Friday, July 30, 2010

Revision angst

Taking a break from the pirate ship, I'm deep into revisions of Ghosts of Innocence after the critiques received last month.

"Deep into" actually means "somewhere on page two".

It is slow, hard work.

And rather worrisome to my angst-ridden mind.

Writing is fiercely subjective - something that agents constantly remind writers of in their kindly form rejections. That goes for critiques, too. Every word of advice in a collection of critiques is, in its own way, true and valuable. It is a potential reader's honest reaction. And it is highly likely to be contradicted by another critter's advice.

This makes it tough to process critiques and work out how to make use of their words of wisdom. I've concluded that processing critiques has to be just as ruthless (on the part of the author) as the critiquing itself, because trying to please everyone can be deeply damaging to the writing. But it is hard to consciously set aside advice that a colleague has put so much effort into giving.

In picking my way through what to pay attention to and what to ignore, I can at least take refuge in the fact that it is mathematically impossible to accommodate everyone. I had, for example, at least three different suggestions for alternative opening lines. And most specific points that one critter liked another one didn't, and vice versa. But that just highlights how subjective the process is.

This means that there is a serious danger of simply going round in circles from one round of revisions to the next. Something I've already fallen foul of in my opening page this year. My biggest fear is that I'll end up with something not better, just different. Something that may pacify the last group of critiquers, but will still be nowhere near satisfactory to the next.

But I know I need to do something. My first rounds of querying netted a total of three requests for partials and a load of form rejections. I've got a fair level of confidence in my query letter from reviews in several forums, so my guess is that the manuscript is letting me down. It needs to be both different and better.

I need to review the critiques with a critical eye, pulling out what makes sense to me, and rebuild the story taking care not to lose myself in the process.


  1. I know the feeling, Ian. I'm working through a novel's worth of revisions and it feels like I'm going crazy. The process can make one doubt one's abilities to write a wanted add. Keep at it! It's worth it in the end. Ignore the crits that lead away from the story you want to tell.

  2. What I've learned about crits: if you hear the same thing repeatedly, then it means you need to change it. If you hear it once, then it's up to you. Writing is all about gut, so if you've listened and understood the crit and still feel that it's off-base - then it's off-base.

  3. Do what feels right to you. I often take the crit writer's work/style into account when going over their input. Whether their style and level of writing is similar to mine relates to the weight I put on their comments and suggestions. However, if there is a mass agreement that something needs to be changed, it probably does. Happy revising:)

  4. Stella, although the whole novel has been critiqued before, I'd say it was at a superficial level compared to what I just got from CC on this first chapter. And I am trying to approach this as a revision of the whole novel, i.e. lessons learned here need to be carried through, so this effort is new to me. I'm glad to hear I'm not going mad...apart from the fact that it's too late for that ;-)

    Elena & Jean, that is good advice and is exactly what I'm trying to do. I'm certainly paying more attention to repeated comments, and/or things that ring true to me. I think I'd regard myself as a moderately seasoned crittee, but the difference this time is the depth and variety of the critiques. I feel like I'm being pulled apart by wild horses and I keep having to retrench and find MY story again. It is all a bit overwhelming.

    Another thing I just realized is that the comments are relatively easy to process on the micro level (nit picks, word choices etc.), and there is general agreement on the macro level (deeper POV, greater sense of danger). It is the territory in between (sentence, paragraph, scene) where there is huge disparity and the greatest danger of losing my way.


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