Inside the Revision Cave

About a month ago, I got one of the nicest (and simultaneously most terrifying) gifts a writer can receive: my editorial letter.

An editorial letter is usually the first thorough response a writer gets from her editor about her book-in-progress. In my case, my editor at HarperCollins and I had chatted a few months ago about some of the changes she’d like to see, so I had a good general idea of what my tasks would be during the revision process. The editorial letter, though, is more than a casual chat. It’s the 7-page-single-spaced email your editor has been working on for weeks, full of suggestions and questions about your book.

My editorial letter arrived a few days before the winter holidays. I read it many, many times. I thought fondly about my editor: how smart she is, how much she must care about my book. I wondered, in a vague sort of way, what sort of superhero would swoop onto the scene to transform my editor’s ideas into reality. I ate several tons of Christmas cookies and waited for the superhero to arrive.

Apparently, with the economy the way it is, you’ve got to be your own superhero these days.

So now I’m deep inside the revision cave, a cozy and only slightly scary place where I spend lots of time with my new best friends: my manuscript and my red pen. (While I usually write and revise on my computer, I like to have a printed-out copy of the manuscript to scribble notes on, too.) Here’s what a couple pages of my manuscript looked like after they’d hung out with the red pen for a bit:

These are a couple of pages from Chapter 2, which I’ll be revising toward the end of this week. If your eyes are good enough, you’ll see that on the left-hand page, I’m adding a character to this scene. On the right-hand page… well… I’ll let the giant red X speak for itself. The entire second half of this chapter will be replaced by something newer and better, something more functional and more exciting. I can’t wait to see what the superhero comes up with.

When you spend a lot of time in the revision cave, you might find yourself asking all sorts of unusual questions, like, “What pirate-related word would make a good street name?” or, “Did people have fishing rods in the 1800s?” (If you are a writer, you’ll find that half your life is spent searching for answers to questions like these, and the other half is spent being inspired by weird bits of trivia that you can stack on top of each other to create a story.) Luckily, the revision cave often has handy reference materials to help you answer these questions:

The most important thing about the revision cave, though–and the reason why I don’t have many pictures of it–is that it’s a private place. It’s a place for you, your words, and your imagination. It often doesn’t have internet (unless you have a really pesky question about pirates or fishing rods that your reference books can’t answer). It’s not available to rent out for parties. It does occasionally have food, as long as you promise not to get cookie crumbs lodged in your computer keyboard. And whether you enjoy being in the revision cave or not, you’re not going to be able to leave until you finish your revisions–particularly if you’re on deadline.

So if you don’t see a lot of me here on the blog between now and April 1, you’ll know exactly where I am: here in the revision cave, brushing away the cookie crumbs, and revising the heck out of this manuscript. At least until a real superhero shows up.

9 Responses to “Inside the Revision Cave”

  1. Brandy

    amen to this! and we have the same deadline, so we can cheer each other on in the coming months. (only we won’t be on the internet at all, right? RIGHT.)

  2. Caroline

    Thanks, Akoss! Brandy, I think we should throw a big internet party on April 2.

  3. kkittscher

    It never ceases to amaze me how much I overestimate the future-version-of-myself’s capabilities when it comes to revising, so I suppose I have a “superhero,” forever waiting in the wings as well.


  4. Linda C.

    Good luck with revisions! I’ve written a few editorial letters myself and even they take time, lol, so revising can be really draining, but so worth it.

    Thanks for wishing me luck with the MFA process (and for liking my blog). I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

  5. Rachele Alpine

    Good luck with revisions! Hope they are going well! I just finished my second book, crawled out of the cave and sent them to my agent. Now I’ in my nail biting cave hoping that he likes them! 🙂

    • Caroline

      Thanks, Rachele! Revisions are going well so far, and I think I’m on track to emerge from the cave in a month or so. Keeping my fingers crossed for your next book–congrats on finishing!

  6. katemaloney259

    Your Pirate book sounds so fun! Best of luck on your hours in the revision cave … looking forward to the results! 🙂