Amber Skye Forbes

Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes

Revisions Are Necessary and Not Something to Fear

This post was inspired by an article that will remain anonymous, as I disagree with many of the points presented within. I may have possibly misinterpreted the article, but what I ultimately took away from it is that re-writing (revisions) is an antiquated concept. It’s not. 

As a writer, I LOVE revisions. It means being able to step back from the initial draft I wrote and thinking of a way to make it much better, which, more often than not, includes re-writing and re-structuring much of the book. And that is exactly what revising means–it is the next step for many writers after they have written the first draft. Does this mean scrapping the first draft entirely? No. Re-writing, AKA revisions, doesn’t mean that at all, and that is a mistaken belief among newbie writers–I’ve made this mistake. What it does mean is looking at everything in your first draft–plot, characters, sub-plots, story arcs, ect.–and finding ways to make those things much, much better. Sometimes this means deleting scenes, deleting chapters, axing characters entirely, re-writing chapters, adding in more chapters, and so on and so forth.

It doesn’t mean having to re-write your entire novel, but what it does mean is that you NEED to look at your book and find ways to make it much better than its current condition. This usually involves stepping away from the draft for a little bit–a few weeks maybe–and then coming back.

People seem to dread revisions because they believe they’re scrapping their first draft entirely, so they see no point in revising. Why do all of that hard work of writing a first draft if I’m just going to have to re-write it anyway? That was my thinking when I was twelve. Large portions of a draft might need to be re-written. Query Quagmire has a fantastic explanation on the process of revision.

quagnmirecpature

It is a RARE writer who does not need to essentially re-write his or her draft. Even Stephen King, as experienced as he is, still revises. He doesn’t write a first draft, then jump immediately to edits while foregoing the process of revisions entirely. Maybe his rough drafts aren’t as rough as a newbie writer’s rough drafts, but he also realizes that a first draft is just that, a first draft.

When you write that first draft, you’re excited by it, so you go into it with your heart on your sleeve and write every idea that comes to mind, put in every character that you want in your story, every plot thread and scene, and so on and so forth. Then you get done with the draft. But wait? Don’t touch it immediately. Either send it off to a beta reader if you can’t afford to wait, or just distance yourself from the manuscript for a few weeks and maybe start on something else before getting back to it. Either way, revisions are unavoidable, so don’t get this mistaken impression that revisions are something you can avoid. Re-writing isn’t some myth that your English teachers or college professors throw in your face because they want you to do more work.

Not at all.

Your English teachers had to go through the process of revisions for their essays in their English classes. Your professors are still having to go through revisions on their essays that are published by elite academic journals. They do not skip the process of revisions, because revisions always make a book better–or essays, in the case of teachers and professors. It is a RARE writer who can may not have to revise, but don’t get this mistaken impression that revisions are something frivolous, that once you’re as big as John Green or whatever, that you’re too experienced to not have to go through that process. That isn’t so, not when those experienced authors don’t skip revisions, either. Did you know John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars actually started out as a story involving cancer patients who would meet in a cave outside of their hospital? And now look at TFiOS today. His critical acclaims ride on the fact that he took the time to write the best dang book possible, and even if he avoided revisions, his agent won’t let him. His editor won’t either. Perhaps each manuscript will come back with less and less edits, but that doesn’t mean HE avoided revisions. He just knows how to do them on his own (or will eventually), but he still does them. 

Some authors do revise as they go. I BELIEVE Ernest Hemingway was one of those writers (correct me if I’m wrong, please). However, that is still revising and still re-writing. It may be on a first draft that he is doing this, but he is still revising and still re-writing. He knows that he can’t avoid this. I, on the other hand, word vomit with my first drafts. I don’t care about how nice my first draft looks. Some first drafts are crummier than others, but a first draft for me exists to get all of my ideas down. Then I distance myself from those ideas in order to think about making those ideas much, much stronger.

