Guest Editor Carter Higgins: How to Tackle a Big Revision

posted 4/18/16

Dear Editor…

From a practical (logistical) standpoint, do you have any advice for how to tackle a large revision of a manuscript I haven’t read in over a year? I’ve just had it professionally edited. I’m thinking I’ll read through those edits, then print out the manuscript and read the whole thing. And make changes as I go? Or read it through once and then go through again and make changes? Or read it electronically and then make changes and then print it out? I just can’t decide quite how to approach it.

Sincerely,
J.

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CarterHiggins1Carter Higgins has traveled a storyteller’s career path, from librarian to motion graphics designer and back to librarian. She is also the author of the middle grade novel A Rambler Steals Home (HMH, 2017) and the picture book Everything You Need for a Treehouse (Chronicle Books, 2017, illus. Emily Hughes).

Dear J….

I recently tackled a pretty large scale revision of my debut middle grade novel, A Rambler Steals Home. RAMBLERAnd when I say big, I mean big. Ultimately I rewrote approximately the first two-thirds of the novel, eliminated a beloved character, and changed a lot of intricately woven plot points which resulted in a domino effect through the pacing and structure of the entire thing. It’s a much better book thanks to the wisdom and vision of my editor, and the way I navigated her very thorough and very smart suggestions. Your mileage may vary with these steps, but this process helped me break down what seemed like an impossible and daunting task:

1. I cried. Not because I disagreed but because it was so overwhelming to even figure out how to begin. And not because I was intimidated, but because the warm fuzzy feelings of storytelling had to be replaced with good, hard work. I had to get ready for that.
2. I read my editor’s letter over and over and over again until I could feel it more. I took bulleted notes on it and rephrased chunks of it into my own words to really, truly understand what she was suggesting. I read it on my computer, I read it on my Kindle, and I read it on paper.
3. Then, I reread the current/old version of the manuscript in order to see it through the eyes of that editorial letter.
4. I identified what the story was really about—those were the parts that we were trying to heighten and tighten and strengthen, and made a loose outline of a new sequence of events to reach that goal.
5. Which for me, meant rewriting most of the story. Because I’d reread it before beginning this revision, I knew where I could pull chunks of words that I liked, even if I was re-crafting everything around it.
6. Finally, I read the manuscript again, start to finish, and immediately reread the edit letter. For me, it was all about feeling if I hit those points and less a checklist of sorts. After a couple of rounds of back and forth, once I felt like the draft breathed the same air as the letter (and when I was also happy with it!) I called that revision done.

– Carter
P.S. For more on this topic, read Creative Process, Guest Editors, Teen/Middle Grade Fiction
Comments to "Guest Editor Carter Higgins: How to Tackle a Big Revision" | Add a Comment
    1. Kurt Chambers wrote (on 04/18/16 at 12:50 pm) :

      Wow! See what us poor authors have to go through! It is so daunting sometime it makes me wonder why we do it to ourselves lol

      A great question and an equally great answer 🙂

      [Reply]

      The Editor replied (on 04/18/16 at 12:52 pm) :

      I love her answer, too!

      [Reply]

      Toni Guy replied (on 04/18/16 at 7:17 pm) :

      So helpful. 🙂

      [Reply]

    2. Cathy Mealey wrote (on 04/19/16 at 12:11 pm) :

      Honest and insightful. It can feel overwhelming and it is at times emotionally challenging to tackle a major re-write. But so satisfying to fit all the pieces back together!

      [Reply]

    3. Nancy Sondel wrote (on 04/28/16 at 2:19 am) :

      Great post!… but is some text missing at the end? It says “the way I navigated her” and that is the end; I don’t see more. Would like to keep reading! We novelists need solidarity in this longgg writing/revision journey!

      [Reply]

      The Editor replied (on 04/28/16 at 10:07 am) :

      If you’re viewing this on your desktop/laptop, use the light blue slider on the right to read the full response. The mobile version should be fully visible but let me know if there’s some glitch I’m not seeing on my own phone. Enjoy!

      [Reply]

    4. Cynsational News & Giveaways – Michiko Katsu wrote (on 05/29/16 at 3:33 pm) :

      […] How to Tackle a Big Revision by Carter Higgins from Deborah Halverson at Dear Editor. Peek: “…this process helped me break down what seemed like an impossible and daunting task….” […]

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