Those of you who know me know how much I hate revisions. I really, really do. For me, it’s all the work of drafting with none of the fun. This explains the snark in last week’s comic as well as tweets like this:
— Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) November 12, 2012
At first I just used the angst for Twitter fodder, but eventually it got to the point where I was seriously floundering. I had feedback from four beta readers and much of it conflicted, not to mention that I had my own deep-gut worries. How the hell was I going to fix this mess, and more importantly, which things was I going to “fix,” and which things were actually right the way they are? Well, a couple of things happened. I called on a pretty amazing writing buddy (of which I’m lucky enough to have several) to help me talk it out, since she’d helped me talk out some of these same things before ALL THE FEEDBACK. Some things she just helped me logic through. But the main thing she did was tell me that the way I had some of these things was just right—as my gut was screaming at me all along. I’d become so afraid of unintentionally ignoring good critique out of fear, that I’d gone too far and started ignoring my own writerly mojo. Then I looked up and saw this quote, which I have printed and taped to the top of my computer screen: “Let me be wise in my creation, let me be fierce in its defense, let me be true to my message and my vision.” –Laurell K. Hamilton Funny how when you see something often enough, you forget to really notice it. I’ve always thought this was a beautiful quote, although potentially dangerous in the hands of writers with big egos or a reluctance to let in feedback. But its value is clear. When too much feedback brings in the doubt monsters, you have to go back to your own message and vision, and be true to that. Voilà:
— Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) November 16, 2012
Now I am revising and making progress as should be (even though it’s still totally no fun).
But I relearned an important lesson from my near-loss of revision sanity. Three of them, actually, and I’m going to share them here. The most important thing about them is that yes, they are in order of importance—and that’s what’s so easy to forget.
1) Trust your instinct.
If you feel deep down that you shouldn’t change something, don’t change it.
Just make sure that your deep negative reaction to a suggestion comes from genuine conflict of vision rather than fear or hurt feelings. Sometimes the critiques we react to most negatively are the ones that we deep down suspect are right. Just like insults that hurt our feelings, they’re worse if we secretly know they’re true.
So if you get a suggestion that makes you mad or sad, don’t reject it out of hand. Let it sit, think it over, and try to be honest with yourself. Do you hate this because you know it’s right and that hurts? Consider changing it. Do you hate this because it just doesn’t jive with your artistic vision for your book? Stick to your guns. You’re the creator; no one can make you change your work.
2) Trust your readers.
Not your beta readers: your future book readers. Rarely are beta readers and critique partners your actual ideal book readers.
I give a lot of critique, and this is one of the things I most often find myself saying. “Trust your reader” means don’t underestimate the intelligence of your audience. Don’t over-explain. Don’t dumb it down. Don’t smack them in the face with clues. Trust them to understand your vision and message, and revise accordingly.
Will all of your future readers get it? No. But the ones who do will love you for it. Write for the few, not the many. Readers, like kids, know when they’re being talked down to, and they don’t like it. Trust your reader, and they will sense it.
3) Trust your critique partner(s).
At some point during the writing process, it becomes necessary to get outside opinions. Writing in a hermetically-sealed bubble can be a good thing, but revising in one usually isn’t.
There’s a caveat to this lesson: you have to have good critique partners and beta readers. Finding them isn’t always an easy thing, but once you do, you’ll know it. And you’ll quickly realize whose tastes mesh with yours, and whose opinions (though always valid) simply don’t match up with what you’re going for. I’m lucky enough to have this, so I know it’s out there. If you haven’t yet found someone who suits what you need, keep looking. A good reader is one of the strongest tools a writer can have.
And once you’ve found one…
Trust them with your work. Trust them with your emotions. Trust them to know how much you can handle, and if they push your limits, trust that they believe you’re ready for it. Trust that they’re being honest, and that they don’t have ulterior motives.
Finally, trust their opinions in every regard except when it conflicts with numbers 1 or 2.
So there you have it: my three rules of revising. Funny how all three of them come down to trust, isn’t it? The past couple of weeks have been a good reminder of this for me.
Writers, do you ever find yourself forgetting lessons you’ve already learned? How do you get back on track? Also, do you have your own “rules” for revisions? Feel free to share below!Share this: