Friday, October 7, 2011

Making Peace with Revision, by Sarah Perry

Hey folks – I’m hosting a bunch of guests on my blog this month, to offer a broader perspective on writing. If you are a first-time visitor interested in the craft of writing, please scroll down to the list of topics on the right, and browse through the archives, for lots of advice on how to be a better writer. Today my guest is Sarah Perry, an author and librarian, talking about revision. 

Sarah Perry:

Congratulations! You’ve completed a first draft of your manuscript. You’ve managed to restrain yourself from sending it off to anyone and everyone who might publish it. Now you’ve come to that special time in the writing process: revising. If it strikes fear and dread into your little creative heart, you’re not alone. Revising can be a painful process. For one thing, you look back through your words and find glaring mistakes: grammar goofs, plot holes, dull characters, telling rather than showing, lack of description and a whole host of other embarrassing things. The perfect gem you had in your mind when you typed ‘The End’ is not what you’re looking at now. How on earth do you mold it into the jewel you know it can be?

I’m afraid I have only one answer for you: hard work. There’s no way around it, only through, but you can do it. Hard work doesn’t have to mean ‘no fun’. You could join a critique group with like minded individuals and have a blast with them while getting a fresh set of eyes on your work. You can attend conferences and workshops and get inspiration and great tips from industry professionals. You can put on your favorite music, eat your favorite snack and spend some quality time with those beloved characters. Enjoy playing God with them and whip their stories into shape.

The number one thing that helps me in my revising is realizing that publishing is a business. If I want to sell to a publisher, I can’t think of it as my baby. I have to think of it as my manuscript. It’s difficult, but you have to detach from the emotions you feel toward your book when you’re revising and try to see what’s really there.

Do you have a tendency to repeat the same thought in three different ways before you move on? (I do). Then pick the strongest and cut the rest. Is the best friend more fun than your main character? Scale her back and add some stronger attributes to your protagonist. Do you have 12 pages of brilliant dialog that doesn’t advance the plot one bit? Mourn it appropriately and let it go.

It’s hard to do, but when you look back you’ll see a stronger story. If you don’t, it’s ok to go back and try something else. That’s what makes word processors so nice. You can save endless drafts and come back to anything you might want again.

It takes time to get it right. I’ve been revising my own YA novel for over a year now but the progress I see from draft one to draft 7 keeps me motivated. It’s getting there, slowly but surely. I know the amount of time and effort I put in before I start querying may be painful sometimes, but far better than trying to shop a manuscript that just isn’t ready. Your manuscript will too.

Some great resources for the revising process:

Sarah Perry is the author of Pajama Girl, a digital picture book about a little girl who gains super powers at bedtime. It won the Grand Prize in the 2010 Meegenius New Book Contest. In addition to picture book writing, Sarah is revising a YA novel, works as a librarian, and is the mother to 2 small children. You can catch up with her on her blog, The Restless Writer, for Kidlit industry interviews, to talk about writing, and more!


  1. "Do you have a tendency to repeat the same thought in three different ways before you move on?" Guilty! Thanks Sarah!

  2. Great tip to mourn it, but let it go.