WMBTSG Day Seventeen (Comment to this post to enter the drawing)

Welcome to day seventeen of the Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway. Today’s giveaway is Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon.

Professional editor and author Elizabeth Lyon offers aspiring novelists the guidance and instruction they need to write and edit well-crafted and compelling stories that will stand out from the competition and attract the attention of agents and publishers, including:

  • Stand-out style techniques, from accessing an authentic voice to applying techniques of “wordsmithing” that transform prose
  • How to rewrite characterization for dimensionality, a universal need, and theme
  • Adjustment suggestions to match the prose style and structure of specific genres
  • Correct grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style
  • Strategies to strengthen story beginnings and endings
  • Methods for increasing plot stakes, creating movement, and adjusting pace for maximum suspense


Elizabeth Lyon is the author of six books for writers of fiction and nonfiction. They include Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write, A Writer’s Guide to Nonfiction, The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit, A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, and National Directory of Editors & Writers.

An independent book editor for two decades, Lyon enjoys the challenge and discovery that are a part of editing, each manuscript an original creation. Her work has helped nearly 50 nonfiction writers to break into print, a dozen novelists to get first or subsequent contracts, and many more to win contests. She is an enthusiastic teacher and speaker at writer’s conferences and events, as well as at her “I’ll Come to You” custom-made workshops for groups of writers living across the states and in Canada. Elizabeth Lyon lives in Springfield, Oregon. Her freelance editing company is Editing International.


Today’s question:

Oooo, revision.

Or maybe I should say, Ew, revision!

How enthusiastically or non-enthusiastically do you approach revising your writing?

If this is your first post in the giveaway, please read “Da Rules.”

You may post your comments until midnight PST on September 17th.


40 Responses to “WMBTSG Day Seventeen (Comment to this post to enter the drawing)”

  1. 1 Stacy Smith Rogers September 17, 2008 at 2:25 am

    It has taken years for me to let go of the fact that I can’t organize my writing around one particular thought that I think is the most creative, one-of-a-kind idea that any writer has ever crafted. I’ve learned that what I think one day isn’t necessarily as eloquent as the next. For me, “sleeping on it” is now my way of testing whether an idea/lead or creative thread is really going to work. I look forward to fine-tuning something I wrote the day before. However, there are those times when I wonder what in world I was thinking when I wrote it. I used to find it hard to let go of that lead that I was in love with and would spend way too much time trying to make it work. I’ve learned not to be as stubborn, and to welcome a fresh perspective that deviates from my original draft. When my client or editor requests something different than what I’ve submitted and I need to rewrite, it’s frustrating of course. In the end though, I wind up with something much better than what I started with. I think it’s more effective in this industry to be humble and learn, rather than proud and unwavering.

  2. 2 Laura September 17, 2008 at 4:23 am

    When I write, I always view the first draft as a really rough draft, a place merely to begin. I read once, that it’s better to have a page of bad writing than a blank page, because it’s hard to edit a blank page. Knowing this gives me the freedom to simply get my thoughts down on paper, a kind of permission for ‘bad’ writing. Then the revising begins. Revising is the fun part. The first rewrite. The second. Have someone else read it, or read it out loud. Then another rewrite. I enjoy making the revisions, tightening up the words, the imagery, tying it all together. My approach to revising my writing is enthusiastic.

  3. 3 Cheryl September 17, 2008 at 5:59 am

    I love revision. This is where the manuscript gets polished–and for me, it’s where I add in layers, details I might have missed the first time around, more depth to the characters, and take a look at my weaknesses and built them up. It’s where I try to make the words sing. I love it!

    Of course, by the time I get to the third or fifth or seventh draft, I’m tired of the word and wondering if it’s crap. But then something rekindles my interest and enthusiasm, and I’m back into it again.

    I also love reading books about editing.

  4. 4 Meryl K. Evans September 17, 2008 at 6:08 am

    First rule — close the document with the content that I need to proof and revise. Keep it closed until my eyes return to their bright-eyed and bushy lashes status. I know that when I work with something for a long time, I lose perspective and overlook simple mistakes. We all do. Nothing new.

    But if time is a constraint or it’s not a long piece, then my family happily steps up to proof-read it for me. They refuse payment, but I find other ways to reward them.

  5. 5 anniegirl1138 September 17, 2008 at 7:05 am

    Revision can be awful or it can be a series of “ah-ha’s” that take a piece of writing to a different level than where it began in your mind and on the paper.

