“Kill your darlings.” It’s the second most quoted piece of writing advice right after “Write what you know.” What doesn’t often get said is that murdering huge chunks of your work to make it better is painful. The slaughter of innocent text leads to long days spent grieving, usually on the couch while binge-watching Netflix.
Until recently, I thought I was immune to the pain of revision. My novel had survived no fewer than four beta rounds on Scribophile, (a fantastic online writer's community, I can't recommend it enough). I’d spent a month during #Pitchwars doing line to line revisions with a fabulous editor, Marty Mayberry.
When I landed an agent, he sent me a wonderful set of notes. I breezed through his revision notes in under a month, adding an additional seven thousand words to my manuscript. He called my revisions “impeccable.”
When my agent sold my novel, I was prepared to do whatever revision my editor saw fit. Secretly though, I thought the novel was done. My editor couldn’t possibly find anything to fix, because I’m a Jedi master of revision.
Obviously, my novel was already perfect.
And then I read my editor’s revision notes. She thought the ending was “a little rushed.” Furthermore, she noted that a main character, the IMPORTANT AND PIVOTAL BEST FRIEND disappeared from the end of the novel. Kind, helpful revision notes and yet suddenly, I found myself thrust into the five stages of revision. Here they are in order:
My Editor said “this manuscript is in great shape” so that means I’m done, right? These other things are just cosmetic suggestions. I don’t really have to make any substantive changes. I could just cut a few lines here and there and send my manuscript back pretty much the way it is. And anyway, having IMPORTANT AND PIVOTAL BEST FRIEND CHARACTER vanish from the end of a novel could be seen as “delightfully eccentric.” I meant the for the disappearance of IMPORTANT AND PIVOTAL BEST FRIEND CHARACTER to represent the transitory nature of friendship. My editor just doesn’t understand greater literary themes despite her thirty years in the industry. I’ll just explain it to her. *(see note)
*This author in no way condones "explaining" a literary theme to a senior editor at any publishing company. Further, the author suggests that justifying a mistake by saying "I meant to do that", will not fly with your average second grade teacher, and most likely will not impress an editor either.
I don’t want to do any more revisions. How is this even fair? I’ve worked longer on this novel than most astronauts spend training to go into space. No one cares how I suffer as an artist. I work unbelievably hard to make my voice seem effortless, like a chapter is something I just toss off in the morning before coffee and… wait. I think there are ice cream sandwiches in the freezer. Wonder what’s on Netflix this month? ( I have a hard time sustaining anger. Thank you, ADHD.)
Okay, I get that the novel ends abruptly. I understand that I ran out of steam just a bit when I got thirty pages from the end the novel, and it shows. If I give these last thirty pages the same level of attention to detail I gave the rest of the novel, I really shouldn’t have to revisit a major issue in my MC’s relationship with IMPORTANT AND PIVOTAL BEST FRIEND CHARACTER. That should be enough, right?
Writing is hard. Revision is even harder. How does anyone do this? How can I do this? I’m never going to be done. What happens if I don’t finish it? I’m not sure that I could even get off the couch to check my e-mail much less write a solid chapter and…wait. I think there are ice cream sandwiches in the freezer. Wonder what’s on Netflix this month?
This isn’t the first time someone noticed the disappearance of IMPORTANT AND PIVOTAL BEST FRIEND CHARACTER. Beta readers caught it. Now that I look back at my agent’s revision notes, I see that he suggested that I fix this problem. I did a little towards fixing it, but clearly not enough. And really, it’s so much better to fix this now than to have to endure abusive Amazon reviews: “This novel was great until IMPORTANT AND PIVOTAL BEST FRIEND CHARACTER vanished suddenly and without warning. WTF! I mean, really?”In the end, I realized that I’m lucky to have an editor this good. And I have a lot of ideas about how to fix this problem. Right after I eat this ice cream sandwich.