Take my contemporary fantasy, for example. I’ve been away from it for a few months because I have been doing edits on The Stars Are Infinite, sequel to When Stars Die. I AM going to have to do revisions and re-writes for this novel.  I want to introduce the antagonist later. There is a character I want to ax. There is a concept I need to re-do. There is a romance I want to strengthen–and much, much more. Am I getting rid of the story itself? No, but I have much better ideas to make the story stronger, and I know this because I do consider myself an experienced writer, even though I only have one work published. I am also an editor, and whenever I edit a book from a client who has never published before, I generally have to tell them to re-structure their book, even if this is something they already have done. I AM AN OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE. 

Today’s publishing industry isn’t the publishing industry of just even ten years ago. Writers want to make more money, so they try to write their books as fast as possible. Either they forego sleeping to get revisions done, or they forego the process of revisions entirely and skip this step. Oftentimes it shows for prolific writers, where readers are able to compare their newest books to their oldest books (my personal assistant used Dean Koontz as an example. He tried to do this, but his newest works were weaker than his oldest works). Sometimes it doesn’t show, but more often that not, this is a case where readers have nothing to compare your work to. However, if you’re a new writer who skipped revisions and your readers love your book, I have no right to downplay what the rating of your book may be. However, as a new writer, your readers don’t think they can get any better from you. Readers aren’t editors. Readers are sharp, don’t get me wrong, but they point out only flaws in the book. They don’t suggest ways to fix those flaws like editors can do.

I do have one question though: If you essentially took the time to revise your novel, don’t you think you would be delivering a much stronger book to your readers so that way you’re not shortchanging them, inadvertently making them believe this is the best product you’ve got to offer? 

I consider myself a very ethical author when it comes to my readers. I want to make sure they receive the best product possible, so I will revise every book I ever write. The first draft is writing for yourself. Revisions and edits thereafter are for them–not you. You’re not the consumer of your book. They are, so make the strongest book possible, and in order to do that, yeah, you’re probably going to have to re-write some things.

If you don’t feel like it needs to be re-written, then don’t do it, but don’t assume this AFTER you’ve written your first draft. EVERYONE needs a second pair of eyes, even if it’s just one person. Libba Bray certainly did, and she’s published about six books, I believe. She is also not a one-book-per-year author.

So please don’t go around thinking re-writing is some myth teachers pound in your brains because they want to give you more work. Many know what they are talking about because they’ve been through that process themselves.

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19 comments on “Revisions Are Necessary and Not Something to Fear

  1. gregorylambpdxauthor
    March 9, 2014

    Another excellent post you’ve shared with us Amber. Lots of wisdom and process that any writer could benefit from. I believe in the end, we’d all save more time and heart ache by investing in thoughtful revisions in those early stages after completing a draft. There is so much truth in the waste that goes along with copy editing in tandem with revisions. Worse than tossing an edited version of a chapter is keeping it when it needs to go out with the other “little darlings.” Great post – Keep them coming!

    • amberskyef
      March 9, 2014

      Thank you! I love the term ‘killing your darlings.’ I absolutely have no problem doing so. I love my contemporary fantasy, but I love my readers even more, and I want to give them something amazing–because I know I’ll love it, too.

  2. A. B. Davis
    March 9, 2014

    I completely agree with this post! And thank you for the timely encouragement, as I am just now amid my own revisions. It is the first time I have actually tried the full revising process. I’ve always edited before, changing little things here and there, but now I understand that this cutting and adding and complete restructuring is a necessary, though sometimes painful, and sometimes exhilarating step. Also, adding “ethical” to the list of reasons why a dedicated author should never put out less than stellar work is a great point, Amber!

    • amberskyef
      March 9, 2014

      I have seen so many unethical practices with self-published books–maybe even traditionally published. These books will have good ratings and reviews, but, for some reason, readers will forgive glaring grammar errors–especially because it is self-published. That is being both dishonest to your readers and to the indie community itself.

