If you break the word revision in half, you get re-vision, like a new vision of something. And that, in a nutshell, is what we need to do when we revise our books. The question is how do you do it so you can write your best book?
Here’s what I discuss in this solo episode:
- How to get to your best book, (hint – it happens during the revision process)
- The difference between editing and revision and WHY revision is so important
- One way you can cut down on spending weeks months or even years of revising if it’s not your favorite part of writing
- Why you can (and in my opinion should) defy what’s taught about “when” you should revise your manuscript
- Why taking time on revising is important
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Amy Isaman 0:10
I want to start this episode by asking you a question. At what stage in the writing process, does your book, become great? If you're like every aspiring author I've ever met, you want to write a really, really good book, as a writer myself I do too. You want to shine. You want to pull your readers and have them really connect with your character so your story and your memoir, so that when they finish reading that last page, they feel like they're saying goodbye to a really dear friend.
So back to that question. Does this greatness happen when you first get the idea, and start asking what if, and growing it? Does it happen during your first draft when you're crafting the characters the complex transformations that the characters in your story, go through? Or does it happen during later drafts when you begin to really dig into your manuscript cutting and adding and rearranging elements? Or does it happen when you finally proofread it and fix all those pesky common spelling errors?
In this episode of the dear creativity, let's play podcast. We're going to play with the writing process, and the revision piece of that process, in particular. I'm Amy Isaman. I'm a book coach and a writing teacher who's gone through this process, numerous times with my own work as well as with my clients and students work, and some of what's taught out there about revision isn't actually how writers write, nor do I think it's helpful.
So in this episode we're going to talk about how to get to your best book, which I think actually happens during the revision process, we're going to discuss the difference between editing and revision and why revision is so important. You can't avoid it entirely, but also one way you can cut down on spending weeks, months or even years revising if it's not your favorite part of the process, and why you can, and in my opinion should defy what's taught out there about when you should revise your manuscript.
This is a quick solo show with some down and dirty tips to help you get your best book written, which, in my opinion, happens during the revision stage. So let's break this down a bit. What the heck is revision, and how is it different than editing?
When you first type, the end at the end of your book, it feels so good you're done, you might be thinking, yes you are done with the first part, so go pop the champagne eat a bite of chocolate, have a tree, whatever, celebrate, then ignore your beautiful book for a bit. Rest, play, go do something fun, take your mind off of it. When you've had a break, then it's time to get started with the next step, which is revision. I'm not talking about editing. Revision and editing are two very different stages in crafting a really great book. Here's the difference. Editing happens when you fix grammar or punctuation, spelling, you look at your book from the level of the sentence, or the paragraph, you're fixing you're making corrections revision goes much deeper than that and it can take some significant time.
Think about the word revision it's re vision, you are getting a new vision of this book. And because of that, as I said it can take time but it's time well spent in producing the best book that you can. Revision is about the structure of your book, really looking at the narrative arc. Have your characters undergone a transformation or in your memoir? Have you have you clearly defined your transformation, or your characters of the people in your book, consistent? Are they developed well? Is there a clear goal that your main character is trying to achieve? And is there a clear conflict that's keeping them from getting there? Are there both internal and external things blocking them from doing what they want to be doing? This is the work that happens in revision and that's big work right looking at that whole structure of your book.
I'm going to share a little example with you as to actually what prompted this podcast. So, a couple weeks ago I downloaded a book on my Kindle, and I was pretty excited to read it. It had a good cover it had great premise and like jacket copy and blurb, it was a mystery which I love. It was an amateur mystery or amateur sleuth, which is what I write, and I love that so I was pretty excited to read this book. I ended up actually not only not finishing it but just completely deleting it off of my Kindle because the characters weren't believable. They were doing things that weren't in line with how they had been developed. The kids all spoke like adults, like they all spoke the same and they all spoke like adults, even a 6 year old in one chapter. The main character was depressed. She'd gone through some really tough stuff. Her marriage had fallen apart, she was eating pizza, and her mother had come over and was encouraging her to you know get her life together and eat healthy, and then in the next chapter, she you know wakes up in the middle night with insomnia and she goes on a run like a five mile run in the middle of the night. But wait? I thought she was depressed and eating her emotions and now she's going on a run in the night and leaving her little children at home alone?I'm a runner five miles is not easy, even when I've been training like that. That's a good run. And it would not happen ever in the middle of the night, maybe a walk? I might have bought that with that character if the character had just gotten up and not on a walk or gone downstairs raided the fridge. The book had a great premise and idea, but the execution fell short. I wanted to like the characters but I couldn't figure out who they were.
