The real work is in the revisions.


A friend of mine recently took up writing.

I know, a moment’s silence, please.

Okay, are we done? Good. In all fairness, she’s actually been really dedicated to learning, and committed to daily wordcount and so on, which is better than most people who decide to become writers. She’s also taken a short course at UCT, where she was informed that the magic number of rewrites before a book is vaguely publishable is seven.

She told me this with rabbit-wide eyes. Possibly waiting for me to go “What nonsense, tralalala.” Instead I said “Only seven?”

Granted, there are people out there who write amazing first drafts that need little more than a polish and some tweaking before being sent to their editor. Even then, the ed probably does about three rounds with them, followed by copy-edits. And then a final read through for last-minute fixes. That still comes to seven.

And those are the girl-geniuses of the world.

For the rest of us mere mortals, it’s slightly worse. After three drafts, my books (books is actually too fine a word, we’ll call them my wordthings from now on) still resemble a skeletal mish-mash of concepts, a few neat scenes, transitions left Blank For Now, and something possibly resembling a plot arc. If you squint.

This is normally the point where I start crying about my inability to write, so bear with me. This is where my beta readers come in and tell me as kindly as possible how stupid my book is, and how I can fix it. For the first time, I have skipped the beta reader part and asked my agent for feedback first (mainly because I’m not certain if the concept is something she would be interested in selling and I want her pov before I commit to some massive revising missions. Also, she’s completely amazing at feedback.) So we’ll see how that goes…

After I get my beta-reads back, I tend to go into meltdown. These have become less extravagant and take less time as the years have passed.

What used to be “THESE FOOLS! THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND MY GENIUS!” and weeks of crying jags before I reluctantly accepted that they actually knew what they were talking about, is now more like “THESE FOOLS! THEY DO NOT – oh shit dammit, they’re right. Aargh.” Followed by a quick sniffle and a muttered vow to never ever write anything ever again.

About a day later I’m tackling revisions, so there you have the worth of my Darkly Muttered Vows.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is that for most of us, revising is a long and painful process. Yes, your favourite writer may be able to rock out two amazing books in a year, but they ARE NOT THE NORM. I promise. Two years of work on one book is not an unrealistic goal at all. So if you feel like you’re being left behind by a stampede of writers who decided to write a book one Friday and then two months later got a seventy billion dollar deal for their YA trilogy, just remember that they’re probably on speed. *ahem* (I said PROBABLY)

Write fun, revise hard, and don’t think you’re a failure if you’re on your 9th draft and it’s still not right. Really, if that were the standard, a lot more of us would be considered failures. Failures who have sold books.

Get out your red pen and go.


2 Replies to “The real work is in the revisions.”

  1. Wise words, and actually rather heartening. There are lots of things in life where shortcuts apply, but art isn’t one of them.

    1. It’s very easy to look at others and get disheartened by how fast and good they seem to be. But they are really not normal, and trying to achieve that doesn’t help, it just makes one feel like a failure, better to work at your own pace and make great art.

Comments are closed.