Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Revision--Shannon Style (Part Five)

Okay, so if you missed part four last week (you can find it HERE), we're deep in the throes of "The Agent Stage" of my revision--which could basically be called: The-Really-In-Depth-Revision-Notes-Stage, so those of you without agents need not think this doesn't apply.

Laura is kind of famous for her LONG revision emails, so I do the bulk of my revising through her. But if you don't have an editorial agent, you should still have at least one CP who really puts your draft through the wringer (if you don't have one--find one. They will make you SUCH a better writer, even if they will *probably* give you an ulcer)

So...at this point...I have Laura's revision letter printed. And I've done a lot of STARING and WHIMPERING and STRESSING about the tremendous amount of work I have ahead of me.

Now it's time to pull myself from the depths of "I Sucktitude" and get started. And I do that by reminding myself that Laura wouldn't spend so much time giving me feedback if she didn't believe in the project--and if she didn't believe I was capable of nailing the revision. She's way too busy to waste her time on something she doesn't care about. So she knows I can do it. I just have to shove my self doubt away and dig in.

The same thing applies to you guys--even those of you without editorial agents. Thorough critiques take a LOT of time to give (believe me, I know. I spend 100s of hours on a draft for my CPs). So if a Crit Partner is giving you one, it's because they believe in you, and in your story, and are pushing you because they want to help you make the book as good as it can be. They KNOW you can do it. And they're there for you if you need help getting there.

Never doubt that. Never think: my book must suck. It DOESN'T suck. If it did, they'd probably give you only a few vague notes and something like: thanks for letting me read! Because who's going to spend tons of time on a project they hate?

Trust me, a thorough, intense critique from good, trusted CPs is never a bad thing. I know it's hard to believe sometimes (you're talking to a girl who's often tempted to email Laura back asking: why do you represent me when I need this much work?????) But remember, they believe in you. And they know you have the talent to pull it off.

So once I convince myself that I'm not the resident Queen of Hacksville, I'm to the point of: REREAD THE REVISION LETTER 10,000 TIMES THINKING HOW THE HECK AM I GOING TO DO THIS???


I know I CAN do it. I just need to figure out the HOW part.

In general, there are three main types of notes:

- Notes I completely agree with and know right away exactly what I need to do

- Notes I agree with, but don't know how to handle yet because I need to figure out a few things

- Notes I don't agree with at all

Now, you may be thinking that those last ones are notes I just cross off and put right out of my mind. To which I say, Ha--I wish. Because here's the thing: a note is more than just a note. Sure, there's the specific suggestion in the note, which may not work at ALL. But that doesn't mean I can ignore the underlying cause.

If I'm being told to cut a scene or a chapter, or to tweak a character's motivation or to have something different happen, THERE'S A REASON. Maybe my pacing is off. Maybe my character is reading inconsistent. Maybe I haven't made it clear enough why the scene is important. There could be any number of reasons I'm being given a note, and just because the suggestion doesn't work for me, doesn't mean I get to scratch that note off my list. There's always SOMETHING I need to tweak.

It may end up being a much smaller change than what the notes are suggesting. Or it may mean I make a big change, but it's completely different from what the notes recommended. Either way, it's okay--because I got to the root of the problem. 

And that's really what revision is all about. Problem solving. 

Good revision notes tear your book apart and make you ask yourself: is this what I wanted to do? Is this what I was trying to say? Is this really the way I see my story? And if it's not, you fix it. Clarify. Cut. Refine.

It's a painful, frustrating, headache inducing process. But in the end, you'll wind up with the book you thought your wrote the first time.

I'm sure I could keep rambling about revision for several more posts, but I think 5 posts is enough for this series. I'll tackle some of the minutia of revision (plot, pacing, etc) in their own, separate Shannon-Style series to come. 

If you have any questions on anything, feel free to ask away in the comments. And if not, I'd love to know: how to you deal with intense revision notes? Any tricks you want to share?


  1. Great post. I'm look for your revision ideas in your next series.

    Maybe sometime let us know how you critique and give us some specific examples of comments. I always wonder how good I am as a critique partner.

