Deb Dana Has Learned to Love Revisions

When I was in college, “revising” a paper — to me, at least — meant eliminating typos, swapping out a few pronouns here and there, and adding or deleting a few sentences.

Writing a book? Yeah, it’s not like that.

Like many of my fellow Debs, I revised my debut enough times that I eventually lost count. And those revisions didn’t merely involve pronoun swaps and spell check. I cut entire chapters, added new scenes, and changed the occupation of one of the characters. I moved events forward and backward in the story chronology and added plot elements to increase the tension. I rewrote, I revised — a lot.

At first, that process seemed overwhelming. When my editor wanted me to make certain changes, I understood her reasoning, but I also thought, “But…if A never happens, then B can’t happen, and if B can’t happen…then how do I get to C? EEK!” In a novel, events have a ripple effect, and like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, if you change something in the past, that change can have huge ramifications in the future.

But what I learned was that revisions, no matter how involved and overwhelming, always, always, always make the story better. When I think back to my very first draft, I can’t imagine that version ending up on bookshelves. I’d be mortified! Every change I made — every scene I moved or character I tweaked — strengthened the story and turned a Word document on my computer into an actual book. The revisions involved much grunt work on my part, but in the end, every change was worth it.

And you know what? Now I actually look forward to revisions. I know: I’m crazy. But as I work on my second book and come across elements that don’t sit quite right with me, I tell myself, “Don’t worry — you’ll fix it later when you revise” or “Your editor will have an idea on how to fix that in revisions.” There is something deeply reassuring about knowing your manuscript can and will be better, if you put in the time and effort.

Have you ever learned to love a task that once seemed overwhelming? What made you change your mind?


5 Replies to “Deb Dana Has Learned to Love Revisions”

  1. The knowledge that I’ll be revising later is the only thing that allows me to write a draft. Otherwise I would get so hung up on everything not being good enough that I’d never make any progress!

  2. I LOVE revisions. I really, really do. To me, that’s when the novel starts to click and grow and get truly exciting. I am fortunate in that I get incredible notes from my editor and my agent and the edits always make the work stronger.

    I agree with Kerry too that knowing that revisions await allows the first draft (or ten!) to be what it is (and what it ISN’T ;)!)

  3. I have a love-loath relationship with revision. At times, when I’m doing it because I know it needs to be done and it’ll make the story better, I love it. It’s fun. It’s an important part of writing. Very few people can make write once and have something stellar — everyone has to revise. Sometimes I miss the simplicity of college revisions, though. All you had to do then was fix grammar …

    But when a critique partner tells me I need to fix X because of Y — and I didn’t think about that (and sometimes hate how right she is — I don’t know what to do. I’m facing that right now. I’m not sure how to fix something without restructure the story … and I don’t want to do that right now 🙁

  4. I’m with Kerry…the knowledge that I can improve it is the only thing that keeps me from melting down completely in first draft! I do, actually, love revisions. I always have. Knowing I get to jump in and push the words around makes me happy … and though I’m coming to realize that makes me a little odd, I’m glad I like it!

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