The Rollercoaster of Revisions


It was a few weeks back, when I was in NY for the MWA-NY panel, that I sat down to lunch and read something that would help me through my editorial revisions over the past week and a half.

It’s weird how these things tumble into your lap and you’d swear the universe sent you exactly what you needed to face the next big hurdle.

I was reading the January edition of Writer’s Digest. Specifically, the Editor’s Letter. Jessica Strawser had an amazing quote from Jo Jo Moyes that framed the entire edition.

“Every time I start a book, I think, I have no idea how I did this last time.”

After I finished reading my editor’s notes on Six Train’s sequel, that was exactly how I felt. It paralyzed me. I had no clue how to fix the story. Because my editor doesn’t tell me what to do, she tells me what she sees on the page and what isn’t working. But she gives me the freedom to come up with a solution.

I absolutely love her for it. But when I begin, I freak out and fear I will muck it up even more. Part of the process requires me doubting everything I did, so I can see it from her perspective. (90-95% of the time she is right.)

A bad head cold meant I wasn’t in the best place to start. I gave myself a couple days. But I could feel my panic growing. If I didn’t dive in soon, I wouldn’t be able to.

So I coaxed myself into working on the first chapter. A toe in the pool of revision.

Since then, I’ve been tackling 20 pages of the book a day and doing massive rewrites. Entire scenes added. Chapters moved around. Character arcs changed. And I’m at page 150 of what is currently a 463 page novel. Because yes, I added 30 pages last week.

But I’m entering the part where I know I am going to be cutting entire chapters. They aren’t needed because so much was moved forward. This is the week I hope/pray to cut 10K words.

Even if I don’t know how I did it last time, I dive in and somehow as I go, I figure it out for this story.

How do you approach revisions? Do you have a set method that works for all your books? Or do you have to find your way through each one?





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29 Responses to The Rollercoaster of Revisions

  1. We can do things when we’re immersed in them can’t we, but when we’re out of the immersion we can certainly wonder how on earth we managed it, and we can convince ourselves we couldn’t do it again, but clearly if we’ve done it before, we CAN do it again. I know when I’ve looked back over past university essays I wrote, or projects reports I’ve produced for work, I can feel that same sense of – How did I do that? I couldn’t do that again! I think we should remember this before we dismiss things we’ve never tried simply because we think we could never do them! I don’t think I’ve articulated all that very well, but hopefully it makes SOME sense!

    By the way, I finally read Six Train, finished it on Friday, loved it! Don’t be afraid to prompt me about writing a review if you don’t see one appear soon, I’m not always very good at getting round to those which is very bad of me, and I don’t mind being nagged about it!

    • Exactly. When we’re in the thick of it, the neurons are firing and it’s clicking and then months later I scratch my head and ask “How did I ever do it?’
      That’s a great thing to remember when faced with a brand new task. Even the stuff we’ve done feels challenging. New things can get done too!

      Aw thank you so much! I’ll definitely give you some time before I hit gentle nudge mode. 🙂

      I’m tearing the sequel to pieces right now. My betas did great work, but I was stubborn and didn’t make as many changes as I should have. Sometimes I have to hear something 3-4 times for it to stick/make sense. Now I get it. Or at least I hope I do. The problems in this book are my fault. False premises that lead to bad pacing and my own fear of what came next for them. But I’m digging in.

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    I didn’t really have any major revisions with my second book. I tried to work out the kinks in the outline and first draft. But I’ll soon see if my current one will require any huge shifting. Gulp. I hope not.

    Glad to see you’re making forward momentum with yours now. I had no doubt you would!

    • Wow that’s really cool. Congrats! I’ve always had major revisions despite outlining/writing a synopsis. If it does, you know who to talk to about it. This girl!

      Thanks for the support. I always have to add “but this is how I usually feel” when I tell my friends about the status of a book. Because in the moment it feels so impossible, but I know I’ve been there before. 🙂

  3. Pete Denton says:

    I like your approach to revisions. Dip the toe and then dive in. I also think that when you say “If I didn’t dive in soon, I wouldn’t be able to.” typifies my problems at the moment. I’ve been away from the physical hands on of revision.

    I need to get things sorted in my head so I can dip a toe soon!

    • Pete, I could feel the bony fingers of fear tightening around my neck every day. If I didn’t start, I am not sure I could have. Even just set a goal like a chapter or a scene. Start with what feels like something and isn’t overwhelming. Once you get in there, you’ll keep going. I believe in you!

  4. I know you will do what is need to be done dear Kourtney.. and the end result with be polished and just what your editor required.. Keep on top of that rollercoaster .. Love and Blessings Sue

  5. Naxine Kilger says:

    So glad to hear about the sequel.

  6. Lori says:

    I’ve made revisions from my critique group before, but that was only chapter by chapter. I just found my first editor, so I’ll let you know (I say as I bite my fingernails) after she finishes editing my first novel. Thanks for sharing this, so we authors know we aren’t alone.

