Revising With Julie, Part Four: Making Edits Manageable
By Julie C. Dao
Hello! I am doing a series that is all about revising books and I hope you'll check out the other posts.
Today's post is all about how to make the overwhelming revision process seem more manageable!
Last month, I discussed the importance of getting eyes on your work. I want to dig in a bit deeper with regard to feedback today. At writing workshops, I often get asked: "How do you know what advice to take and what to leave?" Learning how to receive constructive criticism, what to do with it, and which pieces of advice resonate (or don't) with you can be tricky sometimes.
So here are a few reminders for you:
Remember that this is YOUR book. No one knows it like you do. No one understands the exact vision of this story that lives inside your head.
Think of the feedback as suggestions meant to help your book improve. Nobody should be telling you that you have to do something.
You do not have to do anything you don’t want to do. In the end, if this book gets published, it is going to have YOUR name on it. So make sure that whatever edits you choose to do will turn it the story you want to tell.
All that said, I want to talk about the two extreme types of reactions to feedback.
#1: You are so defensive and stubborn that you refuse to listen to anyone.
I once taught a workshop where I was asked to critique the students' writing samples. During the workshop, they each had the opportunity to sit down with me and ask questions about the critique. One person brought a list that refuted my entire critique, point for point. Every suggestion was challenged with "I don't need to do that" or "That wasn't what I was intending" or "The character seems unclear because I don't explain them until page 250, so you'll have to wait until then," etc.
They didn't want to even consider what I had suggested or listen to anything remotely constructive about their book. This was an instant red flag that told me this person was not ready to have an agent, let alone an editor.
It is going to be very hard to write a good book if you don't want to hear anyone else's ideas. I understand that even the kindest critique hurts sometimes, but refusing to consider it negates the benefit of having your work read by other eyes. So much of writing is a gut feeling. If you tend to be sensitive and defensive about critique, take a little time off to mull over the advice and see if it still doesn't resonate with you afterward. It's fine if it doesn't, but at least you gave it a chance.
#2: You are so eager to please that you try to take every piece of feedback.
This is another red flag that would tell me someone wasn't ready to get published. The #1 rule of writing is: you cannot make EVERYONE happy. There's that saying: "You could be the sweetest, juiciest peach in the world, and somewhere out there will be somebody who hates peaches." You will never, ever, EVER write a book that is universally loved, no matter how talented you are or how amazing the story is.
But you have to know your own worth. You have to be confident in your story and your vision because again, you know it best. Being a writer is all about balancing pride in your work while recognizing that you can always get better.
If you take every single piece of feedback, you will get confused and lose the heart of your story -- not to mention, it's virtually impossible to please everyone. I've gotten feedback from one agent that said "Your book needs more romance," and feedback from another agent that said "Tone down the romance; that's not your focus." It would not be possible to take both of these pieces of advice.
Do not be afraid to admit that feedback doesn't resonate with you, even if it is from an expert like an agent or an editor. They're just people, too, and you know your book best. The same advice applies here: take a few days to let feedback sit and let your gut decide whether the suggestion rings true with you before you apply it.
Here is what I do when I get feedback, no matter who it's from:
I sleep on it. I take the time to step away from the book and the critique, and I let the comments sit. Sometimes I'll give myself 24 hours, and in other cases, I'll give myself a weekend or even a whole week.
After the necessary time has passed, I make a list of everything the person pointed out. No emotions, no judgment, no defensiveness. It's just a grocery list of the things they have suggested, from big to small.
I look over each bullet point on that list, one by one, and ask myself three questions.
Do I agree with this suggestion?
Do I think this suggestion will make my story better?
How doable is this suggestion?
Based on my answers to those questions, I decide what to do. Sometimes I flat out don’t agree with a comment, BUT I take a good, hard look at why the person said that. Maybe they missed my point because I didn’t explain it well enough or wrote unclearly. See if another fix can be applied, because there is always a reason for each piece of critique.
I think about whether the suggestion is going to change my book COMPLETELY. Will I end up with a better product if I make that huge, rippling change? Or will I have a book I didn't want to write in the first place?
Being deliberate and thoughtful about feedback, as well as keeping an open mind, will help you understand how people are reacting to your story. That's what critique really is: a look into potential readers' minds and what they're thinking as they encounter different aspects of the book.
So, once you figure out what pieces of the critique resonate with you, what next? I like to break the book up into workable chunks: specifically, chapter by chapter, as I mentioned in the second post of this series on revision. What is helpful about getting multiple people to critique your work is you can see which chunks or sections have similar feedback. Are they all commenting "WOW!" on one particular scene, or are they all saying that it moves too slowly?
One good rule of thumb I use, if all my CPs are saying that one scene isn't working for them, is asking myself:
What is the point of this scene?
What does this scene accomplish?
Does this scene move the story forward?
Asking myself these questions helps me either pinpoint what needs to be fixed OR decide whether this scene needs to be in the book at all. (I know, it hurts!)
I hope these tips on taking feedback, applying constructive critique, and tightening up your book will help make the revision process seem more manageable!
This is the fourth post of a five-part series on revisions. Here's the schedule for the remaining post:
Monday, December 16: In the Public Eye - I'm going to talk about handling feedback and reviews as an author and a public figure, and how to deal with your book being out there and all the opinions/viewpoints that ensue!