Self-Editing Advice for Writers: 6 Revision Keys & Tips - Writer's Digest

Polish Your Work Before Submitting: 6 Revision Tips

1. Listen to your critique group. When I first began to write, I was fortunate to meet some wonderful writers who became fabulous friends. We met regularly to work on our manuscripts. We worked to give constructive feedback to one another and because we listened to each other, our writing got better. We listened when the group told us the funny parts weren’t really all that funny. We listened when the group thought our chapters were too long. We listened when the group couldn’t relate to our characters. Listening to the group’s honest feedback made us dig deeper into our stories, making them stronger and better.
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When I began my journey as a writer, I was eager – eager to write wonderful stories and even more eager to send them out into the world so that readers could enjoy them. But, my eagerness was met with rejection – lots of rejection. Instead of giving up, I turned my eagerness into determination. I became determined to learn what I needed to learn in order to turn my writing (and my first mid-grade novel, THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET) into something marketable. I learned that my stories needed one thing in order to get better – revision. In order for me to know how to revise my writing, I had to do one thing – listen. Here are six ways in which listening will help you in revising your fiction:

(What are the BEST writers' conferences to attend?)

1. Listen to your critique group. When I first began to write, I was fortunate to meet some wonderful writers who became fabulous friends. We met regularly to work on our manuscripts. We worked to give constructive feedback to one another and because we listened to each other, our writing got better. We listened when the group told us the funny parts weren’t really all that funny. We listened when the group thought our chapters were too long. We listened when the group couldn’t relate to our characters. Listening to the group’s honest feedback made us dig deeper into our stories, making them stronger and better.

nancy-cavanaugh-author-writer
this-journal-belongs-to-ratchet-cover

Column by Nancy J. Cavanaugh, who lives in Florida with her husband and her
daughter. THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET, , (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky,
2013) a novel for middle graders, is her first book, but she has been writing for almost
20 years. Kirkus said of the debut, it's "A book that is full of surprises . . . Triumphant
enough to make readers cheer; touching enough to make them cry." Like her main
character, Nancy is pretty handy with a ratchet and is able to take apart a small
engine and put it back together. She learned her mechanic skills from her husband,
a former industrial arts teacher. Together they developed and taught a Small Engines
Camp for elementary and middle school students teaching them to disassemble and
assemble small engines. Look for her second middle grade novel, ALWAYS, ABIGAIL,
coming in October 2014.

2. Listen to other authors. Most writers know that writing begins with reading, but some writers don’t take that to heart. If you want to write funny picture books, read funny picture books. If you want write a mystery series, read mysteries series. If you want to write children’s poetry, read the children’s poetry that’s being published. But when you read the genre you’re trying to write, don’t just read it as a reader would, read it as a writer would and “listen.” Really listen to the way the author tells the story. Then go to your story and see if yours sounds the same way when you really listen to it. Doing this might help you see how your story is falling short.

3. Listen to writing teachers. If you have the opportunity, take a writing class or go to a writing workshop or conference. Learn everything you can firsthand from experts, but don’t just go and take notes and network. Really listen to what the experts are trying to teach you about writing and then go home and do it in your own writing. If the classes, conferences and workshops are out of your reach, read books about writing or watch a DVD. You can learn plenty if you really listen and apply what is being taught to your own manuscript.

4. Listen to your editor. When you finally get your big break, and an editor wants to work with you, be sure you’re ready to listen. Don’t be defensive. Don’t be argumentative. Listen. Listen to their feedback. They love your story or they wouldn’t be working with you. They want what’s best for you and your story, and good editors always have a vision for what your book can really be. Listen to them and let them guide you. If you do, in the end, your book will be more than you ever imagined it could be.

(How to collaborate with a freelance editor.)

5. Listen to yourself. Throughout all this listening, as you are learning and taking advice from all of these sources, don’t forget to be true to yourself and your story. You don’t always have to take everyone’s suggestions. If after you listen, you realize someone’s advice is not what’s truly best for your story, stand your ground and stay true to yourself. But remember, standing true in this way, can only be done if you’ve first taken the time to really listen.

6. Listen to reviews. When your book is finally published, lots of people will have lots of things to say about it. Some good. Some maybe not so good. Listen to it all and glean what you can from it. Use it as a learning experience for the new project you’re working on. Maybe the reviews of your present book will teach you things that will make your next book even better.

Revision requires patience and can even be painful at times, but it’s the only way your writing will ever improve. Following these six keys to revision will help you find the path that leads to making your story as wonderful as it was always meant to be.

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