Surviving Revision Hell – Editing My Novels

When I started this journey, I had no idea it would be so hard to write a book. I thought I'd sit down and the novel would just flow from my fingertips onto the page in perfect order and sequence. Actually, writing a first draft is much easier for me than editing, outlining, doing character charts, re-writing and all the other more disciplined aspects of the craft.

I love attending writers conferences, attending and/or listening to tapes of seminars, reading writing books, and learning how to create suspense, write better dialogue, a page turner or a better plot. I don't mind and even enjoy whipping out a first draft as fast as I can so that my inner editor doesn't have a chance to kick in and give me writers block. I can find the discipline for that – especially during events like National November Writing Month when I can share the experience and commiserate with fellow writers in cafes and online.

What I can't stand is even the very thought of taking what I wrote, breaking it down and revising it. In other words – editing. Even though, logically, I know the editing process is when the book really begins to take shape, I get completely overwhelmed by the process. You can have a four hundred page manuscript and discover during the editing process that you need to rewrite and/or rework all of it. The very thought of that makes me want to run from the room screaming which is probably why it takes me so long to do it. I can write the first draft of a book in a month and then take years to revise it. In short, I have a hard time getting and keeping my considerable behind in front of my keyboard long enough to do the work of editing.

The worst part is that, even when you think you're done editing the book, someone with fresh eyes can read it and say that your characters need more depth, the novel is too plot-driven, or you need to pick up the pace. None of these defects are quick fixes. They take substantial work to fix – sometimes even a complete re-write.

Although many writers hate editing, there are some who love it. They like the fact that revision is when you add texture and layers to a scene, spruce up dialogue, cut out excessive backstory and scenes that don't move the story along, fix plot issues and sequencing errors, and improve pacing, among other things. Even I have to admit that my novels benefit tremendously from editing and that I can see major improvement from one draft to the next.

What I need to remember is that editing is just as much a part of writing a book as whipping out a first draft. One might say that editing is the most quintessential part of the writing process because you never really stop doing it. You edit the draft, most likely revising it three or more times before sending it out to agents (the first time for story, the second time for texture, characterization, pace and flow, the third for prose, grammar, spelling, rhythm, etc.). Once you get an agent, he or she might ask you to revise parts of the book to get it ready for pitching to editors. Once a publisher acquires the book or you hire an editor before self-publishing, the editor might ask you to make some revisions. A copy editor will have some additional corrections.

Since the revision process is a crucial part of writing a novel and is almost never-ending, I need to change my mindset about it. If I don't, I'll never find the discipline to do it properly and my books will suffer or, worse yet, not sell. So, I'm going to try to look at editing as an opportunity to turn my novels into bestsellers. Maybe that will help me plant my rear-end in front of my computer and get it done on a more timely basis. Wish me luck.