Friday, August 15, 2014

REVISION TIPS AND TRICKS, from Susan’s clients

Revision. Does the word fill you with glee or terror?

My part of revision is to ask questions, point out inconsistencies, cheer for the writer, and ask more questions. It’s one of my favorite parts of being an agent. I love the work that goes into understanding characters, what they want, and how that must shape the plot.  There are as many ways to go about it as there are writers, but I’m lucky to work with a group that consistently amazes me with their ability to dig deeper into a story.  So, I thought I’d ask them how they go about revision – what tips and tricks they use, what keeps them going when they’re stumped, and what they enjoy the most.

Hope this inspires everyone working on a revision right now!

The joy of working with a great editor or agent is that most of the time revision comments are things that really resonate with me. Of course that's not always the case and it's often the comments that I don't agree with that I spend the most time considering. It's easy to just ignore them or go and complain to whoever happens to be nearby (probably why my husband and kids make themselves scarce when I get a revision letter). But I find that digging a bit deeper into the hard-to-swallow comments can really make a difference. I ask myself things like "why can't they see that I've already answered that question?" or "what makes them think that my character would ever do XYZ (of whatever their suggestion might be)." And normally what I find is that I haven't been clear enough in my motivation, or that I've hidden some insightful little nugget at the bottom of a paragraph and that it needs to be brought out more. – Amanda Ashby, Dating the Guy Next Door (Fall 2015), Sophie’s Mixed Up Magic, Demonosity, and more

I think being open to a revision is most important - even though it's a very counterintuitive process.  I feel like I want to fight every note but then once I let go of my resistance, the note often inspires something beautiful or something I never considered before.  The book has a chance to become deeper and I, as the author, have an opportunity to know my characters more fully.   And then after it's done, I can't imagine going back to the way it was! – Dana Middleton, currently revising a middle grade novel for submission this fall

Filling up a blank page to create a first draft is labor, but revision is a blast. It’s my favorite part of a project. I really enjoy getting ideas and feedback for making things better, and then I pretty much incorporate every single suggestion -- even the ones I disagree with -- to see what it does to the work. (When done in concert with an editorial letter, I make it a game called "Let's Pretend She's Right.") From there, I begin to put things into a shape that makes sense to me. At that point, I really discover what matters and even what’s going on in a story. (I also discover that I don't have to pretend that my editor is right. She usually is.) For me, no good writing takes place until the revisions start. With that thought in mind, the first draft becomes a lot easier too. It gives me permission to make a mess now because I know I am going to clean it up later. – Paul Acampora, author of I Kill the Mockingbird, Rachael Spinelli Punched Me in the Face and more

Just like a good manager for any skilled job, I'm rarely looking for solutions beyond suggestion. I'm looking for someone who can tell me "this isn't working" and why. Who can make observations about the broader strokes, the things that make a story exciting: character, scene or arc tension, richness of the storytelling. An editor who can not only tell me what the problem is, but help me understand it, is giving me tools to problem solve and make informed decisions for improving the work. – Christopher Baldwin, author/artist, Little Dee (Spring2015)

I guess the biggest obstacle I have overcome in terms of revision is distinguishing the original inspiration for the novel from believing that what I wrote first is itself the best way of expressing that inspiration. That is, I am no longer afraid to just write new stuff, cut characters, take a weird tangent, change the ending--see what happens. Now I trust that I can rewrite, build new structures, listen to others' thoughts and be the final arbiter of whether the revision is syncing with what I set out to accomplish. – Sarah Lariviere, The Bad Kid (Summer 2016)

What helps me revise: Susan's awesome notes. Oh, you meant once I have the notes ;)
If I don't have any ideas immediately, time spent doing other things - walking my dogs, reading, watching movies, taking a shower (I get a ridiculous amount of ideas in the shower) - is really helpful. So is brainstorming with my critique buddies. – Rachael Allen, 17 First Kisses and The Revenge Playbook, (Summer 2015)

Before I write the first revised word, I spend a LOT of time thinking. The first answer to my problem is almost never the one that ends up getting written. – Lisa Tyre, The Wars of Zollicoffer (Spring 2015)

My mantra: no one can help me revise that which is only in my head, but once the first draft is on a paper I can employ the troops!  Yeah, for me revising is not always solitary.  My process usually involves a lot of brainstorming (by myself and with others), bouncing several drafts of trial and error off of others' heads (ouch!) and marinating.  I've learned not to rush but to let myself enjoy the process.  My best work comes when I'm having fun. The second it isn't fun anymore I stick it in a drawer and work on something else. – Marcie Colleen, currently revising a new project for submission next month

If I'm stuck on a particular character (their motivation for something, making them more 3D), it really helps to highlight that character's sections and read them through all at once, almost like it's a mini-book about that character. – Rachael Allen, 17 First Kisses and The Revenge Playbook, (Summer 2015)

I like to do revisions in long stretches of time - no quick edits for me. This means I have to clear my schedule and find a quiet place free from distractions. My office tempts me to do other things, so I grab my coffee, a blanket and my computer and head out to the screened-in porch. I settle in and refuse to answer emails, phone calls, etc. until I have a few hours under my belt!
I've also been known to use to ensure NOTHING gets my attention other than my novel. – Lisa Tyre, The Wars of Zollicoffer (Spring 2015)

Want to know the crazy change-up/choice that finally got my rough draft of Book Two moving forward more quickly? HAND-WRITING it!! Yes, with a pen, in notebooks. It immediately took care of my seemingly unbreakable urge/compulsion to revise as I went which the computer makes so alluringly easy.  An urge/compulsion which pen and notebook make effectively impossible to indulge in. It made me much more willing to let imperfect/ugly/prosaic lay where it fell with the knowledge that there will be a time for revisions. I recommend this method for anyone struggling with embracing the "rough" in rough draft. – Jen Swann Downey, The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand and Ninja Librarians book 2 (Summer 2015)

For more on these authors' books and upcoming projects, visit them online and on Twitter!

Amanda Ashby, also on Facebook
Dana Middleton on Twitter
Paul Acampora, also on Twitter
Christopher Baldwin on Twitter
Sarah Lariviere
Rachael Allen, also on Twitter
Lisa Tyre, also on Twitter
Marcie Colleen, also on Twitter
Jen Swann Downey, also on Twitter


  1. This was great advice. As a self-published author, I utilize a large team of beta readers to help me with content editing, and like a couple of the authors here, I find that it's the tough comments that help me improve my stories the most.

  2. Thanks for all the excellent thoughts! Though criticism used to terrify me as a writer, I've learned not only to appreciate it, but to relish it--it's the best way to make my writing as strong and clear as it can possibly be. I'm fortunate to have three teenage beta readers for my YA novels, and I find myself skimming over their praise to get to the "good stuff"--the places where I can do better.

  3. Wow! So much wisdom on revising! Thank you for posting these!

  4. Oh, yeah. The hard-to-swallow comments followed by a deep marinade. Recipe for success. Thanks for the thoughtful post!