The book had no errors in terms of commas or typos, at least on what I read it had been edited and had been edited well, but it had major structural errors, it had not been revised on a developmental level, and I was bummed. I'd been looking forward to it. And it made me sad that the author hadn't taken the time to dive back into her book, and create characters that I could really connect with in a consistent way.
That's the difference between revision and editing. When you revise your manuscript you're looking at your characters, whether they're fictional as an a novel or you're talking about yourself in your memoir, or their personalities and actions consistent with who they are, have you let the reader into their heads, have they, or do they experience transformation. Is there a compelling conflict does every scene relate to these elements, is it believable, and you've got to ask yourself those questions about your book and if you can't answer them from what's on the page, not what you think you wrote, but actually what you wrote, then that's where revision comes in, and this is the deep work of writing the book.
We've all heard that quote, you know, don't be afraid to kill your darlings and I probably got that wrong and I can't remember who said it, but that's the deep work the cutting of the pieces that we think aren't working and that we like and we spent a lot of time writing, but if they don't work, you got to cut them you got to kill those darlings.
Revision is also expanding, right, like making sure that you've developed those characters, fully, and that what is happening is also driving the story forward. Now, if this level of revision sounds terrible to you. The best way to cut down on that step is to really plan, your book before you start writing. Get to know your characters before you start writing.
I am fully aware that there is a large group of writers out there called Pantsers and these are the people who sit down and they have no idea where their story is going until they actually write it, and they get to know their characters as they write about them, they develop their plot, as it occurs to them during their writing sessions, and there is nothing at all wrong with this, but it does tend to lead to much more revision at the end of the process. It is also not at all how I write, or work with my own book client.
I'm all about the plan and that's how I guide my clients as well. Figure it out, then start writing. And I think that does really help you to cut down on revising some major structural errors that you might create as you're writing just kind of, oh no, let's make this happen and oh, this sounds like fun let's make this happen. So and that's not to say that some of that won't change, or you won't add some of that in as you're drafting, I do and every single book that I write, you will change. And it will happen because you can't help but get to know your characters better as you write them and sometimes they'll surprise you, but often those surprises actually turn out to be good surprises and help you with the overall plot.
So, quick review here: revision involves making changes at your book structural level to make sure that the entire story and characters work while editing is actually fixing grammar, punctuation errors, those kinds of things. Second, if you don't love revising, make sure you create a clear plan for your book before you start drafting it. And my last point here, when it comes to revision you officially at this moment have permission to revise and edit, as you write. This actually goes against much of the writing advice out there that you hear, which is to write your book fast and don't look back. They even say vomit it out which is a disgusting metaphor, like who wants to vomit out a book. And the general advice is not to ever look back, and there are two reasons I think for this belief.
And I reject this, but the reasons that we have this belief is that first is the writing process, and this is the quote process that you go through step by step and revision neatly fits toward the end of that linear path. However, writing, and creativity is not linear. When I taught high school, the required state curriculum delineated like, you know, the writing process it's also in the Common Core, every English classroom has, you know the poster that outlines the writing process steps, and I won't get into a whole diatribe of all the problems with our education system here, but forcing revision into the writing process as a step at the end, only works for ease when you're creating a system whereby we can get easily give students a grade, did they change something, check, good. You did that step. Moving on to read the next paper in my stack of 100 essays, forcing the writing process into a strict order like this, denies the entire creative process. Even on this episode, I started with an idea jotted down some random notes drafted half of it revise that first part, added took away some things that were irrelevant. Finished drafting during the March Madness game last week, got the whole idea about how we're taught the writing process is linear and added this whole section after pretty much as episode was done, or drafted. So, it's, go back and revise so that's one reason I think we get stuck with the writing and creativity, there's this process we get the idea, we pre write rewrite, we write, we revise we edit, but that's not how it works. So that's one problem and I think the whole idea of revising coming at the end of a writing process is so incredibly pervasive, even though it really has nothing to do with how real writers work, but we get hooked into that. We like systems. We like okay do this first, check, do this next, check.
