Sunday, August 16, 2009

Guest Post 2-Beth Revis

Good news all! On this warm and humid Sunday night while we are all dreading going back to work tomorrow (you are...even if you love your job...) we have a special treat for you! The wonderful Beth Revis of WRITING IT OUT has written for you a very lovely post all about revisions, and as usual, its chock full of really great well thought out advice that you can actually use. Thanks so much for joining us Beth!!!

The Revision Process

A lot of people talk about the writing process. The writing process is, for me, fairly easy: I write. End of story. But (perhaps because my writing process is so simple), I find revising to be something so painful that I'd prefer eating slugs, honestly.

Fortunately, I've had some practice in revising, and I think I've (finally) found a process that works for me. But, keep in mind--just like the writing process, the revising process is unique to everyone. I imagine that someone who is a meticulous writer with lots of organizing would have to revise half as much as someone (like me) who slaps together drafts as quickly as possible.

Step One: Write the Book. A bit obvious, yeah, but it still needs to be said. Write the book first. In the event that you get stuck while writing the book, don't fall into the trap of revising what you have--do enough to fix the plot hole or whatever else has you stuck, and then keep writing.

Step One and a Half: Revise the work yourself. Really. Go through it, read your baby, tell yourself you're wonderful, and "revise." But this is only a half-step, because no matter what you do at this stage, you're not even close until...

Step Two: Admit You Need Help. My name is Beth Revis...and I need help revising. We all do. It is *impossible* for you to revise on your own. Here's why: when your character does something, you know why they need to do it in terms of plot. You need Bob to go into that room to find the body, or you need Susie to go on a walk so she can meet Mike. By necessity, as a writer, you need your characters to do certain things to fulfill the plot. But that's not what a reader needs. A reader needs a clear character motivation that *isn't* just because the plot needs it. We need Bob to go into that room looking for something he needs, and he stumbles upon the body. We need Susie to be rushed on her way to work when she meets and falls in love with Mike. The writer *must* see the story the same way an architect looks at the structure of a house. But a reader just wants to read.

Step Three: Select Readers. So, you need readers. That much is clear. The next thing you need to do is look around you and decide who should read your work. There are different kinds of readers, and I recommend you use them all.

Alpha Readers These readers read the roughest of rough drafts. They're not looking for typos or anything like that--they're strictly looking at what works and doesn't work in the story. You need someone who's critical enough to understand what a reader wants, but easy enough not to obsess over details. Look for a fellow writer who loves to read, especially in your genre. Your goal at this stage is tie up all loose ends and not let the story get boring.

Beta Readers These readers need to be your big-picture readers. You may get away with an alpha reader who's more of a reader than a writer, but for your beta readers, you need someone whose writing your really respect. Have them focus on structure. Expect to make big changes here--cutting 5k words, rearranging chapters, eliminating or creating characters. Pick someone you can really work with--you'll want to ask questions and get feedback several times, perhaps even submit a couple different versions of things. Your goal here is to write the overall structure of the book.

Once you have what you consider a 100% completed copy of the book, get Gamma Readers. Because, honestly, you're not 100% done. You think you are, sure, but you're NOT. Gamma Readers need to be skilled writers who aren't afraid to say what needs to be done. Look for comments that repeat across all three levels of readers. Does the opening not work for the Alpha, Beta, or Gamma Readers? Then your revisions on that opening *still* aren't strong enough. Rewrite. After Gamma Readers, your goal to *really* make your book 100% done.

Your Mom. Because she wants to read it, too, so let her read it. And she'll tell you it's great, and by the time you get to this point, it *is* great, and she'll give you the confidence to submit.

Step Four: Read Your Novel as a Novel. When everyone's read it and you've rewritten the thing until you *hate* it, print it out, sit down somewhere nice, and read it. Think of it as a book, not a manuscript. Read it as a reader, not a writer. If, when you're done, you still have a niggling doubt about something--a character, a plot twist--now's the time to change it. Because this is it. After this, you're done, Grasshopper.

So, looking at this simple (ha!) four step process, you'll see that you'll need to revise at least three times. Probably, throughout this process, you'll revise much more than that. I wrote two different version of the opening of my current work in progress for *each* of my Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Readers--and I'm still tweaking it.

But there are some corollaries:

Don't Be Lazy. Seriously. You've written a book, but that's only half the work. If you know a character isn't working (and all your readers tell you it's not working), don't just slap on a paragraph of description and hope that fixes it. It doesn't rewrite the whole character.

When In Doubt, Cut. Personally, I make it a goal to cut 5k words from my manuscript. Five thousand words. And, with this last work in progress, I knew it was a little more fluffy than my usual writing, so I made a goal of TEN thousand words. Fifty pages. If this sounds like a reasonable thing to you, then you're safe with cutting 5k--you'll make the manuscript tighter and be happier with it. If you look at this and are horror-struck by the mere idea, then you probably should cut 10k. Maybe 15.

Be True To YOUR Story. True confession: I killed a manuscript with over-revision. Seriously. It started out as this sweet little thing, then I changed it to make one reader happy, then a different change to make another reader happy, and in the end, they might have been happy--but I sure wasn't. The story became about pleasing everyone else more than it was about pleasing myself. I've never touched it again.

And, finally...

Here's the secret. There is actually one more step to revising that I didn't mention before.

It's a pretty big secret.

You might not want to hear it.

Ignorance, after all, is bliss.

Still with me?

OK--the secret's this: sometimes, even after you've done everything you can to revise, even after you're rewritten the whole manuscript--sometimes, you have to admit that it was just a practice manuscript. If, after all this, you still aren't attracting agents; if, after so many rewrites, the book isn't salable--shelve it. This is the dark secret of writing: not everything you write is good enough, even after revisions. But it's still important to write your book and go through every single step of revising. Why? Because it makes you a better writer. So do it all over again with the next manuscript--and the next one. Eventually you'll make it work. And when you do, you won't be ashamed or angry at all those manuscripts you wrote, revised, and rewrote that were never published--you'll be proud of the work you did on all of them, and happy with the realization that it was the fact you went all the way with each manuscript that made you the best writer you can be.

BIO: Beth Revis authors WRITING IT OUT, a blog for writing in the MG and YA genres. She's currently finishing revisions on a science fiction YA novel. And, if it makes you feel better, she's written ten practice novels.


  1. Thanks Beth! Great post... made me giggle when you said to have your Mom read it. Jay Asher said the same thing! In a couple months I'll be able to "read my novel as a novel" -- it's such a scary concept!

  2. Hi Beth,

    This probably THE BEST revision advice I've ever seen. Most other advice out there requires you don space equipment or dance backwards on your head while reading the manuscript in reverse.

    Thanks for sharing this simple and encouraging advice!

  3. Great post, Beth! Your dark secret is a painful one. Ouch!

  4. Great post Beth. It's overwhelming to think of all that is ahead of me on my WIP, but good to know. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Wonderful post, Beth! I am also a hater of revisions. They're sort of like major oral surgery. No fun to go through, but boy do they make a difference when they're over. :D

  6. Thanks everyone! Glad I could help! And thank you, First Novels Club, for hosting me!

  7. Super job, Beth. It's possible there might not be so many aspiring writers if they knew how many rewrites were in their futures. It's always good to know we are not alone.


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