One of the best parts of being a writer, I often say, is getting to have in-depth conversations with writers I admire. At the RT Booklovers Convention in Las Vegas, I had lunch with amazing SFF author Kate Elliott. Not only is she a brilliant author of some of my favorite fantasy series, she’s been in the business for over twenty years and generously shares her accumulated wisdom.
At any rate, during lunch, as we talked about our current projects, she asked me if I love or hate revising. This is one of those litmus test questions writers often ask each other, because most of us fall into one of two camps on it. I always say I hate it. For me, revising has always given me the sense of fixing the things I got wrong the first time I wrote it. In contrast, one of my good writer friends calls revision “God’s work.” Which I find amusing because, biblically speaking, God didn’t do much revising at all. Unless you count Lilith as the first draft of woman and Eve as the revision.
Kate falls into the revision camp. She hates drafting and feels she really shines when revising. What she hates are the ups and downs of drafting, the going from exaltation to utter despondency. As we discussed the ins and outs of both phases of writing, it occurred to me that maybe I’ve changed.
Because I really don’t hate revision as much as I used to. Largely because that feeling of fixing mistakes has diminished considerably.
I wouldn’t go so far as saying that it feels like God’s work, but revising gives me the opportunity to make the story better. Learning to relish the revision process has also taken the pressure off of drafting for me. I don’t have to get everything right on the first draft, because I can retool it later.
Finally, I think I’ve changed my feelings on this for two more reasons: I’ve grown as a writer and I’ve grown as a human being.
Seriously, I think I’m a better writer than I used to be (which is a huge relief), and because of that, I’m stretching more. I’m taking on bigger story challenges, which means that revising gives me sometimes much-needed opportunities to dig in.
Also, and this was the big revelation: I think I’ve matured into this place. A lot of that “revision is just fixing mistakes” feeling comes from me being a perfectionist and from me being impatient – two of my greatest flaws. I’ve never liked having to labor over a task. I want it to be perfect, yes, but I also want it to be perfect right out of the gate. Because I’m rational enough to know that nothing is ever perfect, I’ve managed to disengage a lot of that particular expectation, but it’s always seemed that the price I pay is still wanting it to be wonderful the moment I finish.
But not so much anymore. I still want the book to be as wonderful as it can be, but I have much more patience these days for working and reworking until it is. I don’t feel the same pressure of vanishing time that I used to.
Maybe that comes from being older, or from being farther along in my career. Regardless, it’s a better place to be.
I often reflect on how grateful I am that self-publishing was not so easy, acceptable and readily available when I was shopping my first novel. I revised that sucker numerous times because I felt forced to. If I wanted to sell that book to a publisher, I had to find ways to make it better. If I’d been able to publish it myself, I would not have put myself through that pain. And it is a much better book. Though not as good as I’d make it now, if I could go back and revise. I cringe a little when someone says they’re reading that first novel, but nothing like I would if they read that first version I hugged and cuddled like a precious baby – and lacked the perspective to recognize just how bad it was.
Perspective that also now allows me to value the revision process in a way I never could before.
So, though I’ll still answer the question that I love drafting more, I also don’t hate revision the way I used to. Which is kind of a cool place to be.
What about you all – Team Drafting or Team Revision?
*previously published on the blog of Jill Archer in 2016*
Design and Hosted by OverMountain Studios