Revision: I’ve Been Here Before

I did something the other day. I shared my first picture book, the one I thought was “close,” to a set of new readers. A few things happened:

  • They said many of the things my other critiquers have been saying.
  • Because they were fresh readers, and this was their first sight of the picture book, their comments gave me a bit of a kick in the backside, a wake-up call.
  • I realized that I still have some deep revision work to do.

Last week, Mary Kole posted a wonderful blog about big revision. In it, she talks about the difference between tinkering and really digging deep, taking apart your story, getting back down to the bones of it and making drastic changes. Here’s a great passage from the post:

…look at the word revision…it means “to see again.” To see your story in a whole new light. To make massive plot, character, and language changes. And having so much on the page already often lures us into a false complacency.

I think I’ve been doing something kind of in between tinkering and the deep stuff. I have made significant changes to the story, at least to the way I tell the story. I’ve been trying to revision the way I see the characters and how I draw them on the page. I’ve been playing a lot with what I write into words, and what I leave for an illustrator.

But–as these new critiquers brought home to me–I haven’t gone deep enough. I still need to answer questions about the purpose of each character (thank goodness there are only three!) in the story. I need to think about who’s story this really is, and why. And I need to seriously take a look at that ending and see if it needs to be tossed out–if it’s simply leftover from that initial idea, rather than being the true way that everything comes together.

Back to the bones. Not just picking up the ones I’ve scattered around, but figuring out–for real this time–which bones I need and what they do. Maybe the wrist bone isn’t connected to the arm bone. Or maybe it is, but I’ve stuck a leg bone in by mistake. I have, possibly, been spending too much time laying the muscles and skin over a not-yet-sturdy assemblage of parts.

I absolutely believe everything Mary Kole says in her post. I’ve told people the same thing a hundred times. I’ve told it to myself. I know it all to be true.

This doesn’t mean I’m not nervous about whether or not I can do it. Or how.

But…this is what it’s all about. It’s as Mary says: “…it’s those writers who have the guts to start over in a piece that usually reap the biggest rewards.”

And it’s one of those writers who probably said best, how I’m feeling as I head into this next revision:

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9 thoughts on “Revision: I’ve Been Here Before

  1. Becky, you are always so willing to not be ‘precious’ about your WIP – I don’t know how you do it. I’m thinking of getting a Kill Your Darlings t-shirt on cafe press, just to remind me to cut and cut deep. I love the definition of revision as “to see again.” And watching a little Kenneth Branagh always makes me smile – and want to charge into a crowd of french people, but I digress. 🙂

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    • beckylevine says:

      Oh, the “precious” is so there, lots of grumbling and whining around here, believe me. I haven’t see the Kill Your Darlings t-shirt. I might need that! And I know what you man about Kenneth Branagh–in that scene, he could almost make ME want to go into battle. You know, if I had a big enough sword.

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  2. You know, we all have to learn how to accept the hard truth and still have the courage to move forward with our work. It’s not easy. It’s scary. But from the tone of this post, I think it’s clear that you have in your heart what you need to do. Just need to squeeze it out onto the page. Good luck! 🙂

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    • beckylevine says:

      Thanks, Julie. It’s not so much courage as the knowledge that the alternative is staying put or going backward–just not much of an option!

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  3. claudine says:

    Becky, I really admire your commitment to excellence. I’m not sure I will be able to be so brave when I get to the end of this current draft. There will be a whole lot of tweakin’ goin’ on, but the deep cutting. Oy. I’m not sure I can handle that.
    I really get the truth of your post, but I’m going so slow that I’m not sure I will take the time for major changes.
    Maybe I’ll feel differently when I actually get to the end.
    Anyway, I appreciate the post very much. And, if I follow it, I’m sure my mc will be glad.
    Claudine

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    • beckylevine says:

      Claudine, I really feel the problem with the tweaking (of which I do so much, too!) is that it makes the surface look all pretty and shiny and makes it HARDER to do the deep cutting. At least for me. I think that’s part of why I’m scared–I kind of LIKE the surface of what I have. A lot. But the guts just aren’t there yet, I don’t think. You can do it!

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  4. Oh, Becky. This is one of the hard truths of writing, isn’t it? I had several drafts of Chantress where the story almost worked, but not quite, and in the end the only cure was to take it all apart and begin again. Like you, I knew that — but it does take courage to actually do it! You have that courage, though, and I’m wishing you luck.

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    • beckylevine says:

      Thanks, Amy. I’m feeling more brave this week–or at least more determined. I keep telling myself I’ll see the possibilities when I have that time to really focus on it. And then I keep telling myself I hope that’s true!

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