I'm currently working on yet another edit of my young adult book that managed to eke out an RWA Golden Heart final in 2015. You'd think this baby would be in pretty good shape.
When I entered my novel into that contest, it was hardly a first draft. More like Draft #72.
I think I'm up to about Draft #105.
Or maybe that's just how many whine sessions I've had about having to revise the manuscript in some way, shape, or form.
Didn't I hear how Stephen King only goes through three times? How about Ray Bradbury who wrote the short story from which Fahrenheit 451 came in a single draft? Am I simply destined to be a pen-wielding Sisyphus pushing the bolder of my book up the hill again and again, never quite reaching the final destination before it falls down on me yet again?
Hang in here, because I promise this isn't just my personal bitch session. I do have a point. Three points, in fact.
Editing is necessary to turn out your best book.
As much as I'd love to write a fabulous first draft, send it to a publisher, and have them yank out their big, fat checkbook and write me an advance big enough to send my kid to college, that's really not how this gig works.
It can be shocking to discover how much time you'll spend editing versus writing. But those who dig deep and revise their manuscripts with chainsaws, Ginsu knives, and scalpels — as needed — find the result is well worth the effort.
Every time I make changes and read it again, I get really excited about the result. While I haven't actually counted how many revisions my book has been through, I can confidently state that the first draft was knee-deep cow-patty compared to how it reads now. Frustrating as the process can be a times, I'm convinced that deep-dive editing is a necessary process for turning out the best story I can write.
Editing improves your writing.
This particular book had a lot of issues in early drafts, with me choosing the wrong point of view, starting in the wrong place, and misfiring with the climax.
But after having to edit the book to deal with each of these issues, I'm far less likely to make the same mistakes again. Indeed, the next book in the series — written, edited, but not quite polished — is in way better shape at this point than this one was at a similar point in time.
Having to edit your mistakes or amp up your emotion or strengthen your story structure — or deal with whatever other weakness you have — forces you to improve your writing chops. Then when you write the next book, you have those shiny skills in your toolbox. You'll write to the know-how you've gained, because the process of editing that other book taught you what to do...as well as what not to do.
Editing happens to the best of us.
Whenever I'm frustrated with some aspect of writing, I go check with the experts to see what wisdom they have. Actually, they say that rewriting, revising, editing, and more editing are par for the course.
Take Ernest Hemingway, for example, who rewrote the last page of Farewell to Arms 39 times. When asked what had stumped him, he answered, "Getting the words right." Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita (a genuinely chilling novel), said, "I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers." Truman Capote once remarked, "I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil."
And more recently, John Green, bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars, said, "Books are made in revision. For all three of my novels, I have deleted more than 90% of the first draft. And everything that people like about my books emerges in later drafts." You can hear it for yourself here:
I don't know about you, but this makes me feel a little better. Like maybe it's okay for your best writing to come out in Draft #5 or #12 or #67.
And by the time your book goes out to readers, they only know the amazing, kick-butt story you put into their hands.
That's what drives me to keep editing my book until it's the best story I can put out — because I want my novel in the hands of readers. I want them to love my characters, my story, my "baby" as much as I do.
Yep, I'm a bit sick and tired of editing. But when it's all over, I'll beam with pride.
When you're done editing, I'll beam with pride for you. Because your baby's pretty awesome too.
Source: The Atlantic – 'My Pencils Outlast Their Erasers': Great Writers on the Art of Revision
Julie Glover writes cozy mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.
Julie is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. You can visit her website here and also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
I edit as I go, so I can't count my "drafts" but once I hit 'the end' I go through the manuscript at least 3 more times before sending it to my editor.
I remember being at my first writing conference and one of the speakers said "It's done when your changes are making it different, not better."
Indeed! Good point about when you're finished.
I love that quote about when the book is done, Terry! That's so true.
Okay, fine. I needed to hear this, but I was all prepared to read an entire post whining about editing and justifying my frustration! You are 100% right, but that sure doesn't make it any easier. I am SICK of my story and most days I feel like I'm chasing after dandelion fluff on a windy day. I just can't wrestle the thing onto the page. I'm taking this post as a sign - stop yer whining and get back at it. I know it's worth it in the end, but at this point in every manuscript I just want to quit, burn the thing. Thanks for the kick in the butt.
LOL. I definitely know how you feel. You and I could have a personal bitch session — say, over some margaritas? But you can do this, Cara (Cara Sue?)! You've got this! And the result will be worth it.
