The Revision Revelation
by Kelly Hand
I finally “got religion” about the importance of revision when I took Barbara Esstman’s Advanced Novel and Memoir class, and subsequently formed a writing group with several of my classmates. The workshop model taught me that what matters most is not the opinion of a single authoritative reader, but the reading experience of a peer group of critical readers.
As a graduate student instructor years ago, I preached the gospel of revision in introductory composition classes and held conferences with students to discuss their essays and recommend revisions. Invariably, the second drafts of those essays came back with only superficial changes. It was annoying that my advice went unheeded, yet I clung to the notion that there are good and bad writers—and that good ones “get it right” the first time around. When I wrote a dissertation and made changes my committee recommended, the revision process felt like yet another disciplinary initiation rite.
Before coming to The Writer’s Center, I had completed a draft of a novel, Blind Girl’s Bluff, and sent it out to several agents. Some asked to read the manuscript, but did not offer to represent me. I concluded that the novel was “not marketable enough” and started a new novel with a clearer target audience. When my Writer’s Center classmates commented on the first chapter of this second novel, I was disappointed that while many readers enjoyed the story, most advised substantial changes. This felt like a verdict—that I was a “good writer” technically, but only a mediocre storyteller. Fortunately, some classmates encouraged me to keep writing and to join the writing group they were forming.
On a whim, I presented an excerpt of my first novel to the group, and their feedback helped me realize that it was premature to abandon it in favor of the second. With the help of the five other writers in our group, I have spent the last year revising Blind Girl’s Bluff. It has a new beginning, a new ending, and a multitude of changes in between. It surprises me how much I enjoy restructuring my plot, refining my characters, and reining in my sometimes flamboyant prose—all for an audience of supportive peers.
I believe in the hard-won miracles of revision because my book is better now—and so are the books of my writing group friends. We have faith in our ability to make our books “work” for readers like us. This revision revelation has changed my life, and it is turning me into the writer I always wanted to be. Maybe I am preaching now to the converted about revision, but if you find yourself doubting, then find yourself a community of like-minded writer/readers who can help you “see the light.” The Writer’s Center is a place where miracles begin.
If you wish to follow our writing group as we work to perfect and publish our books, visit our blog at sixgreatbooks.com.