For this week’s installment of the Once More With Feeling Revision series I’m doing in honor of my upcoming retreat with Ingrid Sundberg on revision, I’m chatting with one of my dear friends, Jessica Rinker.
Jess is one of those writers who can kind of do it all. Her debut is a picture book about Gloria Steinem (totally rad, right?!) and then she’s following that up with what has to be the coolest middle-grade series ever pitched: The Dare Sisters, which she says is basically The Goonies meets Little Women, so you know I and every other female is all over THAT. Those are just a few of her projects (she also always happens to have a gorgeous YA novel in progress–annoying how talented she is, right?).
What I love about Jess is that she isn’t afraid to try new things, so revision is something she’s got on lock down, even if she is still figuring it out (I think we’re all always still figuring it all forever and ever). Below is her wisdom on this favorite topic of mine. Don’t forget to check out last week’s interview with badass Lisa Papademetriou when you’re finished.
Pssst: Scroll down to get your free Revision Checklist from my Inspiration Portal!
2 Part Question: How do you feel about revision? How have your feelings about revision changed over time, especially as you’ve grown professionally?I truly enjoy revision. I am a bit of a perfectionist so the chance to make something I care about better works for me. (I just revised that sentence twice…still not totally happy with it.) Plus if you love language and poetry, there is a natural disposition for revision. Writing isn’t about scribbling down a story and moving on (though it works for some people). Writing is a process, an art, and I believe the art is in revision.
My feelings have changed over time primarily because when I was a wee writer I didn’t even know revision was a thing. I mean I did it for school papers and such because you had to, but I didn’t apply it to my fiction until much later. Once I realized what revision did for my work, I was totally on board.
Do you have any kind of revision process and, if so, what is it?
I used to have a more set process than I do now, actually. I used to have a fast-draft, never look back, get-the-story-out-out-of-my-head-so-I-don’t-lose-it kind of process, and then go back and revise. But I find these days that kind of fast-drafting is completely unnecessary. I’m not going to lose the story. So, I revise as I go. In fact, I find that rereading the chapter (or more) I wrote the day before helps launch me into the next scene I need to write, so revising and writing ahead pair nicely for me. And also I revise when I’m done.
Do you revise as you draft or do you wait until a draft is completed to go back in?
To add to these questions that I’ve combined because I can’t follow directions: Since I write both novels and picture books, I’ve gotten to experience revision in different areas. People might be surprised to see the editorial notes on a picture book. 1000 words and you get a comment on 750 of them. Kind of makes your head spin.
How do you know your book is as good as you can get it?
This is something I’m still trying to figure out. Sometimes I hand in a draft I think I’m at least close to being done and my agent says: Nope. And sometimes I hand in a draft not having a good feeling about it and my agent says: Sending this out! Wait, what? Fortunately she has a better sense of an ending than I do.
Many writers are totally freaked out about revision. What advice would you give to your fellow writers about re-visioning their work?
There are so many other things to freak out about…believe me. Revision is something you must get used to because you will be doing it for months—before your book is sent out, after your book is picked up. If you can deal with revision on your own you will be a much better writer for it, not to mention better prepared for the publishing process.
Just like anything in life, take it a little bit at a time. This is probably why I revise as I go now, it’s less overwhelming and I can work on all threads at the same time like a tapestry. Although I have also completely rewritten an entire novel with a new protagonist during the revision, so…my best advice is to emotionally prepare yourself and remember throwing away thousands of your hard-worked words is totally normal.
Jessica’s debut picture book biography GLORIA TAKES A STAND comes out from Bloomsbury, March 12, 2019, and her debut middle grade THE DARE SISTERS comes out from Macmillan/Imprint Fall 2020 and Fall 2021. Jessica received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2014, and currently works for Wild River Consulting and Publishing helping other writers develop their stories. She lives in a tiny river town in New Jersey with her fiancé, Joe McGee, fellow children’s author and dog lover. Together they have 6 children and a venus fly trap named Ragnar. Eventually they will get a puppy.
So much wisdom dropped, right? Comment below and tell us how you revise, or what stood out for you in this interview!
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