  2. Great post, Shannon, very personal. Love that. I actually wrote a post, today, about rewriting a manuscript from scratch. Yours is from a different point of view (agented) which is really cool. And you are so right. Consider and reconsider the suggestions given to you by a CP. There's a reason. It's wonderful to have such support. ;)

  3. Ack, this is the hard part!

    After I get a revision letter, I always make a chapter by chapter checklist of changes to be made, and then I slooooowly work my way through it. Checklists make me feel happy (or at least productive).

  4. I got my first letter from my agent yesterday, and thankfully my husband spent 2 hours talking through it with me. I needed to discuss and think and plan, but implementing is a whole new ball game. So thank you for this post, because it helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel.

  5. <3! (<- I don't know how to make hearts bigger than that and if I used my words, I'd probably sound like a freaky Shannon fangirl and I don't want frighten you)

    I just read this one and part 4, and MAN. I'm not even at the querying stage, but you're making me feel better. My CPs are so great and encouraging and I forget that they don't HAVE to be my CPs. They do it because they believe in me. I'm glad I'm not the only one who drowns in the suckitude. :) You're a legend.

    Also, my word verification is LATIN. I think that is a sign that you need to write your next post entirely in Latin. Just sayin'

  6. I think you make an excellent point that there are different levels of compliance you can follow when it comes to critique. The important thing to remember is that it's your story, your vision, so you have to fix it your way.

    The hardest part is the ones you don't know how to fix. It's okay to ask (at least it's okay to ask your CPs what they would do, I can't speak to agents).

  7. At first, I just read the letter a bunch of times but I don't do anything to the manuscript for a while. What initially seems an impossible change in the story becomes more possible when I give my brain a lot of time just to think about stuff.

    Sometimes, the shorter the question, the harder the answer...


  8. This is such a valuable series. Thank you for writing out your experience. I find these same frustrations and challenges within revisions, too, but I'm always thankful when the final result is something that pushed me to go farther.

  9. Great. Now I have to switch up my "thanks so much for letting me read this" line...

    ;-) JK, I've never used that one.

    And heck yeah about CPs giving thorough reviews. You're the bomb.com with that. So, I've said it before--but *begs* never, ever leave me.

  10. This is great! I avoided blogs for the past week or so because I was revising and I come back to find you've been doing a series on revision. It's like you were writing just for me. :)

  11. Clarify. Cut. Refine.

    That has been my life for the past three weeks.

    That third type of comment is the trickiest, isn't it? You can't just dismiss it out of hand if you don't agree. Which is why you need to be able to be objective about your work, and if you can't, have CPs you trust.

    And of course, just when you think you've made all the changes you can possibly make, your agent emails you back with "This is much better, but..." ;)

  12. As always, #1, I LOVE this post. I don't just love this one because of the strategy stuff, though. I love this because it's uplifting, hopeful, reassuring. You are the best!

  13. Great thoughts! Queen of Hacksville--I love that--but I think sometimes that it describes me! Good luck with your revisions.

  14. I'm stuck in a weird rewrite phase. I've queried a story to about 5 agents and hear the same thing "like it but don't love it". Of course no one has even hinted what I might do to bridge that "like to love" gap. All have said more or less "not my cup of tea but I bet another agent will feel differently" and I'm stuck with the dilemma of whether to revise again or just send it out some more as is. ARGH!

  15. Ugh, I'm in revising/editing hell right now. Not fun.

  16. These posts are so helpful! Thank you for taking the time to do them and for being so supportive.

  17. Thanks for your post. I love seeing the inside of what agented writers must do. It gives me hope and makes me want to go back over my story.

  18. I'm enjoying these posts as well (although not your pain, of course). Best of luck -- you'll figure things out!


Yay-I love comments! Thank you so much! (But please remember to keep your comments spoiler-free. Also, I try to keep this a happy, positive place. Any arguing or intense debate--on any subject will be removed. Let's keep this a safe, fun space.