Revising is fabulous. Revising is painful. Revising is thrilling. Revising is humbling. Revising is rewarding. Revising is challenging. All of this is true, but nothing is more than this: revising is what makes the work better.
I always knew writers revise and edit. And I knew there were these people in the publishing world called editors (who, in my mind, all looked like Katherine Hepburn for some reason), though I wasn’t quite sure what they did. I thought they sat around with red pens looking for typos. To my extreme relief, and to the benefit of my work, it turns out that editors (at least ones as fantastic as mine, Alvina Ling) are coaches, cheerleaders, story shapers, teachers, and yes, typo finders. Editors wear many hats, but the overall thing they do is make the manuscript better.
Now after all of that glowing praise, let me tell you my honest-to-goodness reaction the first time I saw Alvina’s editorial letter (an explanation of what needs work) and my electronic manuscript full of mark-ups (the modern red pen): I cried. As you read more of my entries, you will likely see that tears are my thing, but to classify them, these were a mix of feeling sorry for myself and abject terror. See, I’m not a precious writer. I do not believe that my words are so great, so untouchable that no one should dare tell me to change them. It’s that I felt sure I would fail. Looking at the hundreds of notes sprinkled through the manuscript, I thought, “If I could have written it better the first time, I would have! I can’t do it! Alvina will be sorry that she wanted to work with me.”
But as they say, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,” so I made changes one at a time. Eventually, I whittled them down until I got to some of the tougher issues, like a character who wasn’t as likeable as I thought (Really? I liked her? But, oh, ah, yes, I see what you mean! She seems kind of cold. Change, change, change.) and gaping holes in the story I hadn’t realized were there.
And then I was done.
Rookie mistake. You don’t get it right the first time. And that’s not only okay, it’s expected.
So, we went back and forth, and while some might find this disheartening, I must say, for me (once I felt confident that Alvina wasn’t going to dump me like a washed up Homecoming Queen) it was fantastic. When I compare drafts, I see how much more depth there is to the story after the revisions and I know I could not have done it on my own.
Alvina’s eyes are not the only ones on the drafts. She has a variety of unsung heroes who checked my work along the way, including copyeditors (who caught so darned many boo-boos. Yikes!). Plus I have my friends who read my work, and my agent, Joan, who sees every draft first and who does therapy when I’m stuck or sad or confused about the process.
What has surprised me most in this process is what a communal effort creating a book is. I feel so lucky to be working with people who not only make my writing better, but who make me feel better while they’re doing it.