Planting & Watering: What Revision Taught Me

Things revision has taught me:

  • to be flexible
  • to do hard things at my own behest
  • to take care with art and audience after the art is made and before it is launched
  • that exceedingly little in life or a book is sacred and untouchable
  • that I am stronger than I fear I am
  • that my moods affect the distance between me and the story
  • how to begin to separate myself as a maker from the thing I make

First drafts are first only in two things: chronology and importance. Without a first draft, there can be no revision. [Write it!] But the main job of a writer: revise until a fully fledged story is carved from blank space.

I am wrapping up a year in the query trenches for a book of my heart. In that year, I’ve earned 40 form rejections and had about 20 non-responses. No personalized rejections. No stray comments about seeing other projects or toying with this project, as had been my experience querying in the past. Sixty noes.

What to do when a query letter and a handful of pages muster no interest? I could give up, either bitter or defeated. I could keep sending it out as it is. I could make cosmetic changes and keep querying. Or I could go back to the now-carved space, sand it smooth, and carve anew. Revision.

I still believe in this story. I still fall into it whenever I read it. I still believe that if only I could carve the true form of the story, it might have a chance to find an audience.

This particular book has undergone three major revisions, not counting all the in-between edits. Now, as I face a fourth major revision, I find that I am not as reticent as times past. Revision is a chance to carve a better story. It’s a do-over. More than that, revision is the process, and it’s process I have to love to stick with an art-making sort of life.

For a long while, I didn’t realize how much revision could teach me about other areas of my life. In my art-making life, I keep moving forward because of revision. Querying a different book I have since polished, I move forward. When I cook a meal that flops or I volunteer for something bigger than expected, I remember that not everything requires a do-over, that some things can simply be. When my kids are inflexible, I teach them from my own experiences.

Most of life is not given to revisions. No do-overs. Life is not carved from blank space; it is lived and breathed and fundamentally experienced. Because there is no sanding away the mistakes or wrong turns, life requires more intentional care than art. Art can be messy and spontaneous and whatever else it needs to be. And then, for me, revisions require that intentional care be given to the art and its audience.

A Call to Demystify

Here, I wax wordily about the publishing industry. This was definitely an abuse of the six-sentence rule of 6s. Replace semicolons if it makes you feel better.


A Call to Demystify (or, Notes from the High I Maintain Post-Conference)
  • Originally posted on a 6s community on March 27, 2011 at 11:30pm

The nitty gritty culture, our way of life, has a tendency to be highly romanticized. Professions that require long and hard hours of work and worry are as romantic as the sundry street professions despite their struggle and emotion.

When embarking on any new direction, you’d be wise to visit before relocating; you might find entirely more and significantly less than your imagination harbors.

From personal experience, let me remove the veil that cloaks the legal profession, the stay-at-home mom profession, the wife profession, the finance profession: these have delicious highs and bitter lows; they do not permit the elusive notion of “caught up”; they require much, too much at times, from you and all within your circle; they keep you on the knife blade of knowledge and make you dance on the thin, sharp line between what you knew then and what you need to know now.

And, as I’m constantly relearning, writing is like that, too (I suspect everything in life is). The words on the page are merely a set of lines and dots no more foreign or mysterious than you decide they will be, and the people agenting, editing, marketing, illustrating, bankrolling, handselling, buying, and reading the words on the page are merely strands of DNA, like you, like me; so chase away the myst, set the mechanics and their mechanisms in perspective, and tell your story, the one only you can tell.