    • Revisions are tough. I prefer an editor because it’s just one set of comments to work through. Beta reader comments are harder because you’ve got four divergent sources of critique. It’s important but harder to process because of the volume of feedback. Definitely let me know how things go with your editor. 🙂 Happy to share this.

  7. Arlene says:

    I have no doubt you’ll do what it takes to make book #2 as awesome as, or better than, #1. And I REALLY liked #1 🙂 Good luck Kourtney – wish I could offer some useful advice but all I can say is that as a fan, I can’t wait to read it!!!

    • Thanks Arlene! When I look back book 1 felt like it magically came together though my crit partner assures me that it didn’t. Funny how memory can make things seem better. I love that book so much. I just feel like i have to give readers something just as good. Thank you so much! Hugs!

  8. jmmcdowell says:

    Each manuscript I’ve written came about in different ways, and so the revisions have gone, too. I think it would be nice to have one approach that works for all of them, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for me!

    I know you’ll get through these and have another great book to share with us!

    • I think that’s the same for me. Each major flaw was unique to that book. Usually it was only a section. This one is a hard overhaul of the entire story. Oh goodness if I could be that consistent I could love it. 🙂

      Thanks. I hope. I’m around p. 200 of 430. I want to make a pass through the entire thing and do major changes and they see what else needs fixing. 🙂

  9. Mayumi-H says:

    Great post, Kourtney! Good to hear that you’re making your way through those tough revisions with more gusto, now that you’re better. I’m looking forward to seeing what new adventures await!

    I am currently revising my follow-up story to last year’s book. It was a NaNo project that went long, that I really enjoyed pounding out day by day but have come to realize with some time leaving it to simmer that there’s a lot that needs cleaning up. Moving chapters, deleting scenes, adding new characters and changing arcs; it’s all so exciting! Mine is a simpler journey because I’m doing it for myself, but I like to think that all of us who take a more critical eye to a draft jump through some of the same hurdles. As exciting as it is for me to rip apart and rewrite a story, it’s even more exciting to see a real author do it! I’m sure you’ll kick this manuscript’s butt into excellent shape! <3

    • Thanks for cheering me on. It can get really lonely when you’re sitting alone tearing up your book. 🙂 I really want to tell a good story for readers and for Kai and Oliver. I trust my editor and I know she’s going to help me get there.

      Time is great like that. What is invisible to the writer eye suddenly becomes apparent. I knew something was wrong with the beginning, I just couldn’t figure out what it was. I reached the point where I needed someone else to come in and point to it.

      Revising is so important to a story. Even when you are doing it on your own deadline and for your own good, it’s still hard work!

      Do you use beta readers or a critique partner? I think one of the hardest things is learning how to listen to others and balance your vision with their reactions. Betas and critique partners definitely helped me learn to process feedback faster and were a good training ground for working with an editor. 🙂

      Aw, thank you! I really really want to. I think the key for me is having time to focus on the book. My attention was splintered so much in 2014 and 2015. Even when I was working on this my mind was elsewhere with promo stuff and contract stuff and I feel like I didn’t devote enough attention here. I’m doing it now though. My schedule is completely Six Train focused this winter/spring. 🙂

  10. That lunch looks like a good start to give you some stamina Kourtney! I just started my first revision of my novel this week and yes, there are chapters that I worry about and think how am I going to get this right – though there are also the good bits when I think, actually, that’s good!

    • I love a good chicken cobb salad with ranch dressing. One of my favorite salads. It’s funny there are some chapters my editor is like I have no comments here and I’m like woohoo! Then I read them and I wonder how did I do that? It’s confident writing, it’s focused. And how can I do that on all the chapters she needs fixed? I still have flashes of panic but just sticking with my 20 pages a day revision goal is getting me through. I’m already halfway through the first major overhaul.

  11. There’s an old phrase “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” It is like the universe is listening.
    Sound like your revisions are like working in one of those giant train yards with train cars getting unhitched and moved and sorted into a new train going just where it all needs to go.
    Hard work, but you can do it! (but do eat and take naps. Sickie -poo is no fun and a drainer!)

    • Very true. Lately whenever I am stressed over a writing issue, I open a writing magazine and there is an article addressing it. It’s like the universe knows exactly what I need to read and made sure it got into my hands. Yes, the problem is the story is built certain premises. Like I decided certain things wouldn’t be dealt with right away and that killed pacing. But once I made that decision, I built the story around it. Remove that decision and everything moves around. Thank you! This is the hardest editorial revision to date.These sniffles won’t go away. Longest running cold ever. Grrr. But I am able to work out and get stuff done.

  12. I love the revision process, because I believe that’s where the magic is. I start with the big issues, then work my way down. I used to jump all over the place, but my system has become a bit more streamlined. I tend to work in layers, I guess is how I’d describe it. Glad to hear you sounding positive again!

    • I like it better when I don’t have a deadline.:) That stresses the beejesus out of me. The will I get it there in x days is a definite nail biter every time. That sounds like a good approach. LOL. It depends on what time of day you talk to me. Sometimes it’s an epic mess, something it’s coming along, sometimes I’m almost happy with it. 😉

Any thoughts or reactions or favorite foods you want to share?