The Naughtiest Word in Writing

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From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

There’s a word commonly uttered in writing circles, a word that often strikes fear even in the most seasoned of novelists. Revision. Yep, revision. I know it’s scary, but I promise, it’s going to be okay. I can say that now, but when I first learned about the art of revision, I was pretty sure me and my novel were going to be anything but okay. 

I wrote my first manuscript bit by bit, sitting at my kitchen table while my youngest child attended preschool. I’ll never forget the feeling of excitement that coursed through me as I typed the words, “the end,” into the document. It was exhilarating. I had done it. I wrote a book! 

After doing a quick perusal of the manuscript and without missing a beat, I signed up for a writers conference where some literary agents would be in attendance. At the conference, I took a seat at a round table with a small group of other aspiring author hopefuls and held my breath as one by one the agents read a few pages from each of our manuscripts and provided comments. Spoiler alert…the feedback on mine was not good. Sure, they liked the story idea. But they could tell there were plot holes, that the descriptions of setting needed improvement, that my characters felt flat. I scratched my head as I turned their comments over in my mind. What in the world did it all even mean? Plot holes? Flat characters? How am I supposed to fix all of that? I had no idea. 

So, after returning home from the conference and attempting to lick my wounds, I decided my book simply wasn’t good enough. Not only that, I also decided I wasn’t good enough. In that moment, I knew for certain I was not destined to be a writer. With that in mind, I tucked my manuscript away in a file on my computer and vowed to never look at it again. That embarrassing chapter of my life would remain where it belonged, permanently behind me. 

But the tiny whisper of my writing voice refused to keep quiet and with no small amount of courage, I submitted a few pages of that manuscript to a local writing class. Much to my surprise, I was admitted. Hope bubbled within me for a whole second before fear crept in. Sure, I was excited about this class and grateful for the opportunity. But worries and doubts plagued my thoughts. One of the goals for the class was to try to write a complete novel. A novel with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Could I actually do it? Again? Did this story idea even have what it takes to run the distance of an entire novel? Would the novel be riddled with plot holes as deep as the ocean? I couldn’t be sure. But I steadied my breath and decided it was a chance worth taking. 

The class was a trip. I adored my classmates, loved reading and critiquing their work, and devoured learning about writing in general. Our teacher was proud that by the end of the class, each of us had finished our manuscripts. Hooray! We were thrilled. I clung to my printed-out pages and thought maybe this manuscript would be the one. The one literary agents would like. Maybe I got it right this time. No flat characters here, I hoped. 

As the class celebrated with cookies and wine, the teacher began the last lecture. And said the word. Yes, that word. Revision. What? 

“No, no, no,” I thought. My manuscript is done. It’s written. Ready to go. 

My teacher shook her head. Nope. In fact, our work had just begun. 

At the time, this news did not make me happy. But after the final day of class, I vowed to continue to study the craft of writing and eventually received an MFA. Through that process, I learned to embrace revision, to view that naughty word as a decent and obedient one. 

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books