How to Revise Wrong, in 3 Easy Steps

And now that you’ve plotted wrong, characterized wrong, and written wrong, even 9 ways to find the time to write. . .let’s talk about how to sit down with that baby and revise it wrong.

  1. Be obsessed with letting your language ‘breathe’

  2. This is code for: “Be unwilling to revise anything but inexcusable errors and typos.” This is because you must trust, you must trust in the process (didn’t your Discount Life Coach tell you that only last week?), you must understand that those words in that order in those sentences came out of you by Divine Inspiration and cannot be tampered with without losing their ‘freshness’ and ‘spark.’

    ‘Freshness’ and ‘spark’ being code for: “Accidentally getting it right.” Because you don’t actually have a clue what you’re doing.

    Experience? Practice? Education? Time-tested techniques for shaping, honing, polishing written language? What do you think you are, a buffing wheel?

    Don’t waste your time on rewriting stuff you’ve already written, whatever you do. Think about how many more books you could publish if you stopped worrying about how the last one turned out and got busy on the next. You’d be a millionaire in no time!

    This is why so many people are self-publishing books these days with titles like God Wants You to Write.

  3. Look for guidance only from peers on unsupervised critique forums

  4. Because, as we all know, money always flows toward the writer. So be sure to get everything you need to become a successful author for nothing, as a fool and their money are soon parted.

    At least you hope so. After all, you’re counting on lots and lots of fools out there with lots and lots of money to buy this book you’re accidentally writing in spite of yourself.

  5. Be correct that your peers have little to teach you

    Well, it’s true.

    Which is why it’s so easy to dismiss them as callow unbelievers if they actually suggest revisions. Or—heaven forbid—going back to the drawingboard.

    The problem is your peers don’t know any more about this work than you do. So their opinions, no matter how well-meaning, can’t possibly be any more than amateurs’ surface reactions to a deep, complex, multifaceted craft no one has ever completely mastered before they died. Not even Stieg Larsson.

    The truth is you’re probably an unrecognized genius—that’s why your critiquers misunderstand you. I mean, what expertise are they going to use to recognize you with? They’re a bunch of amateurs.

    Except the ones who are even more amateur than you are, of course. Those guys love you!

You are the only real authority on your own work, unlike all those OCD nitpickers who style themselves ‘experts.’ (Good thing publishers have unloaded most of them.) Publishers are a big, shiny store window. You are a customer.

And the customer is always right.

I only know this stuff because I’ve been there.

14 thoughts on “How to Revise Wrong, in 3 Easy Steps

  1. Andrea says:

    “…this book you’re accidentally writing in spite of yourself.” My absolute favorite part.

    I’m the opposite, I think. I tend to change EVERYTHING when I revise. I worry this is equally dangerous sometimes. I need to find a middle-of-the road approach.

    Great post. πŸ™‚

    1. Victoria says:

      This certainly can be dangerous, Andrea. I intended to mention that, too, but I wrote this post yesterday morning while I was still sleepy and forgot.

      One of the warning signs of Revision Fatigue is a sudden, blinding bolt of inspiration at the end of months or years of revision that you must alter something fundamental to the plot that will require rewriting the entire novel. It happens to me. It happens to my clients. “Let’s make the hero the villain!” You betcha.

      Really, only a professional can tell you whether this is the one thing you need to make your novel utterly brilliant or simply the raving of a depleted mind.

      1. Andrea says:

        That’s a good point. Just the other day I had an idea in the shower (isn’t that where all the best ideas present themselves? Well, that or when I’m trying to go to sleep!) and could NOT get it out of my head. I couldn’t move forward until I gave in, wrote in the plot point, and made a bajillion revision notes to myself as to how I could backtrack and work it in from the beginning.

        This happens to me at least twice with every MS. I get very frustrated with myself.

        1. Victoria says:

          Yeah—join the club! πŸ™‚

          But that burst of imagination is why we do this work. The safest way to handle it, honestly, is probably to just write a brand new story. Those usually turn out better than the original anyway. Terrifyingly enough. . .

  2. I’m loving reading through these “How to ___ Wrong” posts.

    While revising is so much harder than the writing, I tend to enjoy the process. I see the initial writing process as trying to get the lump of the story together, while revising allows me to see the details come together. I get to play with and enjoy it on a sentence or phrase level, which is how I love many of the books I read.

    1. Victoria says:

      Revision is just one more phase of the work, I know. We do this work because we love this work.

      The brainstorming phase is great gosh-darn fun until it dries your brain out. Then the structuring phase is inspirational and thrilling until it makes your eyes cross. Then the writing of scenes is luxurious and soothing until you run out of things to say and start repeating yourself. Then the revising is reassuring and satisfying until it turns out you hate the whole thing, every single word of it. . .

      Which is when you go back to the brainstorming phase again. . .

      1. Haha! YES, exactly!

  3. Melissa says:

    Okay I am RIGHT NOW just at the point where I need to start working on a second draft…and I see this.

    “I must keep it FRESH!…” Oh God. I can almost hear that said in my own voice. Jeeze.

    I kept meaning to buy your book but had put it off because, frankly I have a lot of books about writing. But, anybody so freakin funny (and just a little mean) has to have written a writing book I need to read.

    Nuff said. Keep these posts coming…

    1. Victoria says:


      Aw, Melissa—like I said, I only know this stuff because I’ve been there!

      And next week’s post is going to be really kind.

  4. Nan C says:

    I love this series of posts and the fresh way in which the advice is presented!

    Personally, I can’t say I have ever let my writing ‘breathe’. I chop and hack at it, and then chisel and hew, until it is as sharp as the knife that wrote it. πŸ˜‰

    1. Victoria says:

      Throttle that baby!


  5. Man oh man. Where was this post two days ago, when I was getting really upset with a fellow writer for tearing my work apart?

    To be fair, she, too, has editing experience, and she admitted she critiqued it as an editor, but there are so many points she made that I disagreed with. I rarely disagree with her, as she’s been with this short story series for almost two years now, but I really felt like she was WAY off.

    You hit a spot with me on this post, too, and I’d be anxious for more insight on the “Not rewriting” thing. I have now totally re-written my first full length novel twice. And I have re-written a couple of short stories from scratch. Am I to understand you advise against it? What if an editor, or critique partner tells you it NEEDS a complete rewrite?

    1. Victoria says:

      Oh, I’m sorry, Victoria—I mean that refusing to rewrite is one way to revise wrong.

      Rewrite. Rewrite everything. Rewrite it a million times. The more material you create, the more you’ll have to choose from as you’re assembling your final draft, and the more writing practice you have, the better you’ll be at producing quality material in the first place. One of the biggest obstacles aspiring writers have to face is the urge to bronze their early efforts and put them on the mantelpiece exactly as they are. You need to learn how to control your material, and the way to learn that is by practicing controlling it in all kinds of different ways, which includes breaking through the fear of ruining it.

      Hemingway rewrote the first chapter of one of his novels fifty times. Be Hemingway.

      As far as taking advice from critique partners, that’s a messy bog to wander into. Go ahead and rewrite it if someone tells you too. Why not? What have you got to lose?

      But don’t mistake peer opinion for quality mentoring. It’s not. Your peers don’t know any more about how to write well than you.

      I certainly wouldn’t let someone fix my car who only knew as much about it as I do.

      1. Victoria says:

        Actually, I wrote about this on my Advice Column later:

        Listening and Not Listening to Beta Readers

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