    When I was teaching, revising and editing was what I did whether it was helping students or for school related projects, so I don’t dread revision. It’s part of the process and if you don’t like the process – maybe you are in the wrong profession.

    At the moment I am in the fifth revision of what began as a piece of flash fiction for a contest on a fellow writer’s blog. I am discovering with each pass through that the simple story I had envisioned is really far more complex and has the potential to say something about the current state of a few things in our world. Without revising, it would still be a nice but un-noteworthy flash story.

    The trick to revision is having a good beta reader. Someone who will read for what you ask for and whose opinion on whatever the topic is respected by you. You can’t revise in a vacuum. Not totally. The other thing is to remember that you are the author and all final edits/revising choices are ultimately yours (until you sell it and then I imagine the whole process opens up again).

  6. 6 Laural September 17, 2008 at 7:39 am

    Revision is has a different feel than getting down the original idea. A different muse perhaps? Now I like revision just as well as the rush of getting new ideas into words, especially if a talented editor is commenting and I can see the writing getting better. There’s also that nice element of communication, whereas otherwise writing can be quite solitary.

  7. 7 Elizabeth September 17, 2008 at 7:44 am

    I don’t feel ready to revise until I’ve “revisioned” the piece. After I’ve written a rough draft, I discuss it with my critique group. I often come away from those discussions with a very different idea of where the piece could go, or at least, how it can get to its ending. I’m enthusiastic about the new vision but less enthusiastic about the work it takes to get it on the page.

  8. 8 A Musing Mom September 17, 2008 at 7:56 am

    I take the same approach as Laura: get all the jumbled thoughts out on to paper, even in a very messy form. That for me is the difficult, unfun part. But after that the fun begins. I pull the loose threads, untangle the jumbles and knots and begin smoothing it down. I’m enthusiastic about the revision process because that’s when the picture really starts to take shape in the tapestry of words I’m weaving.

  9. 9 Cheryl M September 17, 2008 at 8:35 am

    I do not like to revise. I think it is very interesting to sit down and work through an idea the first time around. I find it less interesting the second time and even less intersting the more times I go through a particular piece. I read somewhere you should revise an article at least 6 times before you send it out (maybe Hope Clark?). I have a really hard time with that. I wish I had some concrete proof or feedback after each revision that yes it it is actually better and I’m not just wasting time tweaking a few things.

  10. 10 Lori Russell September 17, 2008 at 8:59 am

    The flash of creative inspiration and the analytical work of revision are for me the two legs that move my writing forward. I need them both for balance. There are days I don’t approach the process of revision with enthusiasm and that’s when my trusty timer comes in handy. Sit down for 30 minutes. Work. Once I begin, I often find I am working well beyond the time limit. The timer works as a simple way to get me to sit and approach the work.

    Believe it or not, so does deadheading flowers! Snip, snip. The roses look better without the faded petals and the lanky growth that takes off on a tangent that doesn’t balance the overall bush. There is benefit in stepping away from an article or story for period of time in order to see the bigger picture of what I am trying to create. What is this really about? What does it need? More? Less? Then it is back to the document to plunge in again with different tools examining grammar, style, flow, structure, etc. As with the garden, there is a lifecycle that must be followed to get to harvest. Planting, watering, fertilizing, pausing while roots and leaves develop and finally harvest. Revision is an essential step in the process.

  11. 11 rowena September 17, 2008 at 9:03 am

    I have a love hate relationship with revision. For a long time, the very idea has stumped me. I wasn’t quite sure what I should do when I revised. Now, I could revise a poem without struggle, because that’s such small closeup work, but revising a novel just perplexed me.

    Recently though, I think I have begun to come to some understanding. I need to work on the revision of the larger picture, put the book together in a way that makes it a harmonious, sensible whole, pay attention to the details to make sure they fit that whole.

    I still get thrown with indecision, knowing as I do the difference between this character focus and that POV, this scene and that scene. The smallest changes seem to be able to take the story on such divergent paths… sometimes I don’t know where to go with it.

  12. 12 Cara September 17, 2008 at 9:27 am

    I was talking with a professional freelance writer yesterday over the phone, and she gave me this little tidbit of advice: it’s okay to be attached to your work, but not the words, was more or less what she said. My first response was, “Huh? What is she talking about? The work is the words.” Then slowly, understanding began to dawn.

    A writing is a complete thought, and like any thought, it’s often difficult to capture precisely what you mean to say the first time around. The heart of any writing is not the precise words you use to convey that thought but the thought itself. The words are merely the vehicle. I will remember that the next time I have to tighten up one of my writings, or trim a piece down to size to meet a certain word count!

