Lessons Learned: Revisions.

“The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.”
~Henry Green

This morning feels a bit strange. I’m not sitting at my desk right now. I’m not hanging out with my characters, smiling from Ellie’s three-year-old antics or crying along with Sofie as she finds ways to parlay her hurt into hope. I’m not re-reading the same paragraph five different times, searching for any – every – possible place to delete words. I’m not editing. Instead, I slept in until 7:45. I read through my blogroll slowly, listening to the sound of lawn mowers crunching grass blades outside and the heater crinkling on inside (side note: Mother Nature’s apparent decision to skip from summer to winter this week? NOT COOL.). There’s a zillion things on my to-do list for later, but none involve Mine to Love.

Because as of last Friday, I am officially finished the first round of revisions! *insert happy dance here* It was a long time coming – longer than I’d originally planned, to be honest – but in retrospect, it was exactly what the book needed. It needed its major edits to come first. It needed me to devote an entire day to each chapter. It needed its words to be chosen wisely, carefully, judiciously. Though there’s still work to be done before the manuscript is truly finished, I can instinctively tell that it’s stronger today than it was three months ago. Literally, it’s less. Figuratively, it’s more. And isn’t that what writing’s all about?

As I’ve taken the book from 159,329 words (469 pages) to 124,944 words (376 pages), I’ve learned a lot about editing. Each of those 34,385 deleted words has been a reminder…

1. Much like the brainstorming and writing processes differ between projects, so does editing. What works for one manuscript may not necessarily work for another. Sometimes revisions are about adding scenes, sometimes they’re about polishing the scenes already splashed onto the pages, sometimes they’re about tightening the dialogue, sometimes they’re about limiting the exposition, sometimes (okay, in my case, always) they’re about deleting unnecessary words. Always they’re about making the book better. By trimming the manuscript down, we boost the story up.

2. Those phrases I overused in the last project? They’re hardly in this one at all … but have no fear, they’ve been replaced by others. Think it’s possible for any writer to get through an entire first draft without repeating at least a handful of words WAY TOO MUCH? My money’s on no.

3. Sometimes the scenes that affect you the most while writing are also the ones that affect you the most while revising. Sometimes you get just as swept up into your characters’ world, into their emotions, and sometimes you still have to take a deep breath to compose yourself. But other times, it’s a completely different scene that works its way into your soul. It’s the ordinary scene instead of the milestone one. And isn’t that so much like real life? Often the ordinary moments are extraordinary in their own right.

4. What published authors say about every book building upon the last, pushing them to grow and spread their wings? SO TRUE. I could feel it as I was writing the first draft, but at the same time, I was much too close to the story then to have any sense of objectivity. Revising lets me take a step back and approach it with an unbiased eye. What I saw? A book I would’ve been hesitant to write even just a couple years ago. A book that puts my characters through difficult times, times it broke my heart to write about, but a book that tells the story of how they heal and grow. Of how they spread their wings and fly. Of how they honor the past while moving on to the future. When I sat down to write the first word of this book back in January, I was really nervous about tackling it. Ten months later, I am unspeakably grateful that I did. If there’s a story in your head – in your heart – write it. Don’t let fear stop you, because sometimes fear itself is what leads us to something beautiful.

Okay, now it’s your turn: what lessons have you learned while revising? Share a tip or two that I can use when jumping back into edits next week!


12 thoughts on “Lessons Learned: Revisions.

  1. I loved your description here – especially when you wrote about your cozy morning listening to the heater start up, etc. Wonderful! And how great that you feel like you really stretched yourself with this book, doing things with your writing that you never thought you could do. Just think what you’ll do 3, 4, 8, 15 books from now!

    Ah, yes. And lessons learned while revising? Mainly that I don’t have to make my first draft perfect, because it can be fixed in revisions. So don’t stress so much about the first draft. All those words you slaved over the first time will probably be changed, rearranged, or completely cut during revisions. Also, revisions are fun because that’s where you really see your book taking shape. I never really understood why some writers said that, and I kind of resented them for it, thinking they were being way too peppy and just putting on a good front, but it’s true. A lot of the fun really does come in revisions. (Which is not to say that revisions are always fun. But they’re not always terrible, either.)

    Hope you’re enjoying your week off! Now go find some other blogs to comment on, missy! Because people need to discover your blog – especially posts like this, which are universally appealing. Go, go, go! :-D

    • Aww, thank you! In a way, I think we stretch ourselves with every book – it’s just a natural progression that comes with experience – but this one really took me to places I hadn’t imagined before. No matter what happens with it in the future, I’ll always be grateful for that.

      SO TRUE about the first draft not having to be perfect. Of course, it’s easier said than done (gotta love internal editors!), but you’re absolutely right. And how funny is it that we strive to reach daily word counts while writing and daily deletion/edit counts – on those same words, no less – while revising? Makes me laugh!

  2. Heh, I wish I could tell you everything I’ve learned from revising, because that would mean I had finished…!! But so far I’m just on that first one you mentioned: “taking longer than I expected — but I know that’s what it needs.” :P

    Thanks for sharing the lessons from your journey. It’s always a pleasure for us writers to kind of hive-mind these experiences, you know?

    • You know, I think that’s probably the hardest lesson of all. It’s TOUGH to be patient with something like this, but in the end, our books will be so much better for it. As long as you’re proud of your work, as long as it gives you joy and you know it’s at its strongest, that’s what matters.

      And yes, completely agreed! :)

  3. Great post. I’m doing a (hopefully) final revision too – chapter by chapter. It needs me to take the time to make it into the story it deserves to be – but mostly I need it. :)

    • Hey, what you need as the writer is SO important! We always talk about what our characters need, what their stories need, and I think it’s easy to forget about what we need, too. Chapter by chapter, step by step, we get there. :)

      Good luck with your revisions!

  4. Hi, Shari! What GREAT lessons. I love that writing is a learning experience and we are always, always finding out something new. Congrats on finishing your revisions – I bet it feels like a weight off your shoulders, doesn’t it?! And I love when you get swept up into your characters’ stories, or even just one special scene that you loved to write. It takes the pain of editing away! Hope you had a great weekend!

    • Hi, Julie — thanks for stopping by! :) I absolutely agree. One of my favorite parts about writing is that it always evolves. No matter how many books we work on, there’s something new to learn. How awesome is that, and how lucky are we? Oh goodness, and yes, I felt like doing a happy dance after those edits were finished. I have another round to go, but it should (fingers crossed) be much quicker and easier.

      Thanks again for stopping by. Hope you had a great weekend, too!

  5. Being able to pick all of those things that you’ve learned in your writing and editing process is a good sign. The bottom line is that as long as you keep writing, you’ll always be getting better at it. It’s a never-ending learning process and a skill which can always be improved on. Glad to hear you’re taking a break from revisions now; an author always needs a moment away from their manuscript to be able to see it objectively and to pick up the nitty-gritty in it. Best of luck to you.

    • Hi, Bonnee – thanks for stopping by! I absolutely agree with everything you said. It’s always so tempting to jump back into work (especially between drafting and revising!), but you’re right, the break gives objectivity and perspective. It’s hard to pry ourselves away from our characters otherwise!

    • I do that all the time, especially with dialogue … hence why I do the majority of my work from home instead of a coffee shop or library. Wonder what kind of looks I’d get?! :P

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