Looking back, the big turning point in my writing career came when I embraced revision.
Cocky teenage me thought everything I wrote was awesome, and only needed light editing to be perfect. Eventually, I realized that the first draft is only a starting point, and the most important part of the writing process is elevating your book from promising to kick-butt drop-dead awesome through an Edge of Tomorrow-like process of revising it again and again until you have honed it to a bleeding edge of badassery.
It can be really hard, though, to know when you’re ready. When you’ve leveled up your skills in the unforgiving lava dungeon of revision until you are prepared to fight the boss monster of querying.
It occurred to me today that there are certain milestones writers tend to pass as they gain XP crunching their way through writing career side quests. I spent a few minutes brainstorming a list of some revision achievements many writers seem to unlock before finding success in publishing. If you’re wondering if you’re high enough level to poke your head into the boss monster dungeon, it might be worth taking an look to see how many of these you can check off.
You certainly don’t need to have done all of this stuff—if you’re good enough to get it right the first time and haven’t had to do some or even most of these things, that’s awesome. But I’d suggest that if you can’t check off at least 5-6 of these, you may want to grind some more revision levels before querying. And I would suspect most agented writers can probably score at least 50%.
Have you ever (on any book, not necessarily your current one):
Cut a major character, or merged them with another character?
Cut an entire chapter?
Significantly changed the order of events (moving whole scenes/chapters around)?
Cut an entire subplot?
Added an entire subplot and woven it into the story?
Started over completely?
Rewritten an entire chapter (or the equivalent) from scratch?
Had 50% or fewer of your first draft words make it to the final draft?
Done a complete reimagining of a major character?
Rewritten your first page(s) completely 5+ times?
Done a revision pass focused specifically on improving one general/abstract aspect of the book, such as voice, setting, stakes, through line, etc?
Changed POV, tense, viewpoint character(s), age category, genre, or another similar major meta-structural element?
Written 5 or more drafts of a novel?
Completed more than one novel?
Trunked a novel?
What am I forgetting? If you comment with other common “achievements,” I’ll add ‘em to the list! (And maybe I’ll do a more reach/advanced achievement list someday and make it into a full-fledged Revision Hell test or something.)