  13. 13 Erika September 17, 2008 at 9:45 am

    I actually look forward to the revision process. Similar to earlier posts, I also do VERY rough drafts. Along the way, I am tempted to go back and make it better, but I’ve learned that means I may never actually get to the end. Getting to the end seems much harder for me.

    Revising is the reward where the good writer you always knew you were finally emerges – even if it seemed hopeless in the first draft!

  14. 14 Chrissy September 17, 2008 at 10:09 am

    I am really bad at even attempting revisions. I love the raw energy I have when writing a first draft, but sometimes my inner critic makes me revise as I write. I keep trying to keep her quite, but sometimes she just won’t stop the chatter. My problem with revision most times is that I lose interest in my piece. When I’m writing the fisrt draft, I’m excited. Once I get out the creativity I lose interest. This is something I struggle with for every piece.

  15. 15 Angie Goodloe September 17, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Well, it depends….. If I really like what I am writing and I have a lot of time, I love revising. If I am on a time crunch- not so much. Sometimes an idea will turn out to be something else entirely- I may save the ideas I am really attached to for a different post (blog post) because they just don’t fit with the main point. Back in High School I used to hand write and physically cut the drafts into pieces and try to shape the piece I was writing like a puzzle- moving paragraphs and sentences around (because I liked to free write as ideas came into my mind instead of the usual form of an essay) Now I love to write on the computer because of all the features you can use like copy and paste.
    My writing could use a lot of work- I am a “newbie” with practice my writing will get better- and so will my revision skills.

  16. 16 Cathy September 17, 2008 at 10:47 am

    If I’m writing an article, I’ll revise as I go along…those revisions tend to be more along the lines of focus and keeping to the points I want to get across.

    If I’m writing fiction, my first story is a rush of words, even if I have an outline or idea of where I want to end up.
    So I tend to need a few rounds of revisions before that writing’s going anywhere (figuratively and literally!).

    But as for the process of revision…I’m glad when it’s over and I can sleep again.

  17. 17 nathalie September 17, 2008 at 10:53 am

    My revision issues are likely the reason I have no completed manuscripts. I’m a pretty good first draft writer when it comes to articles and columns because, well, looming deadlines to meet and all that. I suppose the rough drafts are written in the form of interview notes, notecards and backs of envelopes but once I get to the computer and start writing I’m mentally working on a final draft. This is not a good approach for my fiction and it leaves me stuck. A lot.

  18. 18 Angie September 17, 2008 at 11:11 am

    When I first finish, I think the work needs only minor if any revision. Once I have left the piece and come back after some time, it’s often apparent that I had forgotten how to write when the original piece was typed out. I’m usually amazed at how much revising there is to do. It seems like a huge chore that is going to be nit-picky and unnecessary, but ends up turning an original glob of thoughts on a page into something that communicates my heart.

  19. 19 Mary Jo C. September 17, 2008 at 11:17 am

    Like rowena, I also have a love-hate relationship with revision. And like almost all of you, it depends on the piece I’m revising.

    I LOVE the idea Cara gives about being attached to the work, or the message/essence of the work, not the actual words used.

    Huh! Lightbulb!

    I have found that a rough draft scribbled down when teh ideas are fresh work best if I put it away for a day or two and work on something else. Then I can have amore ciritcal and unbiased eye to revise. However, deadlines make this method a bit more difficult.

    And Cheryl M: if you are who I think you are, pls post your work on our WPSS blog for feedback from our group. That’s why we set it up, sister!

  20. 20 Jennifer September 17, 2008 at 11:24 am

    I love to revise. In fact, I get a bit obsessive about it. Sometimes I feel like I can’t let go of a piece which can make my writing very slow. I read about all you mamas turning out multiple articles and works of fiction and wonder if I have the speed necessary to make it in this profession. It’s hard for me to pinpoint whether I am inefficient with my time, a slow writer or diligent with revisions. But I digress.

    I have experienced the same thing Stacy mentioned. Letting go of my original concept to allow a fresh direction can be difficult for me to do. I think re-imagining the piece in my head or allowing the intended audience to shift helps a lot.

  21. 21 Celestial Goldfish September 17, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Revision is a necessary evil but the end result is well worth it. For many years, I never bothered with revision; I somehow expected the first draft to be magical and inspired, and then when I re-read the stuff I was horrified by how atrocious it was. Pffft. The book “Bird by Bird” was a big help in putting this in perspective for me.

