Revision is a state of mind.
If you’ve ever revised before, you’ll know it’s different from drafting in a few major ways, and the part of your brain you used to craft your new, sparkly, fun idea is not the same part of your brain needed to revisit that idea to make it better. While drafting, you have to stay positive–keep moving forward no matter what, get the words on paper, finish the book. But with revision you need to think critically about your work, see it from different angles, and be willing to take it apart and rebuild it stronger.
For me, the biggest thing that holds me back from a revision is impostor syndrome. This is when you feel like the thing you’re doing is too big, and you feel like you aren’t good enough to accomplish it. So basically… all of publishing, all the time. Publishing is rife with rejection at every corner, whether it’s from editors and agents, pitch contests, or even critique partners. There are so many ways for publishing to tell us that the impostor syndrome is right and we aren’t good enough.
But the thing is, it doesn’t matter if we’re good enough or not. “Good enough” is subjective. There’s no one way to be a good writer, and publishing rarely functions as a meritocracy. Becoming “good enough” isn’t a guarantee for getting an agent or a book deal. So much of publishing is out of our control as writers (the market, other people’s taste, luck etc.), so it’s best to focus on what we can control: the writing. Impostor syndrome, sometimes masquerading as Almighty Publishing, may rear its ugly head, but the best way to fight it is to keep creating, and keep revising to make your work the best it can be.
Before we dive into the revision process though, we need to get into the revision mindset. This means reframing the juxtaposition of success and failure. If we treat them like opposites, then rejection will always be bad, but I’ve found that rejection can propel me farther if I choose not to measure it like failure, but instead like success.
Get a sheet of paper and a pen, or a word document, or an ancient slab of stone and a chisel–whatever your preferred tools are–and make three columns.
In the first column, list what you’ve learned so far.
This can be a list of everything you’ve learned since you first picked up that quill and penned your first story using the blood of your enemies as ink… or you can measure the last year, or the last month, or the time since you entered a pitch contest, or since you sent your first query. However you want to guage this is just fine. Write down everything you’ve learned in that time about writing–this can be things about craft, about the industry, about yourself and your process.
In the second column, list the improvements you’ve made on your manuscript so far.
Again, you can measure this in whatever time frame you want. Write down everything you can think of that you’ve done to make your MS better. This can be things you’ve rewritten or edited, changes you’ve made to your query or synopsis, anything that you’ve done that’s improved your manuscript.
In the third column, make a list of things you want to change in your manuscript.
This can be anything! It can be based on feedback you’ve received (a caveat: not all feedback will be in line with your vision for the book, and it’s okay not to take certain feedback if it doesn’t feel right for you) OR it can be based on your own intuition about your book. It can be specific or vague. It doesn’t matter if you know how to fix it, just that you want to is enough. Put it on the list!
These three columns represent your accomplishments, past and future. Use moments of failure or rejection to assess what you’ve learned since the last one, what you’ve improved since then, and what you plan to improve next. Instead of viewing each rejection or failure as though it’s a step backward, try reimagining it as measurements on a ruler or ticks on a timeline. They’re there, but they don’t move you back. Time still keeps moving forward, and so do you.
Congratulations! You just made a revision plan–or at least the start of one. These lists you just made will come in handy next week when Rachel Griffin talks about how to write yourself an edit letter, so don’t lose them!
Rosiee Thor is the co-creator of BYOMentor and the author of the YA novel TARNISHED ARE THE STARS, forthcoming from Scholastic in 2019. You can follow her on twitter at @rosieethor or on her website, www.rosieethor.com