Confession

Kerri Majors, EditorOkay, so here’s a little editorial secret: I haven’t been 100% happy with the interviews we’ve done. Oh, of course I’m thrilled that we’ve had the privilege of interviewing authors like Barry Lyga, Susan Beth Pfeffer, and Meg Cabot who generously gave their time to chat with us. It’s great fun to read, and re-read, their novels to prepare for the interview, then brainstorm with the other editors to find the best, juiciest questions to ask. And what a thrill to actually get the answers! As a writer and a reader myself, I can attest to the pleasure of having my curiosity about a writer, or his/her books, satisfied–and I’m not going to lie: this pleasure is greatly enhanced when you’re the one who actually gets to ask the questions. Because then your very own questions are being answered; you’re in personal dialogue with the rock stars of your own life.

And as an editor, I’m excited to bring those answers to other readers and writers out there who will surely learn from the answers. For instance, it was great for readers to read Meg say that “You have to love yourself before anyone else can love you!“, or find out that Susan Beth “could live off of fruit, frozen dinners, and 100 calorie snack packs.” Writers are people, too, we find out. And I have to admit I especially liked discovering that we’d seen something in Barry’s writing that even he hadn’t seen–the voyeurism.

Very cool. Can’t deny it.

So why the little bit of disappointment? Well, it has to do with the writers’ answers about their actual writing. I’m sure you’ve noticed that YARN has a few signature questions about the writing process, and advice YA writers would give struggling teen writers. One of the questions we’ve asked both Susan Beth Pfeffer and Barry Lyga had to do with revision, and both of them–to my utter astonishment–admitted that they don’t revise much.

How is this possible??!!!??

Viewing the writing process from both sides (remember the subtitle of my blog), as both writer and editor, I was very, very surprised. And as a teacher of writing, I was almost ready to commit censorship, just so all the teens reading the interviews wouldn’t have an excuse not to revise their writing.

Because I’m here to tell you: The vast majority of writers revise. There are whole bodies of literature written on this subject. I won’t bore you with a bibliography–but all you have to do is Google the phrase “writing is revising,” and you’ll see what I’m talking about; or see Shannon’s last blog, “Suck less. Write More.”

This is a page from a novel I wrote, to illustrate what I commonly do to a draft. Note, too, that although I spent a great deal of time revising this page, I ultimate cut the whole thing.

Revising–the process of re-thinking, re-visioning, and re-writing your work–is what makes a piece of writing work. It’s also true as Barry said, that you don’t want to revise the energy out of the first draft, and some first drafts contain a great deal of exuberance that you won’t want to lose. But more often than not, especially for beginning writers, the first draft is what Anne LaMott has famously termed a “Shitty First Draft,” in a chapter of her classic book on writing “Bird by Bird.” Writing, and re-writing, is a process that requires writers to “kill their darlings,” to borrow another choice writing maxim. Go ahead and Google that phrase as well, but in brief it means that in the process of revision sometimes you have to “kill,” or edit out, some of those wonderful/clever/poignant sentences/paragraphs/chapters if they are ultimately not serving the piece of writing you’re working on. The trick is to figure out what to keep in that first draft, and revise around that.

Of course I can’t deny that some writers revise less than others–and maybe YARN just happened to hit two of those exceptions for our first interviews. But I take comfort in the fact that Alisa Libby, who wrote a great essay for YARN about the bad girls in her wicked fiction, is constantly writing about her revision struggles on her blog, and the fact that all the writers who have sent us unpublished writing have been so willing to take suggestions from me, Colleen, and Shannon, that required them to revise their work and improve the piece before it was ready to be published.

Partly, I’m jealous. My own relationship to revision has been a long and complex one I won’t bore you with here. But suffice it to say that I’ve written more than one novel, and a number of short stories and essays, and every one has required revision. In the case of one novel, that meant starting with a whole new, blank document. Sometimes I cut and pasted scenes I’d already written from the first draft, but basically I started over again. Why? Because the first draft wasn’t working, and I was dedicated to the main character and the essential idea of the book. I had to find a slightly different story for her to inhabit.

So I guess this week I’m reinforcing what Shannon said last week: “Suck Less. Write More. Revise Always.” To that I’d add: Question what you read. Even from the rock stars of your life. Even if you read it in your fave YA literary journal.

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2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Susan Young says:

    I prefer revising to writing, actually. I love to notice and play with some of the layers and complexities that emerge in later drafts of a piece.

  2. Kerri says:

    Hi Susan–Yeah, me too, sometimes anyway. I like the security of all those pages already written, as well.

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