Vision: A Resource for Writers
By Holly Lisle
he last two months have been surreal. Uproar in the community, plagiarized articles on the 'Net, moving the community to its own site and stepping down as administrator due to lack of time to give it the attention it requires, and selling, after ten years of working on it, the big secret project that has been my busman's holiday and off-time recreation and little bit of hope even when things were bad -- the book that was code-named PR, and actually named Phoebe Rain after its main character, and that went out the door at last with the title Midnight Rain thanks to Sheila Kelly (SL Viehl) who came up with the title. It sold with a second book added to the contract.
Since we're talking about revision, let me tell you about Midnight Rain. This might just be the most reworked book (that actually ever got out the door at all) in the history of literature. I showed the first draft of the first section of the first version to my first agent back in 1994, after I'd already been working on it for about a year. He loved it, but had suggestions -- it was too much horror, not enough ... something else. I rewrote. He thought the second version showed promise, but hated one of the two main characters for very valid reasons. I rewrote. He liked my concepts for the third version a lot. The first couple of chapters gave him goose bumps. But I was swamped with contracted work, and we both agreed that this was a book that I'd have to do on spec (writing out the entire manuscript in advance of submitting any of it, because it was mainstream and I'd never sold mainstream.) Years passed, with me doing a few pages here and there as I could find time, and shelving it entirely for long stretches until I couldn't resist working on it some more.
In that time, I hit some very, very grim financial times, ran out of contracts, couldn't sell ice in the Sahara, and finished up my last contracted novel with nothing new in the pot to work on, no new money coming in, and bills that were steady as ever. I was in the process of changing agents. I was looking at regular jobs, too, and trying to decide if I was even going to be able to remain a writer -- full-time or otherwise. Dark days, those. I sent my new agent the few proposals I had on backlog, and, in one final leap of faith, sat down to finish Midnight Rain. Wrote the whole book. Revised it brutally in one pass. Sent it to my new agent right after she sold Talyn and The Enormous Book To Be Named Later to Tor.
I got a call from her halfway through the book, and she was thrilled. By the time she'd finished it, she wasn't as sure -- in the second half, I'd drifted a bit from the initial feel of the novel. But she wanted to send it out anyway, with the understanding that we were testing the water and that I was open to revising the book. I got turn-downs. But one of the turn-downs (from a hardcover house) called her up a week later telling her that he couldn't get the characters out of his mind, and though he wasn't sure if the book could work for him, he wanted to keep his hat in the ring. Another editor (paperback division of the same conglomerate) came and got the manuscript from him, read it, wanted it. The two editors each wrote comments (a couple pages apiece, typed, single-spaced) on the manuscript -- what worked for them as well as what didn't. They weren't asking for a rewrite of the existing novel yet. They wanted, instead, a proposal that show how I would rewrite the novel to answer their questions. I wrote the proposal. Both editors liked it and the editor from the paperback division sent it upstairs. The department head bounced it. My would-be editor still wanted it, and asked me to revise the proposal. I revised. Sent it to her, she ran it past another editor (who worked in mystery, because it has a mystery/suspense component to it) who saw a few loose ends and a couple of possibly big problems. I revised again.
A long pause ensued, in which I managed to convince myself that there was no way this was going anywhere. And then it sold.
If I could not have made the book better when I revised it, I would not have revised it. If I could not have seen a way to work the editors' and agent's suggested changes into the novel without breaking my own vision of the book and what it could be, I would not have revised it. At every step of this long and sometimes unnerving process, I asked myself how I could keep the spirit of the book intact while making the story changes that would make it stronger and better. I would recommend that as the best way to handle requested revisions. Find ways to make every necessary change your own. Find ways to love the new as much as you loved the old.
Revision is an essential, inescapable part of the job. Sometimes, as here, it is the one skill you have to master to even get the job.
Write well. Revise intelligently.
And never, never, never give up on your dreams.