I think the other reason that this advice is often given the don't revise as you go advice is that, or the argument that's made is that revising as you go will somehow keep you from moving forward, that you are such a perfectionist that you'll end up with two perfect chapters that you revise and revise and revise but no complete book. And I gotta say after working with hundreds of writers over my career. This type of perfectionism is rare, especially if you've got a book, calling to your soul to be written. I've worked with people ranging in age from 13 to the mid 60s And I honestly have yet to find a writer that gets so stuck perfecting the first pages or chapters or paragraphs that they never finish. There's this belief out there, and it's a pervasive belief so apparently it's a thing but I don't think it's as common as it's made out to be. If you are called to write a book and share your story, if you've got a strong enough. Why, to keep you going, it's going to happen. it's not going to not happen because you stopped and revised, if you stop there's bigger issues at play than needing to have the beginning perfect before you move on. I think that's kind of a fallacy. There is value in reviewing your work as you continue to move forward in every writing session, ever. I review whatever and previously I revise it, I develop, I add, I cut. And that pulls me back into my story. So going back and reviewing what you've already written pulls you back into your book gives you an opportunity to improve and deepen what you've already written, you can clarify your ideas or your plot points, you can maybe get some new ideas for where your book might go, you can expand areas that need a little bit more detail or explanation or cut areas that are redundant, and this is called practice. This is how we become better writers, revising and editing a bit as you go, gives you the space to crap practice your writing craft, as you're writing your book. And that's great. I don't know why this is like the advice is not to do that. So don't be afraid to revise as you write it works. It's okay to look back and expand as you write.
And finally, I want to invite you to allow yourself plenty of time for the revision process. After you finish that first draft. I have made the mistake of setting pre order dates like on Amazon, in order to push myself to hit my deadline so I would get the book done, it was not good I did it way too soon, I needed more time and it was super stressful. Writing a book is a process. And while you, you'll never have a book if you don't finish that first draft, you must allow yourself the time to really revise and make it the best book you can. This is where great books are made, it's in the revision stages. Take your time, take a good long, we couple a week or even month or two break between your drafting of and finishing your manuscript and revision so you can look at it with fresh eyes again re vision right the word vision is in there. Enjoy the process. Yes, you want to get your books, publish, yes you want to get them out into the market marketplace, but I would argue that publishing a few weeks or even a month or two later, is much better than hitting your deadline with a subpar book. Give yourself the gift of learning your craft and writing the best book you can at this stage, and you'll improve with every book that you write. And I don't think you'll regret taking an extra few weeks or a month to really dive in and make it the best version, it can be. And even better, your readers will thank you for sharing your incredible story. I so wish that that one book I had downloaded had been a good story I spent what 30, 40 Maybe even an hour, really like I wanted it to get better, and I just I couldn't, I couldn't finish it.
So, to recap, embrace both editing and revision as super important, important parts of writing your book. Plan your book to cut down on any structural problems that you might run into that will need revision in the future. Don't be afraid to revise and edit as you write. Just be sure to keep getting new words written then keep moving forward. And finally allow yourself time to write revise and edit so you can publish your best book.
And those are my thoughts on Revision, if you need support in this process, book and writing coaching is what I do this coming month April 2021 If you're listening to this now and not, you know, a year later, I am teaching a writing workshop on details and descriptive writing which it goes back to that adding piece of revision. If you need help with that you can find all of the details at Amyisaman.com/details. This workshop is limited to 12 students, there are a handful in it already. And yeah, it's a writing class.
If you need support and guidance through the planning drafting and revision process of writing your whole novel or memoir, you can find out how to work with me at Amy iseman.com, forward slash, coaching, I'd love help if you need support and guidance through the planning drafting and revision process of writing your whole novel or memoir, you can find out how to work with me at Amyisaman.com/coaching. I love helping women write and share their stories, whether it's fiction or. I love helping authors write and share their stories, whether that's fiction or memoir.
If you've got any questions you can also head over to Instagram, follow me at Amy Iseman creative and shoot me a DM there, or on Facebook. I have actually a Facebook group that I recently opened called the book writers workshop and it's a small little group of aspiring authors so you can join us there and ask your questions. Have a great week, keep on creating and writing and I will be back next week with a fun interview. Bye bye.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai