Reviser’s Block

It has been my happy fate of late to have a lot of revisions to work on. This is good news—it means a book is on the way to publication and it means my editor has spotted places to gild the lily. I’m fortunate in that my editor—Deb Werksman at Sourcebooks, Inc.—will call me first and discuss the needed changes, then send me a follow up email summarizing our conversation.

The email is particularly helpful because ten seconds after we hang up, I am completely at a loss to know what we decided about that pesky adolescent secondary character (whose idea was she, anyway?), or the tweaks needed to make the finale just a trifle more resonant with the opening lines. I know we talked for twenty minutes, I know Deb had some good ideas, I know I have a deadline to make the changes, but other than that…. duh.

The precipitous drop in writing IQ and memory persists throughout the revision process. A new scene that should take an hour to write takes all day; some thread I was supposed to clarify in the dramatic arc becomes invisible to me. I drink more decaf tea, play more solitaire, check my email more frequently when I’m working on revisions than I ever do when I’m creating a rough draft. Revisions for me are daunting and painful. My only consolation is that the sense of rolling a boulder uphill befalls some other writers in the rough draft stage. Instead of having to spend a few days pushing through procrastination and brain fog, they have to suffer for 100,000 words at a time.

Still other writers must struggle interminably to come up with a plot, and most of us—I’m convinced—did not get the synopses-are easy gene. But my guess is that the revision process is largely responsible for improvements in my writing. I can’t view my own books with the objectivity of an editor, if for no other reason than after a 100,000 words, I’m tired of looking at the bleeping things. In the same vein, I think synopses are hard for me to write because I’m not an intuitive plotter. I have to work very, very hard to structure my stories so they fit into a tagline. Holy cow, do I honk at coming up with taglines.

There’s hope, though. I’m working on my sixth manuscript for contracted publication, and the synopsis is already germinating. I’m scanning my prospective secondary characters with a view toward their credibility; I’m watching for threads that go nowhere so I can pull them out before they get knit into my prose. I conclude the revision process is supposed to be a challenge for me because as I’m learning how to make one book better, scene by scene, I’m also learning how to make my writing better, and that will benefit however many books I’m lucky enough to write.

What about you? Is there an aspect of writing that once daunted you more than any other, but now shows signs of coming under control? What helped? What made it easier—or what might make it easier in a perfect world? Reprinted with the kind permission of

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3 comments on “Reviser’s Block

  1. Love this post. I’m in the beginnings of some major revisions, deleting one subplot and building a new one. I’ve always loved the revision part until this book, but I’ve never written anything this long and complicated either. I’m going to have to force myself to sit down and my computer and work. But, that said, reading your blog has shown me I’m not alone, so I will get it done, sooner rather than later. Thanks!

  2. Best of luck with the revisions. Maybe next time we’ll find ourselves working “the book that writes itself,” but my guess is there is no such thing on this good green earth.

  3. LOL!! I am currently revising a book so that I can at last hit the stage of sending it out and finding someone who will publish it. I’m with you – I find revising harder than having written it in the first place. With time and experience I will learn. I’m looking forward to the day I have an editor like yours along to help me!