Monday, November 15, 2010

Welcome to Revision Hell

Most writers hate the revision process.

For some, it’s because when they finish a story and turn it in, they do so convinced that the story is the best they can make it – they wouldn’t have submitted it if it weren’t – so any attempts by editors to change or revise anything is going to be met with resistance. This is the “I pour my heart and soul into my book and every time you delete something I bleed a little bit” syndrome.

I don’t have that. My books aren’t my children and I don’t bleed unless you actually, you know, cut me. I’ve never had an editor really rip my story up and demand that I rewrite it, though – if that ever happens to me, I know I’ll cry and moan as much as anyone. It doesn’t bother me when I’m told that the story – the plot, the pacing, the sequence of events or the reasons behind them – has a problem. I think I’d be more upset if an editor wanted me to start tinkering with characters. I get more attached to my characters than to my stories.

Sometimes an editor will demand such extensive revisions the author’s left to wonder, “If you have so many problems with it, why’d you buy the damned story?” It’s like, “I love the heroine, but she needs to be tougher, and the hero’s great but he’s not sexy enough, and the whole espionage thing has been done enough so let’s make this a paranormal and oh yeah, maybe it should be a ménage.” And sometimes all this happens after the contract has been signed, so the author’s really screwed. I have not – thank God, please God – had anything like that happen, but I know people who have and it Sucks.

I've got mixed feelings about revisions. In some respects, revisions are easier than the initial writing. I’ve complained – long and often – about how slowly I write. I have a really hard time with plotting. I can do characters and dialog very easily, but making up stuff for them to do is a lot harder. So, once I’ve completed the book, it feels much easier to go back and start tinkering with stuff. As La Nora likes to say, you can’t revise a blank sheet, but you can revise crap.

Simple prose edits – awkward phrases that need rewriting, overuse of certain words, too much descriptive filler and asides, that kind of stuff – is no big deal.

More difficult is the substantive edits – where you have to take apart whole scenes or write new ones. I’m having to do some of that for Yours, Mine and Howls – there’s one scene, in particular, that I’d thought I wouldn’t write. The hero has to do something very intense near the end of the book, and I’d left it to the reader’s imagination. My editor said that was a mistake – the thing the hero has to do is actually the emotional climax of the book and if I don’t show it, the reader will feel cheated. I realized she’s right.

There were other scenes I have to tinker with, places where motivation needs to be made clearer, timing fixed. When you start revising scenes like that, it’s like altering a garment or adding a wing onto a house. A change here will necessitate an adjustment there, and if you switch the gravel path to a blacktop road you have to make sure you change all subsequent references to the gravel road, and if the heroine said she was gonna take a shower but now you’ve got her walking straight out of the kitchen and to the stables…continuity is a bitch, is what I’m saying.

You would not believe how I’ve procrastinated over all this (then again, if you follow me on Twitter, you probably would.)

See, once I finish a book and send it in, I’m done. It’s off my plate, and time to move on to the next one. I don’t mind proofreading, I don’t mind doing text and line edits, but to have to go back in and write new scenes, invent plot points, rewrite, I’m just like….ick. I’m sick of the book at this point. It’s over, I’ve moved on. Shiny new plots are beckoning, and I can’t get to them because this old thing is following me around, clutching at my ankles and begging, “I’m not finished! Don’t let it end like this! Why don’t you love me anymore?”

Samhain offered me a contract on the book I'd sent them after they’d contracted for Yours Mine and Howls. It was the second time I’d submitted the novella, which will be titled Ready to Run. My former editor had given it a Revise and Resubmit, which I did, and the new editor liked it. But…she said she’d want to see some changes to it. She trusted me enough to offer me a contract before I did all the changes, and I trust her judgment about whatever changes she thinks will make the story better.

I hope it’s not substantive stuff, but I bet it is. Makes me tired thinking about it.


Cara Bristol said...

Excellent post. Something all writers can identify with. My editor did not like the ending of a novella I had submitted. I thought, "but that's the whole point of the story!!!!"

She actually had rejected it, but said she'd take another look if I rewrote the ending. I did, and she bought it.

Flexibility is key.

Debra St. John said...

Of course we all want that draft we submit to be the final end all publishable as is, but I've found I learn so much from my editor each and every time, that I don't mind revisions at all. They make me a better writer. (And as I learn more, each subsequent book seems to have less and less, as I tend to write with my editor in my head...)

Kinsey Holley said...

I hope that happens to us, Debra. I really like my new editor, and everything she suggested in her revisions made sense. I know for a fact it'll have a stronger ending thanks to her insights.

If I finish the damn thing, that is....

Kelly Jamieson said...

Good luck Kinsey! I know both your books will be great!

Erin Nicholas said...

You always make me laugh, Kinsey. Probably because I can SO relate! My problem is I don't want to mess with it either, but once I start tinkering I go kind of crazy and change all kinds of stuff that was just fine. Ugh. That's all I can say.