometimes, when I’m deep in the Revision Cave, I run into walls that make me lose perspective. I focus so hard on the challenges presented by an edit, that I lose sight of what revision truly is: opportunity. The push that makes us look harder at something, until we scratch away the surface and reveal a character for who they really are. The nudge that compels us to make the hard cuts so other scenes shine brighter, and the pacing of the whole book improves.

Second round revisions and line edits for FLASHFALL

Second round revisions and line edits for FLASHFALL

When I was in third grade, an author spoke to us fledgling writers at a Young Authors Conference. He said, “writing is re-writing.” I honestly had no idea what he meant at the time. Fast forward many years, and many books later, and I believed that I had gained a good understanding of that old adage.

Young Authors' Conference, 8th grade

Young Authors’ Conference, 8th grade

But if editing my debut novel has taught me anything, it’s that I had NO IDEA how deeply I’d need to explore the depths of my creative abilities to revise again and again and again.

Sometimes, your editor (or agent or critique partner) may like your writing, but they push you to develop something ‘more.’ That is when you either bang your head against the wall, or you persevere, dig deep . . . and occasionally discover moments, or scenes, or elements that you didn’t know you had in you. The more that can take your story from good to great.

A little over a year until FLASHFALL releases, and it’s really coming together during these final rounds of edits. It’s a book I will be proud to see on the shelf. But it’s not the same book my agent sold last fall. It’s been shaped and stretched into a story more richly layered, visceral, and compelling than I realized it could be from the ‘early days’. The bones were there, but now parts of it feel three-dimensional and ‘alive’ in ways it didn’t before. That is the beauty of revision.

Writing is re-writing. And re-discovering. And re-imagining.

Embrace the act of revision as an opportunity to re-envision a scene, character, or plot point. Then, once you’ve re-envisioned, have the courage to write something new. Sometimes we hold on so tightly to what we’ve written, that we don’t allow for the possibility of what something can be.

For more about this, including some of the best creative advice I ever received, check out my post on Publishing Hub, Don’t Be Afraid To Break It.

And, if you’re curious about my process, here’s a peek . . .

Edit Letters and Revision Caves

After months of waiting, I received my edit letter for FLASHFALL. Since then, I’ve been fully immersed in the Revision Cave. And since my book is about caving, this is more than a metaphor for me—I have literally been down some freakish caverns for the past few weeks!

 

My FLASHFALL manuscript in the midst of structural revisions. Sticky-note pile are completed edits!

My FLASHFALL manuscript in the midst of structural revisions. Sticky-notes in the pile are completed edits!

 

I’m currently a week from deadline, (and ironically I’m in my pajamas, messy hair in a bun, sitting beside a bag of chocolate—the author deadline cliché) but thought I’d post a glimpse of what this stage of the revision process looks like. (Ignore the piles of laundry and the fast food bags littering the cave–no judgment during deadline week.)

 

Every writer has a different process, and mine looks different depending on what stage of revisions I’m in. Since these are first round edits, they are more big idea, structural revisions. Some deal with plot points, shaping and pacing suggestions, and character and world-building development. My edit letter was seven pages long, and I took each one of Kate’s questions/thoughts and printed it on a card that then went on the Revision Board. This helps me keep my revision goals clear as I work through the manuscript and make sure to address each one.

 

My edit letter broken down and organized according to things I need to cut, add, develop, or change

My edit letter broken down and organized according to things I need to cut, add, develop, or change

 

At this stage, there is a lot of what my agent calls ‘the thinking part of writing.’ When you remove a character or scenes, you have to work through how you’re going to ‘re-connect the dots’ plot-wise and in terms of a character’s arc. I like to explore a lot of this on paper (on a printed manuscript and with tons of sticky-notes) before I alter the actual manuscript on my laptop. Some writers are already working in Track Changes (Microsoft Word) with their editors at this point. I have only experienced that with line edits, and this process works well for me.

 

After this, I’ll have a second round of revisions to make, followed by line edits, then eventually copyedits. During that time, I’ll probably start seeing some cover designs (EEEE!!) and I’ll continue to work steadily on BOOK TWO. More about all that as the process unfolds . . .

 

If any of you are in Revision Caves of your own, hang in there! It’s daunting at times, but I’ve found that if you take it note by note, it feels less overwhelming. When I started a few weeks ago, I had over 200 post-it notes stuck to my manuscript and Revision Board. I pulled the last one off yesterday. It was an incredible feeling. But honestly, the best feeling is reading over a new scene that wasn’t there before and feeling the magic in the words, and knowing you were pushed to write something better, with more depth than you had originally.

 

It’s all worth it. That’s my mantra during revisions. That, and–if you just finish one more you can have a piece of chocolate.

 

If you need some encouragement, come say ‘hi’ on Twitter. You don’t have to be alone in the Cave. I have lots of chocolate in my little corner over here, and I totally share.

 

Happy writing!

To see a video of me in this process, click here.