In some ways, starting revisions can feel like setting out on a road trip; no matter how great your playlists are, how much caffeine you have, or how many rest stops you make, nothing can change the distance between you and your destination. That said, there are definitely things that can make the journey more comfortable. So if you find yourself reading a set of editorial notes and feeling uncertain or overwhelmed, consider keeping these three road rules in mind:
Rule #1: The author is always in the driver’s seat
Maybe there are times when you would gladly sign up for a brain implant if it meant that your computer could finish a difficult draft for you. Until that day arrives, you as the author are in the driver’s seat for your manuscript. While this may seem obvious, as an editor I’ve seen authors feel as if they need to implement every editorial suggestion verbatim in order to successfully revise.
While your editor may have shared specific ideas in order to clarify their notes and jumpstart the brainstorming process, editors never expect authors to simply transcribe their suggestions point-by-point. Many of the most organic and effective revisions happen when an author considers the feedback, brainstorms ideas, and comes up with a solution that the editor would never have thought of but that is perfectly suited to the story.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that revisions won’t be challenging. Revisions, by their very nature, ask authors to re-examine, reconsider, and re-envision one or more areas of a work. But revisions should also serve to clarify and strengthen the author’s creative vision, rather than diminishing or distracting from it. Don’t be afraid to use your editor’s suggestions as a jumping off point to incorporate your own ideas.
Rule #2: Be aware of the speed limit
When you receive feedback from an agent or editor, it can be tempting to try to complete the requested revisions as quickly as possible. Depending on how long you’ve waited for these notes, you might be excited to dive back in right away. It’s also easy to think that the faster you revise, the faster you can get your manuscript off your desk and on to the next step.
However, this mindset can lead to rushed revisions that require more time and work in the long run. Unless you are working under a tight deadline, consider giving yourself at least a few days between reading the editorial notes and making any changes to your manuscript. Taking time to consider the notes and to think through revision possibilities often results in stronger revisions.
Rule #3: Keep your ultimate destination in mind
Just like you need to know where you are going before you start a road trip, it’s important to know what your goals are before you embark on a revision.
After you finish a draft and before you start revising, consider setting aside some time to write down your goals for the story. This step can be as simple as writing a few lines about what you want the book to accomplish. What do you love about this story? What made you want to write it? What emotions are you hoping to evoke in readers? Do you want them to fall in love with your characters, do you want them to bite their nails in suspense, do you want them to laugh or cry, do you want to make them reconsider certain assumptions? When readers finish your book, what feeling, image, question, or thought do you want to leave them with?
Once you’ve written down your story goals, try putting them somewhere that you will see often—such as posting them near your writing space or making them part of your desktop background. Putting your goals for the book on paper can clarify your vision, serve as a compass for approaching challenging revision questions, and remind you what you love about your story even when you are focused on its weaknesses.
Your Editor Friend,
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