Don’t get me wrong—I love the revision process. When I teach writing workshops, I always tell students, if you can’t deal with revision, don’t be a writer, because you’ll be doing it all your life.
There’s the revision you do yourself, before you let anyone see your heart’s work; the revision you do after your trusted readers give you feedback. Sometimes it’s even hard to stop revising and send your work out.
And, of course, if you send it out, and you’re lucky enough to be published, you will be revising in response to your editor’s feedback. Ideally, that partnership results in a better book. But that doesn’t make it any easier when you get that editorial letter and the work you thought was basically done isn’t.
So I’m in the middle of this major revision. I’m wrestling with this 500+ page manuscript. I wrote 150 new pages, revised everything else, then cut 100 pages. Today I decided to move this one scene. But one thing led to another, and now everything is scrambled. This is the kind of situation that results in mistakes. And heavy drinking.
When I was in junior high school, I was a volunteer at a VA hospital. They didn’t allow visitors under 15 on the floor, but I was there, at 14, volunteering. One thing that struck me was that the patients always looked worse when they came back from surgery—pale and wounded, sick, and confused. On life support. And I remember thinking—this is a good thing?
Depending on the seriousness of the surgery—er—revision, your book can look worse before it looks better. Sometimes you’re afraid it will never recover. You hope that once you’ve repaired the plot holes and cut away the dead tissue, your book will be healthier for it.
Not enough metaphors for you? I’m a professional writer, after all.
My husband works in stained glass. He was making a lamp recently—had it almost finished, and set it aside on the floor to clear his work table so he could work on something else. Somehow, he stepped on it, shattering several panels. He had to cut out the unsalvageable, replace it with new, and somehow make it fit back together.
He came upstairs and said, “I think I finally understand what revising a novel is like.”
I said, “Welcome to my world.”
I was secretly glad I didn’t have to solder anything. Words, I can do.