Margaritas definitely improve the editing experience, but not as much as a trusted writer friend.
Writing isn't about the writing (first draft), it's about the revising and editing (all other drafts.) Editing can be boring, and yet every time I'm holding a completed manuscript, editing it, the thrill of having finished drives me forward, wanting it done. Unfortunately, one novella took at least 25 edits, a book many more. I learned by being in a hurry to publish that being in a hurry is a waste of time. It's okay if it takes as much time to edit a book as it did to write it in the first place. Great post!
I agree that being in too big a hurry can waste your time! I've been there and done that too. Sometimes by slowing down to edit, you actually save time. Thanks!
When I reach the point where I absolutely hate my WIP and cannot personally edit the work any longer, I know it is time to send it to my beta reader so that I can get some fresh eyes on it.
Absolutely! I have a critique partner who is great for this. Wonderful suggestion!
I prefer revision work over drafting a novel - - until this last book. It's maddening because something is wrong with it and I can't quite figure it out. Hopefully I'll get it nailed before the one-hundredth rewrite. 😉
And I second the need for an interrobang, Julie! LOL
Thanks, Debbie! How frustrating to know something is amiss and not be able to put your finger on it. But I'm certain you'll figure it out and make it all come together! Hang in there.
In the thick of it. Very sharp betas convinced me to 1) change the name of the MC I've known for years and 2) re-work the entire beginning of something that had been through 7 drafts.
But the process of revision IS the real writing: I've come back to it rusty after a few years and no book or blog can teach me what this, The Grind, is teaching.
I sure hope you're right and next time I'll know what not to do earlier in the process--it seems like that will be so. I may still need the crappy 1st draft to show me what I have to say, what the story is, but maybe i won't keep sweeping those tiny flaws under the rug till draft 7. My betas unearthed them in no time at all!
Ah, the beauty of those others sets of eyes! That really does help. Especially since you can be so deep into your manuscript that you can't see the forest for the trees. Glad you figured it out now, and I bet that info will come in handy in the next book! All the best, Gabriella.
Oh Julie, just ask Fae and Jenny about my first book - at least as many revisions as yours. I HATED that book by the time it sold - and I had 3 more edits after THAT! I'll never read that book again.
Since then, I've had such a revulsion to editing, that I write very slowly (500-700 words a day), so I get it down as good as I'm capable of, then it goes to the critters, then I'm done.
Well, except for the last book, but I'm blaming that on the broken leg.
Hang in - you WILL survive it!
Good to know that it gets better! I've already experienced that, but it is frustrating how much this particular book has required to reach SOLD. And I read your first book—it was fabulous! 😉
Laura, did I miss something? How did you break your leg? Motorcycle?
Long story short - I was in the back of beyond Oregon, fly fishing. My friend was about 1/4 mile upriver. I stepped out of the water and lost my balance, stepped back into a hole. Snapped both bones in my lower right leg. Thank God I got 911 on my phone. 1.2 hr later a deputy showed up. They couldn't get the ambulance in, so they sent a boat down the river to get me. An hour and 15 miles of dirt road later, they got me to the hospital and drugs!
Surgery, a plate 13 screws, a wire and 3 months later, I was back on my feet. But since I plot on my bicycle, it also played havoc with my process!!!!
2018 is going to be better. Fae says.
Hahahaha..."Fae says." That's so funny. She KNOWS stuff. It's eerie.
Laura -- OW! And OW again! Who knew fly fishing was so dangerous? Take care.
Yikes! That was no accident! It's the start of The Fish Apocalypse!
Yay! I’m like a “real” writer, cranking through the third iteration of my book! It’s been 100% rewritten THREE TIMES! #vindication
You're right up there with the bestsellers, Justine! You'll be sipping wine and sharing been-there-done-that stories with the NYT crowd any day now. Honestly, I suspect your third draft is way better than your first and you're much happier with it! Congrats.
Oh, I’ve been there. Ironically with my own Golden Heart book many times. I’ve learned after, hmm, draft 8? I stop changing the draft numbers since it just makes me grumpy. 😉 But yes, the more I write, the more I relish revision. Not that it’s always fun - I can usually tell when I’m close to done the draft by just how sick I am of it - but how it changes the book for the better is definitely worth it!
I have never been one to save versions as draft numbers. I think that would frighten me. Lol! But yes, it definitely changes the book for the better to dig in and make those revisions! Thanks, Shelly. (And wasn't the GH experience fun?)