      • A. B. Davis
        March 9, 2014

        Another excellent point. That is a huge turn off for me as well. Especially in self-publishing. You should be working twice as hard to put out good work in self-publishing because you can only hold yourself as accountable. It doesn’t mean you get any kind of free pass.

  3. rgdole
    March 9, 2014

    is that person crazy? and that’s the problem with so many books out there… I get people sending me books and I tell them straight up half the time that they should’ve edited a bit more… they have a good story but you can barely enjoy it because of all the typos and parts of the story that just doesn’t add up… when I write I edit and rewrite and change all as I go… because if you don’t do something when you catch you may not remember to go back to change it… it’s not like putting a puzzle together where you have all these neat little pieces you just have to put in place… it’s like having a giant pile of soggy clay that you have to constantly work with and make sure it doesn’t fall apart while trying to turn it into a piece of art… and man I’ve really started using a lot of similes lately… 😀

    • amberskyef
      March 9, 2014

      I don’t think the writer is crazy, just frustrated. Plus, a lot of writers don’t understand that revisions are different from edits.

  4. Garrett Oakes
    November 13, 2014

    I have never thought of the tactic of just stepping back even if that may be for days and then coming back to it. It really would give a clear and newly refreshed mindset once you come back to it.

    • amberskyef
      November 13, 2014

      I generally step away for a week before coming back to it. However, since my outlines are often so detailed, my books don’t need as many revisions as they used to. I call it the zero draft.

  5. Sam
    November 13, 2014

    Revisions are definitely necessary. No one can create a great piece of work on their first try no matter how good of a writer they are. There is always something that can be changed or improved.

    • amberskyef
      November 13, 2014

      Exactly! It’s a rare writer, maybe, but it was odd to read an article that said revisions are antiquated. I have never had to re-write essays I’ve written for school, but I still had to revise them.

  6. Tiffany Whitman
    November 13, 2014

    I feel really connected to the explanation included by Query Quagmire. As soon as I see a grammar mistake in my writing, I want to immediately go back and fix it but after reading that, I am motivated to revise my writing the way Query Quagmire proposed.

    • amberskyef
      November 13, 2014

      I loved Query Quagmire’s article. It touched upon so many great points.

  7. Great insight with regard to the processes of “editing” and “revising”. There are definitely many that really don’t understand the difference. I find it so hard not to make changes while I’m writing, I just want to immediately make those changes, but I was actually taught to let the writing flow on initial works and then go back to make any minor errors, i.e. spelling, punctuation, etc.

    • amberskyef
      November 13, 2014

      Sometimes if I absolutely hate a chapter during a draft and know I can make it better, I’ll re-write it if I feel absolutely sickened by what I’m writing. But it doesn’t impede my ability to be able to finish the novel.

  8. James Heuser
    November 13, 2014

    For the first draft of a story, would you suggest writing in more of a stream of consciousness or write multiple ways that some event or action could happen? That way when you can revise, and have from a selection of ideas that already exist and combine or rewrite them, or would it be better to go in with more of a blank slate that you can reshape your writing?

    • amberskyef
      November 13, 2014

      I’m a plotter, so I can’t say what I’d suggest. I do detailed outlines so that way when I get to the book, I have no excuse to not be able to write through. Sometimes I even revise the outline as I go along writing my novel when I think of something better. I don’t physically revise it, but I do so mentally. I call it the zero draft. This makes revisions much easier for me because I don’t have to revise so much.

  9. Walker
    November 13, 2014

    I believe that it is better to revise one’s writing while they are writing compared to doing afterward.

    • amberskyef
      November 13, 2014

      Some people do that though and never finish a book. I had a friend who revised as she wrote, but she never finished. When she started taking my advice, she actually finished her first novel, and her novel is due to be published in 2015. She now has the confidence to go on and write more novels, so revising one’s writing as one writes doesn’t work for everyone.

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