Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Eight Stages of Revision

Recently I got back a bunch of beta responses on my most recent novel. I was proud that my acceptance of my betas' criticisms came much earlier than usual. But it gave me reason to reflect on the process that I (and others, I've heard) usually go through. It's much like grieving.

1. OMG, they don't understand!
You know, the initial gut reaction to a negative crit. You give the WIP to the beta reader wanting good and bad feedback..., but secretly you only want to hear good things. So when you get the suggestion that you change something major (whether major to the whole work, just a scene, a character, a very important piece of dialogue, and so on), you panic. How could they not like that aspect? How can they not see how important it is?

2. Wait, maybe that's a good suggestion...
After some reflection, you begin to realize that they had a point. I mean, the suggestion was given for a reason. You look back at it and try to look objectively at your novel, to see it from the point of view of the reader and agent and editor, and you sigh and realize that you should really see what you can do about it.

3. ...but impossible
You can do... nothing. You wrote it that way because it was the only way the novel worked. If you changed it, everything would unravel and no more novel. That wouldn't be good, would it? Nope, gotta keep it the way it was.

4. No, it's possible, but really overwhelming
Okay, so you can do it. You can see that you can do it. It's just... God, you'd have to change so much. And you'd have to make new transitions from the old stuff to the new. If you cut out that character completely, who's going to find that plot point he provides? If you have to add a scene creating tension, where is it going to go? Your story is so complex, anything you add or subtract to it needs to be worked around and made to fit. It's soooooo hard. You can do it, but where would you start?

5. Maybe I can cheat. Change very little to do the same thing.
Ah, bargaining. It'd be so easy just to change a line here or there and make it work, wouldn't it? Wouldn't it? Wait.... No, that doesn't really do it, does it? Dammit. Well.... Maybe if you tweaked this bit of dialogue to make this character sound a little more sympathetic, it'd carry through to the end.... Maybe if you describe this character and, hmmm, this room, it will convince the readers you can describe something. Maybe... maybe... maybe it doesn't have to be that much.

6. Procrastination time!
"Or maybe I'll go write this YAYA post instead. Hey, my laundry needs doing. And that new WIP isn't going to write itself. Look, the Renfest is in town! Shady's online... think she wants to Voice Game?" (Okay, that last one's just me ;-) )

7. *Buckles down and actually does it*
Yeah, yeah, you really should do it. I mean, you want the novel published, and you realize now that this is a necessary change. You go through and look for where you can fix it and you do it. This can take quite a long time, but it might be much shorter than you expected. And in the end, you'll probably be saying...

8. That wasn't so bad
That's right! It's done! And you look back at steps one through four and at the finished product and realize that it was completely doable the whole time. All you had to do was put your butt in the chair and dedicate yourself to the change. Easy right?

Well, not so much at first. But with each project, I find it getting easier. I think for this last novel I skipped right ahead to #6 with only brief detours at #4 and #5. But my YAYA post is done, and I've just posted in the Voice Game, Renfest isn't here yet, and the roommate is using the washer and dryer, and, hey, can't even work on another WIP because I don't have one at the moment, so I guess I get back to #7.

Feel free to share your grieving... I mean, revision process. How do you respond to betas' (or agents'/editors' too) suggested revisions? Meanwhile, I'll go work on the second half of my beta notes.


hannah said...

Oh, Voice Game. :D


I'd say that goes between 4 and 5 for me.

Sage said...

I do something similar, but it comes after the revision process. It's usually knowing that I've sent out the earlier version to betas who either haven't gotten back to me, or who have, but I'm still embarrassed they saw the old version. For some reason, this is more embarrassing for me with smaller problems than bigger ones. But, yeah, I go through OMG, HOW COULD I LET THEM SEE THAT? all the time after revising.

Catherine said...

Ha. this is so me.

I wangst at length before grudgingly making changes that make the book better. :D

I do sometimes go with step one and stay there, like the recent beta suggestion to cut my first ten chapters....

Sage said...

Well some beta comments definitely are worth ignoring. Some go completely against the other betas. Some are stylistic preferences that don't go with your style. And some are just plain out there. If only one beta is giving me the crit, I still consider it (after step 1), but I keep in mind it's just one opinion. If several are giving me the same crit, I take that into account when I look at whether the change is worth it.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

This is SO true. On so many different levels.

The key to survival is avoiding your editors for the first five or six steps of acceptance.

althrasher said...

Haha, no joke on ALL these. I'd add in between steps 5. and 6. or so--"It's not REALLY that important. I mean, most people probably wouldn't even notice..."

Heather Zundel said...

"The key to survival is avoiding your editors for the first five or six steps of acceptance."

So so true.

This post was so brilliant, I loved every piece of it and I was laughing queitly to myself going "oh yeah," "yep, totally me," I'm still chuckling a little to myself. But what happens when you rewrite it and have to go through it all over again? So terrible. Curse the methods that make my story so much better than it ever could be otherwise!...

Emily H said...

So this doesn't entirely go with your post (okay it kind of does since it has something to do with revisions) but I have to ask anyway. I'm a teenager trying to get published- this is my third novel- and I've written and rewritten my query letter over and over. But I'm not entirely sure it's working, and I remember reading in the archives that some of you guys really like writing queries. I was just wondering if maybe you could help me with mine? Or let me know if it's good/okay/crappy/confusing?


hannah said...

Hey Emily--

Sorry, I didn't see this before--I love working on queries, and I'll see if I can help with yours if you'd like to drop me an email at