Remembering Revision

I have just reached (maybe) the halfway point in the second draft of my MG, but since I’m writing it 99.9% from scratch (that first draft was really just an idea dump), there isn’t much of what I’d consider revision going on.

And yet I’ve been thinking about it.

Why? It started with the SCBWI Spring Spirit conference last weekend, where I sat in on an excellent revision workshop by Kirby Larson. As Kirby said, we practiced only some of the smaller, more specific revision tasks–it’s hard to do big, global changes in a workshop setting. But a lot of her talk and the general conversation was about revision–how to approach it and how it feels. And I started remembering that I LOVE how it feels. That I love having a (relatively) full understanding of your story in your head and being able to sort and process changes in the context of that understanding. Of being able to think about moving something from here to there and knowing it will fit better. Of realizing that this piece doesn’t add a single thing and knowing you can let it go. Of figuring out what all the placeholders for that one character are for and giving her the actions she needs, in what used to feel like a lot of big, gaping holes of nothingness.

The second thing that happened, also tied to the conference, was that I got a really lovely critique from an agent on one of my picture books. Lovely in two ways: 1) very nice, with compliments as well as suggestions and 2) with feedback that I could really use. That started the revision ideas churning in my head. I’ve already run the feedback and my ideas through my critique group, getting MORE ideas, of course, and this revision will start very soon. And, again, I’m remembering why revision is one of my favorite writing stages–it’s a (very little) bit like Tetris. Your job is to see the shape that’s coming–from a critique or your own figuring-out–and find the right place to lower that shape into. And then, yes, unlike Tetris, you do some shaving and some padding and…SNIK! It fits. Yes, yes, that’s an understatement and probably not at all the right metaphor, but you know what I’m getting at. You have something to work with as you make the changes, and you can see how the changes are going to make that something more complete.

And the SNIK! part is absolutely the best.

I’m not going to get this right, so consider it a total paraphrase, but Kirby said that she has always believed everything you need is in your first draft. She says this, I think, in the context of the times we all look at our early drafts and decide that there are things missing and that we have to add a lot of new stuff. Instead, she suggests, try working with what is actually there. You may need to move an action, a character trait, a need from one character to another. You may need to shift a plot point to earlier or later in the story. You may need to deepen and layer a moment that you previously spent only one sentence on. But things are there. Don’t start your revision by assuming they aren’t.

And that, my friends, is something I’ll be thinking about a lot when I do head back into revision.


  1. Hmmm – I like that thought about the first draft containing everything my story needs. I will ponder that for awhile.

    So glad you are enjoying revisions, Becky!


  2. Jenn Hubbard says:

    I agree that you can do a lot by looking at the ms. for what’s already there but underdeveloped. Look for the loose ends, the symbols that could be repeated, the secondary characters who don’t have enough to do, the places that were only visited once but could appear again. The flashes of underlying emotion that took a backseat to a major plot point in one scene, but could take center stage in a new scene.


    • beckylevine says:

      Yes, there’s a tiny skeptic in me that has to wave and say, EVERYthing, but I would go for way over 90% of what we need. ☺


  3. Thanks for sharing what you learned from Kirby. What a great teacher! And so much of what you said rung true about revision. THANK YOU!


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