Rejection hurts. Body aches and head spins around and around trying to figure out if we did anything wrong as writers. Is what we wrote not good enough? Did we not think everything out? Was the idea already out there and we just didn’t know it? Or was it because we sent the piece out prematurely? Often times, it’s the latter. Agents see an increase in submissions after Nanowrimo or National Writing Month that takes place throughout the whole month of November. More often than not those pieces shouldn’t have been sent to the agents that fast. Why you might ask? Because we need to revise and revise again. The first day of class in my MFA program we were all told two things: one, writing isn’t instantaneous and two, if you’re not into rewriting, get out now. Writing is all about rewriting. No one, not even Edgar Allen Poe, wrote a great first draft, but they might have written a killer second, third, or fourth draft. This is something we need to keep in mind. In one of my classes I was given a revision checklist, which has helped me over the years and it’s something I think can help us all.
So here’s what I was told and it makes total sense. The first draft is for you and the finished draft is for them. The first draft, or the creation of the novel, was our gift to ourselves. Now, through revision, it’s our contribution to others. There are seven steps for a successful revision.
1. Read it out loud. –If something sounds bad, cut it out or change it. I used to be afraid to cut whole paragraphs out and now I can cut whole pages out no problem because I know whatever I come up with to replace it sounds a hundred times better.
2. Always back up your work. –You can completely decapitate your work, but always come back to the original living body of your work.
3. Revise at least two times.—Strip your work down to its bare bones and then build it back up piece by piece.
4. Go through amazing open doors. –Sometimes in the revision process our characters might reveal something to us we didn’t know was possible in the first draft. Go through that new open door in your revision stage and see what the outcome is.
5. Chop the last sentence and last paragraph out—The truth is sometimes by the end we run out of steam and sometimes the novel or short story might be stronger cutting the last paragraph out. Try it and see what happens.
6. Cut EVERY other sentence of dialogue. ---Dialogue slows down the narrative and the truth is most of us aren’t that long winded and even if we are, people tend to tune us out half way so cut, cut, and cut some more through the dialogue and you’ll be surprised at how much stronger that piece of work will be.
7. Make the last sentence the first or the first sentence the last. It’s weird how this works, but just trust me when I say it does.
Now knowing all of this, I want you to revise and revise some more. Don’t send your work out prematurely and remember that persistence is the key to everything!
I joined SCBWI in 2008 and it’s been the best decision I ever made. I’ve been to many speaking engagements before I joined SCBWI, through the MFA program, but many YA speakers forget to mention SCBWI. I don’t fault them for it. They have a lot to usually get through, but I do think it’s a society everyone should join if they are even remotely interested in publishing in the YA, middle-grade, or picture book categories. It’s not exclusively for writers either. It’s also for illustrators.
If writing for teens and children isn’t up your alley, I encourage you to join a writing society. There are so many out there and almost all of them offer their own membership benefits and have conferences throughout the year. This includes AWP, the Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, and many, many more. Personally, I love writing picture books, MG, and YA books so SCBWI feels like its tailor made for me.
The first person to turn me onto SCBWI was my professor, Juan Felipe Herrera, for children and YA writing course. A children’s book author himself he knew the importance of joining a society like SCBWI. Through SCBWI one is able to make valuable connections with other authors, editors, and agents that you wouldn’t normally be able to talk to except through e-mail (if you’re lucky). SCBWI started back in 1971 and has since then grown to over 22,000 members worldwide with over 70 regional chapters that range from board books to YA (Young Adult) novels. It’s the largest children’s writing organization in the world.
I’m glad he did encourage me. I’ve also had other professors recommend I join SCBWI as well. Since I first joined, I’ve been to several spring conferences in Temecula, CA; and am attending my first ever Working Writers Retreat this weekend. At every event I’ve attended, I’ve made valuable contacts and more importantly, I’ve built up a network of like-minded writers who are all in the same boat. We all want to be published and we are all there to help each other out.
I’ll let you know how the event goes! Even after obtaining my MFA and attending other conferences, I still get nervous reading my own work out loud. I think because I'm reading a little part of me. Even if it's a small part.
In the meantime, happy writing!