This post is part of the monthly How Writers Revise series, where I talk with successful authors about their editing and revision processes, as well as the challenges and setbacks they’ve faced in their careers and how they overcame them. If you’d like to receive these and my weekly writing craft posts in your in-box you can sign up here.
How Writers Revise originally began as a small feature in my weekly newsletter for subscribers, a way to shed some light on a process that seemed to me to get too little focus amid the plentiful material available to authors about writing. Editing and revision are a key part of the process of creating a story—I’m a firm believer that it’s the most important part, where the magic really happens and the story comes to life.
I wanted to help writers see that there’s no one right way to edit or revise their work—just as there is no one right way to write it. So each week I’d ask an author I knew to contribute a paragraph or two about their processes.
Gradually the feature expanded—authors were eager to discuss a process too seldom addressed and their answers grew more in-depth, and I began expanding my introduction to their piece, focusing on another element of writing careers too rarely discussed: the invariable ups and downs of any writing career, and how authors who create successful, long-term careers manage them. I also started posting the interviews on my YouTube channel for other writers to reap the benefits of these authors’ challenges and setbacks and how they navigated them.
But the early days of the feature offered some nuggets of author wisdom about editing and revising that I didn’t want lost in past newsletters, so here they are, a roundup of the first of these prior posts.
Leila Meacham, sadly, passed away in September of 2021, after the release of her epic edge-of-your-seat story Dragonfly, which weaves together the disparate stories of five young Americans who are drawn into espionage in World War II Europe, and must fight for victory, freedom–and their lives.
In July of 2024 her publisher will posthumously release the final book she was working on when she died, April Storm, a dip into a new genre—suspense—and a passion project for Leila.
Here’s what she shared about her editing and revision process:
“My editing, like all my other approaches to writing, is unorthodox, but I blame the Virgo in me. It’s a trait of ours not to let anything go until it is finished, in this case, whether it’s a word, a sentence or a paragraph. So I don’t move on to the next scene until I have given the foregoing my all. That is not to say that I don’t go back the next morning to peruse yesterday’s work and throughout the writing process to revise. As a matter of fact, I have never minded revisions. I love making something better. My approach makes me a slow writer, but then in the final analysis, I don’t have much revising to do when I give the book a final pass over before submitting it to my editor.”
Kerry Lonsdale is the prolific WSJ- and WaPo-bestselling author of stories that offer her trademark romantic, suspenseful, emotional journeys—like her latest, the No More trilogy. Here’s how she handles the challenge of revising her stories:
“I approach revisions objectively and systematically, or I’d like to think so. It took several manuscripts and several rounds of developmental edits on those manuscripts to not take the editorial notes personally, but I’ve learned to dive into revisions like a mother fed up nagging her kids to clean the kitchen. I’ll pull threads like I yank privileges and expound on plot points like I’m piling on more chores. Sounds mean, doesn’t it? But by this point in the editorial process, my manuscripts need tough love. I’ll read the editorial letter several times, highlight the areas that resonate, then I’ll use the letter as a guide to bullet point my own list of revisions and revise from chapter one until done.”
Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke joined me for a longer version of their feature back in April of 2022—one of my favorite interviews, actually, for their candor about struggles they were having in their career when they were dropped from their publisher. (You can see that interview here, and their expanded revision insights here.)
They eventually signed with another publisher and their latest release, Forever Hold Your Peace, is billed as “Father of the Bride meets Bride Wars,” the story of two former best friends reluctantly reunited when their children unexpectedly fall in love and announce their wedding.
Here’s their biggest editing challenge:
“The hardest part of the editing process is when we need to raise the emotional stakes of our characters. We tend to write first drafts that are more plot-driven than character-driven. As a result, the majority of our edit notes are about our protagonists and their motivations. Our editor encourages us to delve deeper and requests in the margins of our manuscripts to let us in! and to show us how he’s feeling! She pushes us to expose the scar tissue and reveal the emotional layers of each person in our story so readers will connect. So that he or she will become so invested in their journeys and ultimate outcomes that they won’t be able to put down the book. And so that the characters we’ve introduced them to will linger in their minds long after they’ve read the last page.”
Lainey Cameron’s award-winning debut novel, Exit Strategy, is a stirring tale of Silicon Valley, sexism, and the power of female friendship. Lainey is now the cohost of the Best of Women’s Fiction podcast, and has launched her own marketing service for authors, 12 Weeks to Book Launch Success. Here’s how she handles her biggest editing challenge:
“The biggest challenge for me is navigating all the different writing advice. It’s easy to get lost in lists of supposed ‘rules’ and forget the most important; finding your own creativity and telling your story.
“It helps me to consider those ‘rules’ to be a simple invitation to question my work. Instead of ‘no backstory or info dumps allowed,’ I ask myself, ‘In this moment, does the backstory I’ve included best tell my story?’ Or instead of ‘never open with a dream or the weather,’ I ask, ‘Does this opening best engage my reader?’ And sometimes the answer is yes. For me, learning which ‘rules’ to break has been a key part of finding my own voice.”