My Ah-ha Moment: Revising Is NOT Editing

July 18, 2012

Holy crap! To say I learn something every day about the writing process is a gross understatement. Most days, I learn something every minute. It’s daunting, because when there’s that much to learn there’s a very real feeling that I’ll never learn it all, and if I never learn it all, then how the hell can I expect to be published. (Of course, people get published every day who are greener around the gills than I am, so I know it can be done.)

Yesterday, I read through some old journals, and I came across an entry detailing the first time I ever submitted my work. On July 19, 2010 (two years ago tomorrow), I submitted a query letter for a single-title contemporary that took me nearly 10 years to write. (Thank God I’m faster now.) Sending off that query, and as proved by the blind hopefulness behind the words in my journal, I knew I was “on my way.” How could I be anything but a breath away from my dream come true, especially after the agent, whom I highly regard, requested a partial of the manuscript? I was almost there. Sitting on the porch swing with Hubby, I talked about pennames, website design and book tours, certain I’d be making critical career decisions very soon. But when the agent’s response came back a rejection, I had to tuck those big plans away.

I kept writing.

Over the next two years, I submitted a handful (a pathetically low number for writing seriously over two years!) of other works (manuscripts I completed after that first go-round). I won a contest. I received personal , helpful feedback. I had more partial requests. But not until recently did I engage in a writer/editor relationship that set me up for such welcomed disappointment. It was in the process of rewriting three chapters (massacring is more like it), that I began to learn the difference between revising and editing.

No matter how many times I’d heard the writer-favorite phrase kill your darlings, I never fully understood the meaning until the query-turned-partial-request-turned-revision-request-turned-full-request-turned-rejection process knocked me on my ass…in a good way. I learned that my vision for a story isn’t complete until I’ve revised, and revision is a little like kicking three-fourths of the Lego tower down and starting all over again. Revision isn’t checking for spelling. It’s not fixing a comma splice. It’s not changing a few words around so they pack more punch. It’s not even reassembling a couple sentences. (Although, we’re getting closer there.) Revision is destruction. It’s as though the story, despite being all there, is buried in a big fat blob of clay and it’s now time to unearth it, trim the fat, and strengthen the core. It’s backbreaking, doubt-producing work. It’s filled with second guesses and heart filled curses. Revision mocks editing.

And even after all that, the story might not be right. Revision may be needed again. And again.

At my lowest point, I figured the amount of revision necessary to take my characters to the paradise of publication must mean I sucked as a writer. Surely other people with published works haven’t worked this hard for this long. Was I wasting my time? Should I have given up on this one—started over again? But then I read this blog post, and I knew I wasn’t alone. Not only wasn’t I alone, I was on the right track too!

I used to think of writing as a two-part process: write the story, and then edit the story. Now I know I was missing the most critical part. Revision isn’t pretty, but I’m learning to love the destruction. When the dust settles, I’m amazed at what I’ve created. Hopefully, one day, an editor will be amazed too.


4 Responses to “My Ah-ha Moment: Revising Is NOT Editing”

  1. nicolehelm Says:

    We’re in the midst of the same realization. It kind of sucks, but I just keep reminding myself it’s not supposed to be easy. If I can remember that, revision is still daunting but not so…soul crushing. 😉

  2. Glad my blog helped you! I remember the exact feelings you describe–it just totally took me by surprise! Good luck, and just hold fast to the knowledge that you are learning!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s