    The first draft is fertilizer for better drafts to come. Editing has become easier over the course of the past year because I’ve been writing more, and therefore must edit more. Flash fiction is excellent practice for revision and tight plotting. Nothing is better than seeing a story develop and transform and getting that positive feedback as a result.

  22. 22 Katrina September 17, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Few of us write perfectly the first time, so revision is necessary. I slog through the initial revisions, then cheer up as the piece becomes more polished. My revisions typically look like this: zero draft (fast, furious, no on-the-fly edit, the draft no one sees); first draft (revise for missing content, structure, all the big stuff); 2nd draft, et al. (once the big stuff is taken care, the little stuff shows up. It’s fine tuning–grammar, spelling, sentence strengthening, etc.; I also always do three individual searches for ‘-ly’, ‘-ing’, and ‘that’, and scrutinize each for appropriateness. I also have another list of my weaknesses, my personal cliches, if you will, used when I’m tired or lazy, that I search for and eradicate.) As for when a piece is “done,” I rely solely on instinct, which I’ve learned to trust. I think in revision, there are certain things that everyone can do to improve their writing, but after that it’s an individual process based on a writer’s strengths and weaknesses.

  23. 23 delia boylan September 17, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    I took Stephen King’s advice on revising. He says to think about “writing with the door closed” and “writing with the door open.” This means that your first draft is the one that’s just for you-you can imagine an ideal reader (and he says you should) but you don’t want or intend anyone to read this draft but yourself. Put anything you like in it. Be daring. The next draft is the one where you “write with the door open” meaning you expect and welcome feedback from your ideal reader (I personally need at least three drafts before I show anyone anything). The other crucial thing he advises is to put the first draft down for 6-8 weeks before you re=read it. That way you come to it fresh. Although I find this difficult, I did it between drafts 1-2 and 2-3 and it really helped me come to my material fresh.

  24. 24 Amber September 17, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Revision is actually something I jump into. (It seems to be productive procrastination.) The line by line edits are easy to do. I can also see where things need to be beefed up a little with more description. It’s after the story has sat for a while that I can let myself take things in another direction or move sections/chapters so it can flow better.

  25. 25 Jaymie September 17, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    I am one of the weird ones who actually likes revising. I like going back to see how I originally put things together and then trying to improve on what is there – add better descriptions, clarify confusing things, and choose better words. I know that my first draft is just a foundation to build on.

  26. 26 Kristina Seleshanko September 17, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    I’m the sort of writer who produces very rough first drafts, so lots of revisions are always needed. I actually LIKE the revision part. Getting the first draft on paper is always bloody and sweaty for me. Besides, once I get to the revision stage, I feel confident I CAN actually finish the book (or other project) and am excited to have the opportunity to make it the best it can be.

  27. 27 Renee September 17, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    I have no problem with revision. It’s what makes us all better writers — attention to detail. For me, the first draft helps me organize my thoughts in an outline form. Then I go back in and fill in the holes. Reading something with fresh eyes is extremely helpful. As for non-fiction articles, I like to read others on the same subject and see if they have format or substance that my version benefits from. When I do write fiction, there is even more re-writing that goes on because a plot and characters can continually change on a day-to-day basis, and I always like to incorporate that into my revisions.

  28. 28 jamsmu September 17, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Its not a matter of enthusiasm. I actually like editing. I thrill in finding typos. (of course, then I also cringe, lose focus and get all upset at the editor of the publication.)

    But when it comes to editing and revising my own work… well… its not as simple. I find it more simple to accidentally lose what I’ve written, get all the frustrations out and come back and write it all again. Its almost always better the second time around, anyway.

    I’ve gotten better, though. I learned to force myself to really read what I’ve written, word for word, whereas I used to simply skim because I *knew* what I wrote. And as with everything, revising and editing call for practice, practice, practice.

  29. 29 Cat September 17, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Ooooh, revision. I really dislike this stage, and as a result, I put it off. Which works well when I have the time. Otherwise, I work right up to a deadline and don’t leave time for revision because I can’t stand to do it. When it’s not a deadline project, I leave it alone for a long time, and when I get back to it, it’s like I didn’t write it, and I can be much less judgmental. A kinder reader. Then, revision isn’t so bad.

  30. 30 Stephanie Craig September 17, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    I also liked Cara’s advice about being attached to the work but not the words. I am a beginning writer, so I am new to this revision thing. In college and in high school, I used to think that my best work was done at the last minute.

