Conference 2012


My view of the

Revisions Workshop




My view after the Workshop ;)

















































































































Rewriting, Editing, Proof-reading...Oh My!


(Workshop first given at the Romance Writers of Australia conference 2012)


Yes, even when you have been multi-published, you still get revisions.

What?  So you mean all that hard work, all that time spent choosing the exact right word in every sentence, doesn’t make it perfect?  Unfortunately, rarely. But the bright side is that any revising skills you can cultivate are not just for your first book, but for your career.

I, in fact, love revisions.  Adore them.  Maybe that comes form the fact that my first drafts are all over the place, written out of sequence, with yellow highlighted bits where I couldn’t find the right words, with important information revealed in several places until I discover at the end when the big reveal should really be.

And here’s where I consider myself like Michelangelo ;).

About the statue of David, Michelangelo said that figure was always inside that block of marble, it was merely his job to him to unearth it.  That’s what writing feels like to me.  I mostly start at the first scene, but from then on it’s a free for all.  If I get an idea for a later scene, I write it.  If I know how it’s going to end, I write that.  I chip away at whichever bit feels right on the day.  Since the book’s all there, in my head, it will all come together in the end.  Just ask Michelangelo ;).

Revisions are where I hope to carve my work of art from a lump of raw marble.  Note the word ‘hope’.  It still springs eternal!  And here are some of the ways a writer might go about it.



Rewriting begins from the moment you have the first idea...

Stephen King: When asked, "How do you write?" I invariably answer, "One word at a time."

PLOTTING:  knowing where the story is going, knowing what you’re writing towards can make for less reworking once you hit the end.  Also, when working with an editor, they can say before you write a word whether it might be the kind of thing they’d buy.

CLEAN FIRST DRAFT: Some writers edit as they go, reading the last days pages before moving in with today’s new words.   Again meaning there is – hopefully – less need for editing once complete.

E L Doctorow: 'Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.'

SHORT FIRST DRAFT.  Some authors write what they do best eg. let the characters just talk and add in the action later.   Or vice versa.  Play to your strengths.

PANTSTING THE DIRTY DRAFT:  Write whichever scene is most vivid inside your head.  Saves time slogging through the tough bits.  Piece together at the end.  Also, being familiar with working this way, when revisions come in from an outside source you can rework with confidence as you already know you can do it!

C J Cherryh: 'It is perfectly okay to write garbage--as long as you edit brilliantly.'


Andre Jute:  ‘Good novels are not written, they are rewritten. Great novels are diamonds mined from layered rewrites.’

Rewriting is the process of making contextual changes to your manuscript.

·         Have a fabulous beginning and end.  Will your opening paragraph grab an editor?  Will the ending of your book make a reader desperate to pick up the next book?

·         Be clear.  Are your characters goals, motivations and conflicts clear?

·         Delve deeper into missed opportunities.  Make the very most of any themes and through-lines.

Anton Chekhov: 'Don't tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.'

·         Fill in plot holes.  Again, clarity.

·         Minimise back story.  The most imminent action is the most exciting to a reader.

·         Check that POV transitions are unmistakable.

·         Make sure each scene is written in the POV character’s voice.

·         Delete favourite scenes in their entirety because no matter how glorious the prose it simply does not propel the story or romance forward in any way.

·         Flesh out or slash to hit required word count.

Henry David Thoreau: 'Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.'


Editing is the focus on readability.

·         Delete redundant passages.  If you can say it once, don't say it three times.

·         Find a better way to put that one word you just couldn't remember the first time.

·         Clean up your bad habits.  Such as word repetition, run on sentences,  anything that makes the reading experience jarring.


Proofreading is checking for correctness.

  • Check grammar, spelling and punctuation.
  • Make sure your manuscript is correctly formatted.  Double-spacing. 1-inch margins all around.  Clear readable font (most often Courier New or Times New Roman 12)

revisions methods

F L Lucas in Style: 'Every author's fairy godmother should provide him not only with a pen but also with a blue pencil.'

·         Print the book out.  Editing on paper a very different experience.

·         Read the whole book out loud.  All the better to hear clunky phrasing and inconsistency in character voices.

·         Stick it in a drawer.  Time away is like sorbet for the mind.

·         Learn the mechanics of using your writing program.  Track changes.  Document map.

  • Most of all, be fierce!  Learn to separate the scenes you adore from what works for the story.

book's done, now what?


H G Wells: 'No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft.'

  • Paid critique
  • Critique partner/group
  • Beta readers
  • Contests
  • Editors and agents.  If you are looking to sell to a publisher, in the end it’s the guy with the chequebook whose opinion matters most.


Amos Bronson Alcott: 'Sleep on your writing: take a walk over it; scrutinize it of a morning; review it of an afternoon; digest it after a meal; let it sleep in your drawer a twelvemonth; never venture a whisper about it to your friend, if he be an author especially.'


If you’re like me, you could read your book a hundred times and change ten things on every page every time.  On this score you can only go with your gut.  And even when you believe its done, you’re probably going to get revisions at some point anyway! 


Philip Unwin: 'The long-lived books of tomorrow are concealed somewhere amongst the so-far unpublished MSS of today.'


·         Form rejection vs revision suggestions.  Any revisions suggestions are a good thing.  The more the better!  Means they see potential.

·         Typical editorial comments (for Harlequin Mills and Boon) are more emotional punch, more focus on hero and heroine.

·         But they’ve asked me to change half my book!  Now’s the time to grow a thick skin.

John Lennon & Paul McCartney: 'I can make it longer if you like the style, I can it change round and I want to be a paperback writer.'



It can happen!  But it’s so rare it’s as scary as it is exciting ;).


Luck.  Editorial tastes – like readers’ tastes – can and will vary.  It can be as simple as having the luck to land on the right desk at the right time.

Timing.  A vampire book might have been a hard sell ten years ago, a bestseller last year, part of a saturated market this year.

How many sets of revisions are too many?  Again, you can only go with your gut.  Weigh up how keen you are to sell to this platform, versus how much you are willing to change your story.   It’s your call. 


Readers are fickle.   The book they are reading today sells them your next – or makes certain they’ll never buy your name again.  Make sure it reads clean, and reads awesome.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: 'I am never indifferent, and never pretend to be, to what people say or think of my books. They are my children, and I like to have them liked.'

Do as you’re told if you want to sell?  Or refuse to change a single word because you love it just as it is?  All depends on your goals. To finish a book?  To self-publish?  To sell to a small press?  To see it in paperback?  To see it in your local bookstore?  To sell to one of the big publishers?  To make millions?  To get worldwide release?  To forge a long career writing what you love?  All of the above?

And just to make the whole thing trickier still, once you sell a book, you get deadlines, and all of those lovely time-consuming ways you had to revise your first book dry up in a second.

So find the bits that work for you.  Try new ones in case they work better.  And in the end, go with your gut.

Michelangelo did, and look how that turned out.

Happy rewriting!




All articles copyright © Ally Blake, not to be reproduced without permission.











































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