I'm on so-called final edits of a book that now has a larger 'tossed lines' document than the manuscript itself. Oy! I feel your pain.
Yes, I think I have to write 150k words to get a 75k book. Oy, indeed! But I know for certain your final products are amazing!
can relate to that. 'writing is re-writing', as they say.
Yep, guess that's a saying for a really good reason. Right, Libby?
I needed this right now. I've written, revised, revised, revised, and realised that I need to rewrite the whole thing. This gives me the strength to go on.
Oh good! I'm sending you positive thoughts and good vibes. You can do this! And you'll be happy with the result.
Thank you, Julie, for affirming those 260 hours spent revising. I use a time-tracking app when writing/revising because it's too easy to tell myself I spent enough time writing when I've have done very little. I'm almost finished, though, except to go back and reread for adverb overuse, presence of empty words, head-hopping, lack of setting details, and inappropriately used brand names. I guess I'd better turn the timer back on.
Wow, you track the time? That's interesting. I wonder if that would help or hurt how I feel about it all... But yeah, writing/revising can take a long time. Hang in there and you'll reach the end, Deb!
Thank you Julie. Your timing was perfect. How perfect? This morning -- before reading your essay -- I went back to work on my new Surf City Mystery after working on other projects for almost a month, feeling guilty because the number of folks asking,"When's the next one coming out?" has declined. Bad sign?! I looked at the Prologue and thought, "My, that's nice writing," followed by the realization that it doesn't fit at all with the rest of the story. So I cut it, only wincing a little bit. You helped, a lot. I'd like to join you & Cara Sue for a drink and I promise not to bitch. I'll just whine, whine, whine, with the occasional snivel.
Snivel away! We'll cheer you up, or at least snivel with you. But good for you taking charge of the project. I'm sure it'll all come together!
I write slowly (MUCH slower than Laura Drake!) nominally doing only ONE draft, or so I tell myself. But, in practise, I rewrite some parts half a dozen times.
Yep, it's the same difference when and how you edit. I often meet up and write with someone who approaches her manuscript this way, and by the time she has a full draft it's pretty close to done, because she's revised along the way!
I agree that editing makes one a better writer and the story stronger
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It really does make me feel better to know I'm not alone! Thank you for your post. I've been in various forms of revisions for a decade. I hired a developmental editor and that was a great experience. Now I'm doing a revise and resubmit for an agent and enrolled in an intensive revisions class with Amanda Eyre Ward and I'm finally seeing what I think will be the end result of all my hard work. I clearly am no Stephen Kind! lol.
Congrats on the R&R! Crossing my fingers for you. (And none of us are Stephen King.)
I'm new at writing, so it's helpful to see that the eleventy-nine versions of my manuscript are par for the course by more experienced writers. And agreed - I'd like to either quit or toss the whole thing out the window on many days, but so far, I've done neither. And with this encouragement, I suppose I'll last another day!
Now there is a point where it's "good enough," but keep going until you get there! And make sure you think about the takeaways from your editing experiences. All the best, Karen!
UGHHH!!! A touchy topic, to be sure!
Having just got my MFA, I know the cycle well...write, read, revise, rinse, repeat, etc., etc., etc.....endless revisions always! But what i learned from my writing workshops is that sometimes, less really is more!
If you find yourself like I was, constantly revising to the tune of workshop comments, over and over again, perhaps some of those comments could be best tuned out so you could at least get a final draft done first! Revising while still creating is not necessarily the most strategic strategy!
And sometimes, you really should consider the source of the feedback! Sometimes it's solid, and necessary. But not always!
Well, that is absolutely true! I know someone who has been revising her book for years based on tidbits of feedback from here and there, and I suspect she could have called it done a while ago. Good point!
Tired of editing my book? More like exhausted. This was perfect timing for me as I go through the ___ nth revision of my book. After many beta readers and a critique partner, my book felt ready to go. Not so. A "niggly" feeling wouldn't go away that the beginning could be stronger and better. So here I am. In the muck of it all. Thanks for the encouragement, Julie. Beaming with pride -- almost. 🙂
You'll get it. And then it will be ready! I'm sure you're looking forward to that day.
This is so true! Thanks for the reminder. I am in the middle of revising a manuscript that I've been through so many times. It does get discouraging sometimes, but I know the rewrites will be worth it! Thanks for sharing!
You're welcome! I'm right there with ya.
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