Loving Your Revisions (and Your Emotions)

Revision is the hardest part of writing. I think most writers will agree on that. You have to confront the things that aren’t working and somehow fix them. And that isn’t always easy. Sometimes you have to axe a favorite character. Sometimes you have to cut out the entire middle of your story and rewrite. I didn’t land on a villain I liked until the third or fourth draft of my YA novel. And revising to discover that villain was excruciating. But after digging for months I found him and, despite the painful process, the story is so much better.

Part of revision is also about going to what some of the professors in my grad program refer to as the “hot stove.” The hot stove represents those emotions that you carry around in the dark corners of your brain and visit every now and again on those nights where you have trouble sleeping. Those tough emotions you know will make your story better, but have trouble reaching because they’re so painful. If the first draft is about falling in love and discovering the exciting parts of your story then revision is about understanding your story’s rich, emotional core—and these emotions that might scare you.

When I think about going to the hot stove in revisions, I often stop revising. I’ll be honest, the hot stove terrifies me. I’ve stopped working on the story of my heart so many times because I’d rather write first drafts all day long than confront the emotions that will make my story stronger. But going to that emotional place really does make a story better. Revising is when you have to put in the hard work. The “I’ve stared at this page for two hours and have nothing” kind of work. If you can find a way to dig into those tough emotions, then you’ll be putting your heart on the page. And that’s when the magic happens.

So, how do you get to the hot stove? Free writing is usually what I find to be the most effective way to channel into these buried emotions. Try it. Close your door. Turn off your music. Sit in silence with your thoughts and stare at a blank page (or Word doc). Simmer in your feelings. Really dredge them up and let them settle on the surface of your skin. You might cry (I cry over everything). You might get angry. But use that. Write down everything you’re feeling. Write down how these thoughts affect you. How they make you cringe or laugh or scream. Your writing doesn’t need to make sense. It can be long, rambling sentences. But get it down. Live in these emotions.

Spend at least 10 minutes in these thoughts. When you’re done, close your journal or save that Word doc. Go for a walk. Get acquainted with the present once more. The hot stove burns, but you don’t have to stand in the fire forever. Once you’re ready, pull out your free writing and face your revisions. Mine your free writing for those feelings and infuse your scenes with powerful emotions. Mind you, this all sounds easy on paper. It’s hard. Going to these places is tough. But it does get easier over time. And you’ll notice a difference in your writing.

This is as much of an essay for you, the reader, as it is for me. A reminder that revision is hard, but it’s part of being a writer. And our stories aren’t going to be perfect first drafts. Don’t lose hope. Fall in love with your story again in those second, third, fourth, and twentieth drafts. Because your story is worth it.

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