I’ve been revising NIGHT, a picture book poetry collection. I wrote it in 2012, my then-agent sold it in 2013, I received an editorial letter and did a fairly major revision in 2014 (that the editor and I both liked–whee!), and now, I’m tweaking several poems based on some new editorial comments/questions.
I love revision. When I write drafts, I slop any old thing down on the screen. My mantra is, I just need something to revise! That shuts down my inner critic so that the first draft writing is fun and free and low-pressure (usually).
I revised my first draft of NIGHT 13 times before it ever saw my agent or an editor. There’s something so satisfying about revision–I think partially because with revision, I go in with a goal. For a poetry collection, for example, one revision pass might be strictly for meter. Another might focus on concrete nouns. Another might focus on how it sounds read aloud. (Those things all get attention after I’m pretty sure the basic form and content are set.) So with any given revision, I have a fairly specific goal I want to achieve, and I can fairly easily assess whether I’m meeting that goal in my revision.
And the thing driving all of my revisions is getting it to that state where it’s ready to submit to editors, because that’s the first step in the process that will eventually bring the project to readers–my long-term goal.
But then, once you sell a manuscript, there’s the revision you do for an editor. This is always so much more nerve-wracking than those earlier revisions. When I emailed Rebecca Davis, the editor of NIGHT, I confessed:
Boy, sometimes changing one line feels harder than writing the whole dang poem! Maybe because when I’m writing it originally, my audience is amorphous, but once an editor is on board, I can’t help thinking, “Hmmm…will she like that? Is that what she meant?” I know that’s not the point…but it’s hard not to do. I’m really good at silencing my OWN inner editor. Not so good with a real editor! Hehe.
Smart and gracious Rebecca kindly advised me not to worry about what she would like. Instead, “think about what you think will be best for the book.” That feels obvious, right? Wasn’t that what I was doing? But it wasn’t–not really. I was focusing on an editor or even an eventual anonymous reader. And, being a people-pleaser when it comes to writing assignments, I was trying to please them.
So I’m trying to change my habits. As I revise, I’m not asking, “Will she like it?” or even, “Will the reader like it?” I’m asking, “What is best for this book? For this poem?” I’m trying to focus on the creative spark, on the work itself, and ignore the outside world. I’m trying to see only a creation that can be made stronger and more awesome by the addition, deletion, or transformation of just a few words.
Hopefully the finished project will attract just the right readers. And I already know my editor loves the collection, or she never would have acquired it. She’s just trying to help me make it as strong as possible before an artist begins her or his part of the collaboration, and we bring out a book to the world!
While I know I DO want to please my editor and, down the road, my reader (hopefully LOTS of readers), I’m working on putting them out of my mind when I take a deep breath and start another revision.