Slash-and-Burn… The Art of Making Revisions

Times I have read the first chapter of my novel: 147

Times I have thought it was perfect: 0

Times I have known what to do to fix it: 4  18  0

Yesterday I went to writing group. While many people I meet seem to think being a writer is interesting and super-fun (though non-world-saving), they also don’t think there is much “work” involved. My BFF/running guru thought all that talk about going to writing group involved sitting around talking and drinking (which isn’t such a bad idea). What it really involves is homework and critique-making and critique-receiving and effort and perseverance to improve on both the front end and back end.

We meet about once every three to four weeks, and three of us submit roughly 20 pages each. I enjoy seeing each person’s (very different) novel developing and learning from some writing group friends who are amazing revision-makers. Fearlessly, they slash and burn huge chunks of their babies copy until they are left with the nugget of truth every agent will die to get his or her hands on someday. Me, not so much. Revision is a stumbling block for me, and something I am learning the hard way, over years, not days.

Now, I am going to tell you a secret. Don’t tell the agents out there about it yet:

The first chapter of my novel stinks.

That is the take-away from yesterday’s meeting. I have a very nice group of writer friends who have been helpful and supportive about the last three-quarters of the book. But they are so right about the opening of my novel. The unfortunate part of querying to find an agent is that you send out, in almost every case, the first chapter or so of your novel. When the first chapter is the “sick” part, you need to get back to work.

Like many writers, I am not an editor. Of course, it is easier to see what is wrong with other peoples’ work than it is to see the errors in your own writing. This is why writing critique groups are so important for the delicate job of making revisions.

A fantastic writer working alone may be able to see key issues and improve upon them. But for those of us mere mortals, writing groups full of fantastic minds and hawk-eyes can help tease out the reasons your manuscript isn’t gelling on some fundamental level.

One of the fears I have when I sense something isn’t right with my work is that in changing it from the ground up, I will only make it different, not necessarily better. Getting initial feedback and later, feedback on the revisions, has made me (I hope) a more thoughtful writer.

My goal for the week is to go in cold with a blank sheet of paper computer screen and start the novel from scratch. Something about this first novel has to get resolved before I can move on fully to the second one.

To all you Master Revisionists out there, send me good vibes and happy word choices!