A lot of Dames have been struggling through various stages of revision lately, and since I’m currently waiting for the revision axe to fall on me (they could arrive in my inbox any time now), it’s been heavily on my mind. I’ve been through the revision process enough times now that I can identify my 5 stages of revision:
1. Dread. This is the stage I’m in right now. This is when I know revisions should be hitting my desk sometime soon, but I haven’t gotten them yet. It’s the stage where I worry my editor will absolutely hate the book and want me to change everything about it. It doesn’t matter how good I thought the book was when I sent it off; I am now terrified of what my editor will say.
2. Panic. The day I receive my revisions is always one of the hardest days in the writing cycle for me. I have never yet received a revision letter in which I immediately agreed with all the editor’s suggestions, and I highly doubt that day will ever come. When I see the email in my inbox and know that there are revisions attached, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach, sure that every wild scenario I imagined during the Dread stage is about to come to pass.
I have to sit down and look over the revisions RIGHT THIS SECOND when they appear in my inbox, otherwise the Panic stage will continue unabated. This means I have to be careful about when I check my email when I’m expecting revisions. Finding the revision letter when I’m about to leave the house–and therefore don’t have time to read through it–is a really bad idea. As is reading it right before I go to bed.
3. Denial. This stage follows directly after the Panic stage. It’s when I’m reading through the revisions and trying to envision how I will address them. As I said earlier, I’ve never received a revision letter in which I’ve immediately agreed with all suggestions, and in this first read-through, I rarely agree with any but the smallest of them (i.e., the ones I know exactly how to fix). I feel surges of righteous indignation, as well as exasperation, as I find out what parts of the story didn’t work for my editor and why. I usually think of other books similar to mine that have done the EXACT SAME THING (these are not usually plot elements so much as style and structure) and been perfectly successful–maybe even spectacularly so. I can’t imagine how I can implement these changes–they seem so huge and sweeping that they will change the entire book into something that is Not Me.
When I’m in the Denial stage, I am not rational. No matter how hard I’ve tried to learn to accept criticism, I don’t suppose I’ll ever be very good at it. Every little criticism feels like something monumental, something that proves I can’t write my way out of a paper bag, that my books aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Even though I’m fully aware that I go through this stage every time–and most importantly that I get OUT of this stage every time–my reaction is still the same. (You can probably imagine just how much fun I had when I had an editor who insisted on giving me revision requests over the phone instead of in writing! Every word she said felt like a body blow, taking all the air right out of me, and my brain was too busy gibbering for me to talk to her coherently.)
I tend to remain in the Denial stage until I sit down to start actually working on the revisions. (I never seem to sleep well on the night after I receive revisions–I try to keep as much of a time buffer as I can between when I read them and when I try to go to sleep at night, but they always seem to circle like sharks as soon as I close my eyes.)
4. Acceptance. Here’s the funny thing about revisions: when they are first presented to me, they seem like they are huge and impossible to implement. But once I sit down and actually start working on them, everything seems to even out in my head. I still don’t agree with everything the editor says–I suspect it’s a rare writer who does–but a lot of the suggestions that sounded impractical or unnecessary or just plain wrong when I first read them suddenly make sense. The scale of the smaller-sounding revisions almost always ends up being larger than I first imagined, and yet once I’ve actually rolled up my sleeves and gotten to work, that doesn’t bother me. My rational mind has returned, as has my shattered self-confidence, and I’m suddenly sure I’ll be able to complete the task. Even when I know there are revision requests for later in the book that I have no idea how I’m going to address, I feel confident that I’ll find a way.
It would be nice to get from the Denial stage to the Acceptance stage faster, if I could start working on the revisions as soon as they come in, but I need time to process everything–and to calm down–before I can be rational enough to get any work done. So I must accept that with each revision cycle, I will have at least one day during which I feel pretty damn miserable. For me, it’s part of the cost of doing business.
5. Relief. Being done with revisions is an indescribable relief. I will not have complied with every request my editor made, but in places where I didn’t agree, I will have thought it out thoroughly and rationally. Often I will find alternative ways to fix what I believe is the underlying problem. (On one recent edit, my editor wanted me to make changes I didn’t agree with in one scene. As I puzzled over it, I realized I didn’t need the scene at all, and that getting rid of it would actually fix one of the other problems later on down the road.) And when the dust has settled, I realize that I agreed with a lot more of the edits than I originally thought.
So that’s my process. Stages 1-3 suck pretty badly, and I would happily skip them if only I could. But Stage 4 is actually one of my favorite parts of the writing process. At this stage, I love my book, and I’m excited about the changes. Changes that will make it better, even if I didn’t see it that way at first. I feel like everything is possible, and somehow this work isn’t so hard after all. It’s so much fun it almost makes going through Revision Hell worth it! LOL