In between college and when I went to get my masters degree in creative writing, I worked as a fiction editor at a publishing house in New York. I learned about all the journeys a manuscript takes on its way to becoming a book—from its cover design, to the strategic selection of its publication date, to the marketing that gets it picked up off a shelf and into the hands of the right readers. As an aspiring writer, the most valuable lesson I learned during my days at the publishing house was the power of focused revision.
Writers are touchy. And writing feels very personal. Getting a twelve-page revision letter from an editor is enough to send many writers back to bed for a week. I had new writers call me crying after I’d sent them what (I thought) was a very positive and encouraging revision letter. And I can understand that fear. In high school and even college, I loathed the idea of revision. When I was finished with an essay or a short story, it was over, done. I’d completed it to the best of my ability. I never wanted to look at it again. That was then.
These days, I see revision as the moment when my stories really begin to sing. Every first draft feels impossible for me. Every revision gets the book closer to what it always wanted to be. Revision is FUN. You just need a little help from your friends and separate file to keep all the scraps you’ll have to cut (maybe they don’t belong in this book, but surely you can write them into your next one). Here are some tips I try to write and revise by:
- Don’t revise while you’re writing. I could revise all day long and never write anything new. I make myself draft forward, instead of going back in to revise. I do that all the way through until I’m completely finished with a first draft. Then I have a foundation. Then I can go back in and make it better and have fun.
- Once you’re finished with a first draft, take some time and space off. A week is good, a month is better. Don’t even open your document. Take a breather. Read some books. Do the things you’ve been abandoning while you were finishing that book. Let your mind breathe, marinate.
- When you’re ready to dig back in, read the whole thing once. I load it on my Kindle, but before I had a Kindle, I would just read it on the computer (changing the font to something else, which makes it feel, bizarrely, like you’re reading something completely different—Try it. It works.) Read the whole thing in as few sittings as you can. Make notes on what stands out as working really well or not at all.
- Based on the notes from your reading, take a stab at revision. Are there scenes you can’t see clearly? Flesh them out. Is your character feeling something on page 26 that doesn’t ring true in the larger context of the book? Reevaluate her emotional landscape. Are you bored? Trim the word count 10%! (A daunting but excellent rule of thumb) Did you laugh out loud or cry? Pat yourself on the back.
- When you have one or two revisions completed on your own and you think your manuscript is really good, that probably means it’s time for someone else to take a look. Find a friend who you can swap stories with. If you don’t have writer friends, join a book club or a writing group to make some. I’ve done that in every new city I’ve lived in. Expect your reader to come to you with suggestions. Accept that your book is not perfect and will benefit from taking your readers’ questions into consideration.
- Don’t follow advice from someone who doesn’t understand what you’re going for.
- Do follow advice from someone who pushes you further than you thought you needed to go. There should be a voice in the back of your mind that says, “ohhh, this sounds really hard but it might be just the thing this story needs to be great.”
- Go back to your book and make it better.
- Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
- Never give up—not after the first rejection letter or the hundredth.
- In terms of publication, all you need is one person to say “yes.”
Lauren Kate is the bestselling author of "The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove", "Fallen", "Torment", and the newly released "Passion"! You can find out more about her work on her official site.
Aren't these editing tips fantastic? I had no idea Lauren had a job as a professional editor, but it really shows in these expert tips! I've already been working to apply them to my work, and I hope they come in handy for all your aspiring writers.
This post contains content some people may find upsetting.
My name is Laura Kreitzer, and I’m the author of the Timeless Series and the Summer Chronicles. This week I would like to alert everyone on a colossal crisis that’s gone unnoticed in the world: human trafficking. That’s why I’ve asked hundreds of blogs to be involved with spreading the word on this issue that’s become close to my heart.
As an author, and someone whose life is put in the spotlight, I keep most people at a distance. Only a handful of my friends know the whole me and the events from my past. But this week I’d like to share with you a part of myself that the outside world doesn’t see (and a part of me I don’t like to share). I was emotionally abused for five years by someone I thought loved me, my mind beaten into submission. Though the turmoil I went through doesn’t penetrate as deep as someone forced into slavery on the worldwide market for human trafficking, I can sadly relate in some ways: imprisoned, my life dictated down to what I wore, ate, where I went, whom I spoke to, where I worked, when I slept, bending to his every whim. He did not sway, even when I cried through some of the more traumatic things he had me do. I was a slave in my own home. In my desperation for freedom, I held out a gun and asked him to just end my suffering. I was desperate.
I can’t even imagine how many women (and men) in the world are in a similar situation. What’s even worse, I had it mild compared to the children that are sold for labor or sex. Surprisingly, the good ol’ U.S.A. is reported to be the host to two million slaves. Did you know this? Because I certainly did not; not until I was preparing to write my newest novel: Phantom Universe. The main character, Summer Waverly, was stolen as a child and sold as a slave to the captain of a modern-day pirate ship. From a loved child who only knew “time-out” as punishment, to being whipped into silence was something I knew nothing about. So I researched deeply into human trafficking and the psychological effects of torture of various types that one would endure in these circumstances. I felt shaken at my findings and knew I had to tell Summer’s story. (Read a sneak peek here.)
A storm began to brew in my mind; transforming, morphing, twisting, and expanding into this massive, black cloud. I had to bring this tragic atrocity to the forefront. My own emotional experiences, mixed with the research I did on human trafficking, made me feel an intense connection with Summer, and to all women who’ve been through this kind of brutality. The cloud ruptured and rained all over my computer one day. It took one month to write Phantom Universe, the first in the Summer Chronicles. I was so consumed by the story that I wrote nearly nonstop, only breaking for necessary tasks like eating, showering, and occasionally—very occasionally—sleeping.
Though the book I’ve written would be classified as Science Fiction, or as I’d like to call it, Dystopian, the emotions and psychological aspects are not Science Fiction—they're real. Reviewers have said many amazing things about Summer, this character who is so real in my mind and who I cried along with as the words poured from my soul onto my screen.
“I admired Summer's strength and ability to adapt,” says CiCi’s Theories. “I felt tied to her emotions,” Jennifer Murgia, author or Angel Star admits. And Tahlia Newland, author of Lethal Inheritance, remarks, “Summer is strong and smart in mind [. . .]”
Through her overwhelmingly horrendous past, Summer goes on more than just a physical journey in Phantom Universe, she goes on a psychological one as well; growing beyond her mute state to persevere and survive in a new world beyond the whip she’s so frightened of.
Now that the release date is here, I’m excited and terrified to share this story with everyone. I’m emotionally tied in every way to the words I’ve written, because they’re more than words. More than just a story on a page. Beyond the fictional aspects, there’s a real issue that needs to be addressed: human trafficking must be stopped. We shouldn’t sit idly by while this continues to plague us. Our world’s children—our nation’s children—are being affected. It’s time we take action!
“DNA hopes to help abolish modern day slavery, deter perpetrators, and free the many innocent and exploited victims. We are committed to forcing sex slavery out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
Freedom is a basic human right and slavery is one of the greatest threats to that freedom. No one has the right to enslave another person.”
—From DNA Foundation’s Website
I ask that you spread the word to everyone you know. Look around on the DNA Foundation website and find a way to get involved in ending human trafficking. Take action today. Everyone has a voice—you have a voice. Will you have the courage to use it?