How Writers Revise: Andy Abramowitz

Andy Abramowitz never set out to be an author, though he’d always loved creative writing. But when having kids shifted his focus from his music career, he picked up his old hobby as a creative outlet. Five years later he sold his first novel, Thank You, Goodnight, to Touchstone press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. When that imprint folded shortly afterward, he wrote his follow-up book not knowing whether it would ever find a publishing home and discovered he loved the creative freedom of  “writing that book believing that it was going to end up in a drawer.” Luckily for his readers it didn’t; the hilarious and touching A Beginner’s Guide to Freefall came out in 2020, and his third novel, Darling at the Campsite, releases June 8, both from Lake Union.

I asked Andy how he processes editorial feedback, and how he decides what feels right for his story and what to disregard. The boldface in the final graf is mine—Andy articulates so well what I think so often authors aren’t taught as we work to improve our craft: Writing is rewriting. The editing process isn’t just the necessary cleanup after the “real work” of writing is done–it’s the heart and soul of what writing is.

“I began to fear that any editorial suggestion, however slight, would make me queasy.

–Andy Abramowitz

When my first novel was acquired, I was so caught up in the shock and gratitude that somebody wanted to publish it, I was prepared to fully surrender to the developmental edit. Whatever they wanted to do, I’d comply. Add an alien invasion to my family drama? Fine, I’d work it in. But sooner than I expected, the drive to be easy and accommodating gave way to its opposite, and I began to fear that any editorial suggestion, however slight, would make me queasy. After all, how could someone who wasn’t me know better than I what was going on inside my characters’ heads?

The key to embracing editorial feedback, in my view, is embracing your editor. It’s a reciprocal relationship: your editor establishes trust by making suggestions that feel right, and in turn, you oblige and fearlessly follow where she or he leads.

How do you know what feels right? The answer to that question sounds cheap and cliched, but it’s the right one: trust yourself. Why? Because you’ve earned the right to. I may not have the extensive bibliography of, say, Stephen King, but after three novels, I give myself permission to know what could work, or what isn’t true to the world I’ve created, or what feels like a risk worth taking.

I encourage you to look at it this way: if you completed a novel—no small feat in and of itself—you deserve to sit in judgment over editorial suggestions. Never believe you’re the only one who understands your characters, but always believe in your gut.

I’ve had the immense pleasure and good fortune to work with two enormously talented editors with my three books. (One of them runs this forum.) And I can honestly say that they each made my characters richer and my stories more rewarding. I’m paying them a compliment here—they have my eternal gratitude, and they know it —but I’m also patting myself on the back, because I had the courage to hear an idea, commit to it, and follow it. My editors made my novels a thousand times better, and you’re hearing that from someone who thought his first drafts were perfect. (That’s a joke.)

The key is to view the editorial process as of equal importance as the initial drafting. Editing is not about fine-tuning, so you shouldn’t go into it with that mentality or you won’t be open to real improvement. As one of my favorite authors, David Small, once told me, the first draft is all about telling the story to yourself; the editing is where the real work gets done.

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How Writers Revise