Learn to Love the Revision Process for Writing a Book

The revision process for writing a book can be extremely intimidating. I completely understand. There are some really great points in the comments about why this situation arises, but that doesn’t change the fact that writers are still often too intimidated by the editing process to give it the time it deserves. Read on.

revision process
The revision process is where the magic happens. It’s your opportunity to find the meaning and order in the messy jumble of your first draft.

There’s More to Writing Than Query Letters

I have a harsh lesson for you today about the revision process, my dear readers. Hear me out.

In the spirit of retrofitting my website with all the latest gizmos and gadgets, I’ve also been doing work behind the scenes on SEO (search engine optimization). It’s the art and skill of making websites more friendly to search engines and, ideally, pulling potential readers in off of Google by using keywords that relate to the site’s content. That way, you reach people who are searching for what you have to offer, and they get relevant content. It’s a win-win!

The sweet spot happens if you find keywords that are searched for a lot, but that aren’t terribly competitive. That’s where you find your opportunities to rank high in search engine results. I read a book about it, so I’m basically a pro now. Deal with it. 😛

Revising Your Writing

In reviewing some keywords, I came across the perfect example of why so many writing efforts fail. I feel like the smug spinster aunt for pointing this out, but just look at these two keywords, and the associated search volume. JUST READ THEM AND WEEP (I know I did):

revision process, creative writing, creative writing revision, revision, editing, editorial
You should be ashamed of yourselves, Googlers!

What’s this you’re seeing? These are two search engine keywords and their monthly associated search volume. Up to 30,000 of y’all are searching about how to do creative writing every month, and only 100 brave souls (or even fewer) actually want to know how to revise a novel!

I apologize for this scolding post if you’re right there with me on the revision train. For the rest of you, the revision train is leaving the station, and you better be on it!

This reminds of me of all the times I spoke at conferences. 9 out of 10 writers would ask about the fuh-reaking query letter. Rarely, rarely, and I mean every third or fourth weekend conference, would I get a craft question at a panel discussion. Or someone would approach me with an insightful writing concern. Were people falling all over themselves to ask me about the editing process? Nope!

It was all about queries. Queries! Those 300-word letters! Compared to your 70,000-word novels! This misdirected energy continues to surprise me.

Love the Revision Process

The revision process is where it’s at. Writing is actually in the rewriting. Once you’ve done the creative writing, there are so many wonderful things that happen during the editing process. Revision is where you find the shape of your writing, it’s where you tease out all of the rich thematic elements.

I can’t get enough of it. So this is a call to action and a plea from your dear friend MK. If your zest for writing ends as soon as you type The End on a manuscript, dig into this website and think about learning to love the editing process.

A literary agent’s slush pile is overflowing with manuscripts where the writer wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and rev–nah, let’s just send it in! In the overwhelming majority of cases, these are not the manuscripts that get offers of representation.

How to Revise

If you’re stuck or just getting started with the editing process, take this tip: Put your manuscript away for a few weeks. (Ideally three months but nobody ever takes me up on this advice!) Once you’ve typed The End, your subconscious has gone into overdrive thinking of your story and all of its various elements. When you return to the page, you will actually be seeing it with new eyes.

It’s the easiest advice to give, but the hardest to follow. (Check out more revision techniques.) Are you up for taking the challenge and loving the revision process a little more with me this year?

If you really don’t know where to start with manuscript revision, hire me as your novel editor. I’ll give you a comprehensive, actionable, and inspiring map.

10 Replies to “Learn to Love the Revision Process for Writing a Book”

  1. Like many others, I’m sure, I often approach the revision process warily. In fact, I compare it to a roller coaster ride. It may take some time to talk myself into it and I always expect to regret it for a moment at the very beginning. However, after the unexpected twists, dips and loops, I reach the end of the ride, filling exhilarated and energized (and infinitely more pleased with my WIP).

  2. I wonder if part of that apparent discrepancy is down to the fact that query letters *seem* harder than either writing or revising the actual novel? I spent four months writing my first draft, and a year revising it… and 62,00 (down from 75,000!) words later, I’m still intimidated by those additional 300.

  3. Jeff Bolinger says:

    I’m one of those Mad Hatters who love revisions. That’s where all the fun is.

    Pro Tip: Easy way put your story on ice for a couple of months—start your next book.

    1. And a true Mad Hatter you are, Jeff! I know from experience. Keep preaching the way of revision. The world of writing needs more like you! 🙂

  4. To be fair, conference programs and announcers probably describe you along the lines of, “Mary Kole worked as a literary agent for Andrea Brown Literary Agency before becoming a freelance editor.” When writers hear “literary agent,” they immediately think “someone to ask about queries,” not “someone to ask about craft.”

    I wouldn’t weep too much over those search terms, either. When writers need to revise our stories, we look for creative writing articles that address our weak points (e.g., “how to write natural dialog” or “how to write exciting fight scenes”), not for articles on the specific process of revision. Everyone knows–or feels like they know–how revision works without looking it up.

    Querying, on the other hand, is a process completely foreign to the average new novelist. Personalization…hook…brief synopsis…bio…comps….I’ve been at it for years, and I still feel like I’m playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey every time I query a new project. Naturally, writers spend a lot of time researching and asking about queries because it’s a confusing and frustrating process.

    1. Touché, T.K. Good points here. I guess this post was more tongue-in-cheek than came across! 🙂

  5. Excellent points. I recently dug back into the path of my debut PB for a blog post on revision and found it really helpful. I intend to keep a few notes on changes for each version, but that often doesn’t happen (unless it’s in the doc name). And looking at how your revision process is honed over time is helpful, too. Yes, that’s really where it’s at! But…if you’ve only revised for beautiful writing and not for the heart of the story….there’s more work to do.

  6. I write a blog about the nuts and bolts of writing. I have known for a long time that my writing friends who blog about the query process, the psychological aspects of writing and marketing get far more hits than I do. Partly because it’s more personal, and readers connect with personal, but that’s not the full story.

    I agree, there simply aren’t many people hoping to learn ‘how to write’, compared to all the people hoping to learn ‘how to publish’.

    My most popular post for a long time was how to put an iBook together. I very rarely write about such things.

    Perhaps those same people have already searched elsewhere and found everything they need to know about story structure and style… but I doubt it.

  7. Chops or debbie says:

    Editing is like pulling the heads off roses.

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