Monday, September 12, 2011

Conflicting Advice on Revisions? What the Professionals Say

As some of you may know, I spent the weekend at the SCBWI Working Writers Retreat. And first, let me say, “Wow. Just wow.” It’s amazing how a group of people, all with the same intense passion as you can create this buzz. Bouncing ideas back and forth, reading and rereading revisions with one another…not to mention the intimate setting and the craziness of living alongside (and singing karaoke with) well-known agents, editors, and authors such as Jen Rofe (agent with Andrea Brown Lit.), Sarah Ketchersid (senior editor at Candlewick), Tim Travaglini (former editor for Penguin), Judy Enderle and Stephanie Gordon (authors that between the two of them have published over a hundred titles). If you haven’t been to a writing retreat before, I’d recommend it.  The experience and opportunity for bonding is priceless.

One of the questions that came up over the weekend was what to do when, as a writer, you receive conflicting advice during the revision process. If you have several critique partners or beta readers, such as I do, you may have run into this dilemma. One person tells you something's weak, another tells you it's strong--whose advice do you take? 

Here’s what the industry professionals had to say:

1.       Take it all in and don’t react to the comments/suggestions right away.

2.       Read between the lines of the comments. When someone says the middle is slow, maybe what they really mean is that the tension and conflict needs to be stronger throughout the second act. If someone says I felt really jarred and confused in the beginning, it’s possible they mean the story is starting too late and needs to back up a bit (which was actually said to quite a few people this weekend. Goes against everything we’ve heard about starting with action, right?).

3.       Pay attention to the repetitive comments. If the same suggestion or issue keeps arising, there may, in fact, be a problem area in your manuscript.

4.       Revisit your original vision. If you’re not sure the advice given is right for your story, go back to what your vision was in the beginning.

5.       Play with the ideas. You can always go back to the original version. Just “Save As”

6.       And most importantly, go with your gut and write for yourself. If you make every single change that every single person suggests, you will start to lose your original vision, and essentially YOUR story.


  1. I say become famous like Sn00ki from Jersey Shore and then you can just say whatever you want and you shall be a bestseller.

  2. I found this #2 advice so interesting, "...jarred and confused in the beginning, it’s possible they mean the story is starting too late and needs to back up a bit"
    Yes, that really does go against what we've repeatedly been told, doesn't it! It's a big change.

    In my case, I rewrote my first pages so my novel didn't begin where I originally envisioned it would. But with hard work, and many revisions, I managed to have my final published beginning start right off with the advised action and still hold true to my vision.

    I would be really interested to see if this particular piece of advice reflects an upcoming general industry change. Hmmm...

  3. Jodine,

    I questioned agent Jen Rofe about this and she basically said it depends on the story. For those whose MCs change significantly right at the beginning of the story, it was recommended to back up merely to show what the character is like before he/she changes. By doing this, readers are able to see the character unravel and experience the changes along with the character, ultimately increasing empathy for the character.

    Makes sense, even if it does go against what we've been told all along.