Staying Flexible While Revising: When the Story Changes En Route

Since I’ve got Revision Brain right now, I thought I’d share some tips for being flexible throughout that journey. While everyone else is happily posting their word counts during sprints, my progress these days is more like, “Hi guys, I combed 100 pages removing instances of characters saying ‘No!’” It’s okay. That’s just the phase of the process I’m at right now. This post is for the others who are slooooowly working through their manuscripts too, or getting ready to dive in.

Revision can be one of the toughest things about the transition from Writing As a Hobby to Writing Toward Publication. I used to hate it—I thought, “But it’s my story! THIS is the story! I can’t change that!” Over the last two years of intense revisions on the novel that landed me my agent, I’ve learned to embrace and enjoy the revision process.

Here are some things that I focus on to keep myself flexible:

1) Time really does heal all wounds.

Everyone in publishing gives this advice, but sometimes it’s hard to slow down and listen. My best revisions were the ones where months went by as I waited for notes. By the time I got them, I’d forgotten why I was ever attached to all the little bits in my book that needed to change. I was able to be ruthless. 

2) Scenes are building blocks. They can be shuffled around to make the structure stronger.

Don’t get married to the idea of everything in your book being in its one particular place. For me, it was incredibly freeing to realize that when a great scene doesn’t work in that exact spot in the book anymore, it might still work somewhere else. A lot of my revision is done through what I refer to as Frankensteining. That is, instead of cutting and totally rewriting, I repurpose chunks of dialogue and scenes. I chop them out and patch them back together, somewhere in the book where they fit better. This way you don’t have to kill ALL the things you love, and that helps.

3) Shake it up a little.

Don’t be afraid to try something new, even if it seems crazy. This winter I heard a writer (I think it was on one of the Pub Crawl podcasts, which are a fantastic resource if you’ve haven’t listened to them!) refer to their revision technique, which involved retyping the entire MS from scratch using the split screen view in Scrivener—the original chapter on bottom, the new one on top. I decided to try it on my last revision round, and ended up raving about how many awkward phrasings I caught. This is a great technique for those of us who wish we could read our manuscripts aloud to catch errors, but cringe at the sound of our own voices.

4) Be grateful.

I don’t mean, “Yay! The edit letter is only SIX single-spaced pages this time!”, although it’s hilarious when you inevitably reach the point where that is A HUGE RELIEF. If you’re working off notes from a beta reader or a critique partner, it helps to stop and think, “Hey, this person believes in the book, enough to put time into this critique. How awesome is that?” If you’ve got an agent or an editor, when the work gets hard, stop and think about how amazing it is that actual publishing professionals really want to help you make your book better. An edit letter is someone investing in you. You’re allowed to celebrate that! It’s cool! 

Now everyone go out there & be flexible about making your book the best it can be!