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Tuesday, December 18

Conquering the Fear of Revision

By Jodi Turchin

Part of the How They Do It Series


JH: Writing the first draft of a novel is only the first step. Revision comes next, and it can be a challenge for many writers. To help, Jodi Turchin visits the lecture hall today to help us conquer the fear of revision.


Jodi is a college professor, high school English teacher, YA novelist, and photographer. She has been a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators for over a decade and has been a member of the Romance Writers Association as well. She teaches writing workshops for teens through her local libraries. Jodi lives in Coral Springs, Florida with her former-rockstar roommate and her canine daughter, Violet.

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Take it away Jodi...

When I was a kid, I never thought about revising my work. I would write stories, put them away or share them with friends, and then write new stories. It never dawned on me to go back to a first draft and think about improving it. The word revision never crossed my mind.

As I took writing more seriously, as an adult, I realized that I love first drafts. The unfolding of new characters, following plot points to logical (or illogical) conclusions, learning the relationships between characters as they fall into place in the manuscript. I have been an avid participant in National Novel Writing Month for years, and successfully completed eight drafts during various Novembers. But I knew that they were just what Anne Lamott refers to in Bird by Bird as “Shitty First Drafts.” So, I had to face my ultimate nemesis: Revision.

There are authors who will tell you that revision is their favorite part of the process. I am not one of them. My biggest fear is of making the book worse instead of better through the revision process, even though so far that has not happened with any of my revisions. So today I’m going to share some things that work for me in conquering that fear.

1. Once you’ve written the first draft, let it get cold.


By that, I mean set it aside. Don’t look at it or think about it for a little while. You get to decide what “a little while” is, but I recommend at least two weeks. Honestly, sometimes I let a draft go for months before I begin the revision process – but I’m working on drafting other things at the time. Never stop writing in one way or another!

2. Print the draft and read through it as a reader.


Try to forget it’s your book. Have a highlighter or pen handy to make notes on any plot holes, character disappearances, accidental name changes, anything that strikes you on a first read that is off in some way. Go through and fix those things.

3. Invest time in reading books on the process.


Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King and Revision: A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction by David Michael Kaplan are staples on my bookshelf and help immensely in diving into the revision process. Our lovely Fiction University host, Janice Hardy,wrote Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and there are other books out there as well.

4. Share your work.


A trusted beta reader can give you outside insight. Truth be told, our manuscripts are our babies. Sometimes we’re too close to the book to see things that outsiders would see. Bring chapters to your critique group (if you have one) or find a trusted reader (or two).

5. Take criticism with a grain of salt.


Sometimes, our readers give us feedback with which we don’t necessarily agree. This is where it’s helpful to have more than one reader. If multiple readers are giving the same feedback, it’s worth considering. My agent shared my manuscript with several beta readers, and then provided me the feedback for the revisions I was to do. While I didn’t agree with everything, I did find that the readers’ feedback offered me things to think about that I hadn’t considered when revising on my own.

6. Know when to quit.


I don’t mean quit writing. But not every book is going to be a marketable product, and spending decades revising the same book over and over is not always the best avenue to take. If you are writing, revising, submitting, getting rejected, revising, submitting, getting rejected, etc. and not writing new books, success may not be in your cards. Sometimes you need to put a book in a figurative drawer and move on to something new. That isn’t to say the book will never be published; sometimes it’s about timing.

I had a YA manuscript I was shopping to agents. I had one request the full, and she really liked it. But my main character’s love interest had leukemia, and John Green had just published The Fault in Our Stars. She told me the industry was not looking to acquire any more “sick lit,” and declined representation. Fortunately, I was writing other things, and shelved that particular book. I wrote another book, shopped it, and signed with an agent. Hopefully, I can bring my “sick lit” book back later, after my agent sells the book she has now.

If you, like me, fear the revision process, the best thing to do is face it head on. Rarely is a first draft perfectly written. So suck it up, buttercup, get the red pen out, and get revising!

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