Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Revision Makes The Book

Jen K. Blom’s debut novel, Possum Summer, came out last spring…but it wasn’t easy getting to publication. And to get to publication, Jen had to have a solid manuscript…which is obviously never the first draft.

For some writers (myself included), the revision process is less enjoyable than writing the first draft. I’m excited to share some of Jen’s insight when it comes to editing your manuscript. Take it away, Jen!

Hey guys.

I'm here today visiting with Lorna about revising. That's right: the R word. And you're here to suffer through it with us! Well done!

I've written a lot of manuscripts over the years. But when I finally took "getting published" seriously, I had to re-examine my revising process. Before I'd taken it seriously, my revision process looked like this:

1. Finish first draft.

2. Sleep a night.


And that obviously didn't work. Because no matter how much I had read and read, and how much I'd learned in university (I studied creative writing and journalism) I couldn't send out a first draft and get anywhere.

That first draft method changed when I decided to work on POSSUM SUMMER (Holiday House, June 2011). I started a blog. I found other writers and we created a critique group. I then wrote the first draft in a month (in my defense, I travelled two hours on a train each morning and night, and so it was the perfect opportunity to do it. It's not like I'm some crazy awesome writer or anything).

Then? I set it aside. Although that killed me.

That's right. Set aside for over two months as I wrote yet ANOTHER attempt at fantasy (total fail!) and then came back to it. I learned how to revise with this book. Three different times, reading through and catching errors, lapses in logic, etc. I didn't exactly know what I was doing but the story seemed easier to me to look at now, now that I wanted to make it perfect. So I queried, and got an agent!

And we went out to ... silence ... until an awesome editor was interested! But the editor wanted things changed - things that made sense when she said them, but how could I miss those things, myself? She'd read the MS once and I'd created the darn thing, not to mention changed and revised it three times already! But I went back to the writing block and revised it according to what she'd said, making it so much better. Then? Another round of revisions. Then? One last one! Then?

OFFER! On a book that was already so much better and more meaningful, all from a couple revision changes. This little story of a first book getting published has a couple things in it for you, should you care to read further:

1. Not every book gets snapped up right away. (and that is a good thing)

2. Never, ever give up.

and lastly?


Here's what I've learned about revising, now:

- keep a notebook or an open file nearby while you're writing. When you're in the thick of your muse, you do not need to go back and flesh out something you realize you wrote wrong. Keep a list and go back.

- always, always give yourself some time in between writing the first draft and revising. You do not want to revise right away. Time will open your eyes, and time will show you where the problems are in your MS.

- Pay attention to the Five Senses: your characters don't just go through the pages. Pay attention to how they use all their senses: hearing, touch. Tasting, smell. This is important!

- does each character you introduce in your book as a secondary have an arc? The best books are well-rounded books, and the best well-rounded books are those where the satisfying thing is that everyone has a change.

- have critters for your revision process. I've found that other people are awesome readers, depending on the time I use them. I have two crit buds for the initial crap draft process, one for after the 2nd revision, and 3 for "the finished version".

Each one brings valuable insight and experience to the table - insight and experience that only they are capable of at that point in my process. I highly recommend this!

Don't despair when you finish book number 2, then book 3, and find that each is an entirely different revising beast. I'm here to tell you it's okay, and I'm here to say that it is normal. Keep a list and keep on plugging!

Just remember that a published writer is the one that didn't give up. And I would say, the one that kept revising.

Go you!

Visit Jen’s awesome blog and follow her on Twitter!


Alison Pearce Stevens said...

Excellent advice, and the revision process clearly works for you - Possum Summer is a wonderfully rich book. Thanks for sharing this Jen and Lorna!

Ms McPhee said...

Yeeeeah. Hi, my name's Amber, and I'm a reluctant reviser.

I agree with the sentiment in this post, revising does make a book better. But it's not all easy peasy, sure that.

Here's my two cents: Whenever you feel that urge to resist making a change, it's probably where it's most needed.

This is where having a critique group is fantastic, a great way to get support though those weeks/months of revision. ;)

Thanks for the post, Jen and Lorna, and I too loved Possum Summer--a gem of a story.

Lorna London said...

Thanks for stopping by, Alison and Amber!

Amber, I agree: it's hard to let go of scenes that you might feel obliged to leave in...which is why it's a great idea to leave your manuscript alone for a while and emotionally disconnect yourself from it.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!