    Now that I am an adult and trying to be a freelancer, I see the merit of finishing my first draft early and waiting a week or longer (if possible) to revise. I am able to think and revise more clearly that way. My resulting piece is far better and different than my first draft.

  31. 31 Mar Junge, c3PR September 17, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    I love editing and rewriting. In fact, not only do I enjoy editing my associates’ feature stories, I’ll spend hours tweaking my own. This is not necessarily a good thing when running a business, as we often can’t charge our clients for all the time we put in. But the quality of the end product is important. Editing fiction takes even longer. At a conference for young-adult fiction writers, Author Barbara Shoup said that she prints out every revision of her manuscript. She showed us a photo of a five-foot-tall stack of papers that resulted in a 200-page novel. Whenever I get discouraged, I remember that photo.

  32. 32 Teresa Hall September 17, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    I definitely have to put things away for a bit before I can edit properly. Then I read through a couple of times, just to help me get over myself a bit. At that point I find I can edit fairly easily.

    When I don’t have the time to set something aside for several days, I at least put it aside and work on something else for a little while to get my mind moved a bit from the creation stage. That seems to work for me.

  33. 33 Judy September 17, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    I see revision as part of the writing process. Although I don’t like to start it, once I commit to it, I seem to be able to let “it flow”. I appreciate and agree with what Cara shared. I have found that I can become attached to my words. It helps to let a piece sit and look at it with fresh eyes.

  34. 34 kmcdade September 17, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    I’m often surprised how much revision my pieces really do need! I usually need a second pair of eyes to really get it right. After I finish a first draft, I often don’t want to look at it again right away, so letting someone else look at it is really helpful. One thing I really do enjoy about revision is looking for alternate word choices. I love words.

  35. 35 Eliza September 17, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    I hate revision.

    Hate it.

    I dislike having to rewrite characters or plotlines. It’s hard! It’s analytical! I love the drafting process, because it’s creative. I’m revising one ms right now, and I’ve got another to revise once an editor gets back to me.

    I hate this step mostly because your progress isn’t quantifiable, and it’s hard to tell if you’re making the book better or worse. I recently started a support group for Revisers on LiveJournal, because I know a lot of people in this stage, and I know we can use as much help, encouragement, and as many ideas as possible.

  36. 36 elizaj September 17, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    The first draft of anything is sh*t. – Ernest Hemingway. And you thought it was Anne Lamott who said that!

    I think the first draft is the hardest part. When you have that draft, you have something to work with… a place where your ideas have been planted. Now you need to feed these “idea plants”, nurture and yes prune, prune, prune them to see if they will grow into a healthy, vigorous, self-sustaining slice of writing. Wonderful!

    In writing poetry I like to be ruthless in cutting out every unnecessary word. And yes, I can over do it and lose the plot entirely sometimes.

    It’s a learning process.

    By the way, writing haikus is a tremendous exercise for any writer..

  37. 37 Christine September 17, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    I love revision. Love love love it. My only problem is not starting to revise before I get my ideas down. When I get stumpted at some point I start to reread and revise to get back on track and writing again. The problem is then I get too caught up in the process of the first draft. I’m trying to get myself to plow through the first draft without stopping so that I can return with a fresh eye and make large structural changes first, before spending time on the details. Revising is great fun! But revising in a smart way might be even more fun!

  38. 38 Laurie Thompson September 17, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    When I wrote articles, I loved revising. I spent most of my time planning a solid outline, and from there I could easily keep everything in mind while writing. So, I usually felt like the overall piece was in fairly good shape after the first draft. I needed to do some wordsmithing and fine-tuning, but that part was the easiest and most fun!

    Now that I’m working on a book, however, I don’t even know where to begin with revisions! I can’t wrap my head around the whole thing at once, and I feel like every small change I make will ripple through the project and have unforeseen consequences somewhere else. I also know big changes must be made, but I haven’t figured out how to tackle those at all. I know a book is just a series of chapters, of course, so I really don’t understand why I haven’t been able to “chunk” the problem into manageable bits, but I don’t trust myself anymore, I don’t have a process to follow, and I’m finding myself frustratingly stuck at the revision stage right now.

  39. 39 gb September 17, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    For me, first drafts are agony. I don’t enjoy the the chaos of incomplete thoughts, imperfect images, the lack of depth–I can’t wait to get the first draft out of the way! Revision is where I feel most creative. It’s very satisfying to see the order that springs out of a very choppy first draft.

  1. 1 WMBTSG Day Seventeen: And the winner is… « The Writer Mama Riffs Trackback on September 18, 2008 at 8:39 pm
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