The Life of a Revising Writer

I get to offer the next topic in our “Life of a Writer” series. Today, I’m talking about revising.

For many of us, there is a decent amount of celebration when we write THE END. It signifies a conglomeration of ideas, determination, Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard (BIC-HOK), and is a momentous accomplishment. If When you find yourself in this situation, shout it out for people to join with you in celebration, because you earned it.

Used with permission

Then, resist every single idea that creeps into your mind to submit to agents.

Did you read that? Are you listening? Do NOT submit.

Drafting your story was like dating. It’s fun and exciting, you get to see new things, have new experiences, work through some minor quibbles.

But really, your work is just beginning. It has been said that writing is rewriting, and of all the truths that have been uttered in the world, that one is the greatest. Don’t believe me? See what 20 great authors have to say about the matter.

Revision is the courtship, the time when you are sitting down with your manuscript and exploring what it will take to be steady and consistent presence in your future.

I suggest a few steps to help with the matter.

1. Get the Characters Consistent First

Sometimes, mid-drafting, we discover issues with the story line. Love interests shift, magical systems solidify, and the landscape itself manifests itself as a tangible thing. We can see these are the big problems, and as such, want to fix them first.

Resist that.

Yes, these are very important elements that need to be addressed. But doing so before knowing how the characters will grown and change with each of these elements is as effective as putting out a fire with a holey bucket. You will probably get the job done, but it is not an efficient use of time. Knowing, for certain, who the characters are first will allow reactions to be more authentic, will allow consequences to climb higher and the reader to become more engaged.

2. Resist the Temptation to Jump Around

In our multi-tasking “I can do it all” kind of life, we sometimes bring these habits to our manuscripts. There will be times, when you are in the middle of a tricky scene, that you will think of a way to fix one later. The problem is jumping straight there and tweaking then leads to another place you could maybe work and soon, you have spent a lot of time on revision without being able to fully recognize your progress.

People, this leads to frustration.

Select a process that works for you and practice the discipline to follow through. Once I have my characters sorted, I explore the timelines, the individual and combined character arcs, as well as the overall pacing of the story. And when the ideas of how to fix something else pop in, as we all know they will, I jump to that section in Scrivener and leave myself a note.

Truly, I have notes all over that say, “Hey! She really loves (spoiler).” Or, “This is when the (spoiler) happens.” Acknowledge the idea, write down enough to remember it, and then stick to the task at hand.

There are still other methods of how to revise. Laurie Halse Anderson prefers to create a revision roadmap, while Laura Harrington (with Beyond the Margins) offers her own ten suggestions.

3. Find the Fillers

I have great CP’s who help me find my fillers. In my first book, I had HUNDREDS of justs. And my characters all love to laugh, giggle, shrug and sigh. In drafting, these are our hints to ourselves of emotion that needs to be conveyed. But they are very telly, and do nothing to convey characterization. This is a more precise revision (and one that desperately needs the search function).

Have patience, take the time you need to convey your characters in the way you’ve dreamed. I highly recommend these books as guides of how to be more precise in word choice, especially of the emotional variety.

4. Find a Way to Still be Accountable

In the fury of drafting, it’s easy to track progress. Word count wins and is celebrated (or cursed. Yes, I’m looking at you 10k a day people.) But when it comes to revising, it is easy to feel like we made huge amounts of progress when we completed merely a page or two. There are people who track their revision by pages, I prefer to do it by chapter. Either way, set yourself a goal, keeping in mind that a proper work through cannot be as fast as drafting was. If tracking pages or chapters doesn’t seem to work for you, set due dates for yourself.

When will you hit the mid-point?

When will it be complete?

If you are the kind who is lenient with your own due dates, find a contest to enter, sign up for a pitch session, and let the external motivators work their magic.

And then?

Read through again and send to other readers for more feedback. Do not set yourself up for heartbreak and rejection by jumping in before you and your story are really truly ready. Just as we would expect time and thought and consideration would be made PRIOR to a marriage proposal, we need to give these same things to our story.


Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is an editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.