It’s Never Too Late to Revise

I was ready to push the button on my first novel, Small Change. The manuscript was set to go. Seven rounds of line edits and outside critiques were done. And yet, there was a nagging doubt. Two scenes bothered me. I rationalized that they were “good enough.” They weren’t great by any means, but they got the job done.

I received my cover art from my graphic designer, but I couldn’t move forward. I had to revise those two scenes. I read them again (for the umpteenth time) and I couldn’t stand it. I knew if I didn’t fix these two scenes, the book would suffer.

Let me share some background. The two scenes in question were crucial to the story. It was a turning point from the end of the main character’s adolescence to the rest of the story, which centered on the children of the two families in the book as adults. The two glaring problems with the scenes were simple: the scenes consisted of all telling and no showing, and they had a “wrapping up” quality to them, with no emotional depth or tension.

Though it was late in the game (nearly five years after I started this book), I had to scrap both chapters and do a complete rewrite. The first scene centered on the moment the main character, John Sykowski, met his future wife, Madeline McInerney. Here is the original scene:

SC Chapter 26_original

It described what happened but it didn’t get the job done. I needed to take the reader on John’s first date with “Maddy.” I needed to show the reader why they were attracted to one another. John was a stoic, not prone to showing his feelings. Maddy was the opposite. She was smarty, mouthy and knew John’s strengths and weaknesses. And she saw his basic goodness. Okay, so I had a date scene, but it needed a focal point. It couldn’t be the dinner conversation during the date—too pedestrian. I came up with the concept of a jukebox. Maddy would take John to a dive bar with a juke box and they would each pick out a song. Their selections and their reactions said a lot about themselves. Here’s the revised scene:

SC Chapter 22_Revised

The next chapter was the last one in part one of the book. It would be the last time the two families gathered for their annual summer vacation at the lake before significant changes would take place. Here’s the original scene:

SC Chapter 27_original

Not bad, but it lacked tension and foreshadowing. I decided to eschew the birthday party at the beach. The scene instead focused on John driving his younger sister, Mary, to the airport for a trip to the West Coast after she had spent only a day at the beach with her family. This would foreshadow her withdrawal from the family. Here’s the revised scene:

SC Chapter 23_Revised

There is a major risk in making revisions that late in the process. When I make wholesale revisions, I like to let them marinate, like a good steak. I would put the scene aside for a few days or even a week, tweaking and massaging it. In this case, there wasn’t time. I was committed to uploading the manuscript to the Kindle. I read the revised scenes twice and then it was time to publish. I didn’t even have time to show the scenes to any outside critics.

I knew in my heart the two revised scenes improved that section of the book immeasurably, and the feedback I received from other readers validated that opinion.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend making wholesale revisions that late in the game, but you have to trust your instincts. If you’re not happy (or your editor is not happy), it’s never too late to revise.

Do you ever find yourself making late revisions as you are about to submit your work?

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “It’s Never Too Late to Revise

  1. I have a RULE I never break: if I “notice” something, then it is certain at least some or most of my readers will “notice” it – so, I can’t justify or argue or try to ignore – I have to address it. If something nags me, then it means even more I need to address it. I trust my instincts implicitly! Does that mean I never mess up? Nope, but it means what I send to my editor I feel confident over (mostly *laugh*)

    I will tell you – Sweetie almost was a different novel. I wrote it with some chapters in the front part of the book and the back that made the middle slightly different – I actually sent it to my editor at BB! Yes, it went to my editor. That night I tossed and turned and fretted, because for a long time those chapters had been bothering me. Even a beta reader had mentioned something about them – not bad, just a “I wonder if” — I ignored those feelings until after I sent the ms to my editor and then I freaked — wait wait wait! I emailed her – either in the middle of the night (laughing) or the next morning and said “May I have it back? This is what i need to do.” She agreed. I took out those 3 or 4 chapters in the front and 2 or so in the end and then fiddled with the middle to make my needed changes and Sweetie is a much better novel because of it. I shudder to think if I had not done this!

    This is a long comment! 😀

    • Kat,
      Thanks for your email and for sharing your experience. That is exactly what I am talking about. We have to trust our instincts as writers. In my case,I thought these two chapters were “good enough,” but when it came time to publishing, I knew they weren’t. I’m glad you were able to make those changes after the MS reached your editor. I will have to read, Sweetie.

      Regards,
      Chris

  2. PS — you have good instincts too – I love SC and your though-processes.

    • Kat,
      Thanks. I kind of felt like I was flying blind through the writng and editing of SC, because this was the first time I finished a novel with which I was pleased. My two “practice novels” don’t count, though I learned a lot from them. I believe you cannot do enough editing and revising, though it some point you do have to let it go. Thanks again.

      Chris

  3. True story: Sharon Olds came to read for us, when I attended Butler U in Indy. Afterwards, I stood in line to get her autograph on a copy of her latest book– and she was revising a certain line, in a particular poem, in each copy of that book. Not for a typo, but a real revision.

    It’s never too late to better your work!

  4. Pat

    Good advice here. Thank you for sharing. And why do we feel so guilty for that decision to revise something that has been ‘finished’ for so long? It’s crazy. As Katmagendie says above, if we notice it, the reader will notice it.

    • Pat,
      Thanks for your comment. It wasn’t do much that I felt bad or guilty, but that there is a lot of risk in making wholesale changes so close to publication. What’s most essential in the editorial review process for fiction is time and distance, which gives you a better perspective. In this case I had neither time nor distance . I had to go with it and trust my instincts. Thanks again for sharing your comments.

  5. I have a full manuscript that made some rounds with agents a few years ago. I haven’t been focusing on fiction since putting that almost-there-novel away, but sometimes I think about taking a look at it again . . .

    • Nina,
      Thanks for your comment. I would encourage you to take another look at that MS. Thanks for stopping by. I have visited your blog and enjoy reading your blog posts,

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