distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

The Year I Revised My Novel Seven Times

This is the post where I look back on this past year and see what I accomplished. And why not? If you don’t acknowledge what you’ve done to yourself, who will?

First, let’s see where I started. Here’s how I began 2010. On January 1, 2010, I officially finished the first full draft of Imaginary Girls. I had no idea then how much work would still be ahead of me.

But before I get to that, I wanted to tell you what other thing occurred in 2010… something related to books, something good.

Something happened to me this past year—a truly wonderful thing. I started reading for pleasure again. It wasn’t that I didn’t *want* to read for pleasure before this, I love reading; it was just that I’d been working a full-time day job at a publishing company as a copy editor, which is all reading. The job of finding other people’s typos involves such close, concentrated reading that my eyesight was blurred to mush when I got home. At best I’d read one book of my own choosing per month. Maybe.

But then, in 2010, my life changed. I suddenly had more time to read novels for pleasure… And once I started, I couldn’t stop.

It was my month at the artists colony Yaddo this past spring that brought back my hunger for reading. There I was, isolated from E, and from the internet, and from my distracting TV set, and I found myself needing to read books… desperately. I read on breaks from writing. I read before bed. I read every day and every night. I foraged books from the shelves in the house where I was staying, friends sent boxes of books to keep me company, and I was thrilled, truly THRILLED, to get a temporary card at the Saratoga Springs Library, a fantastic library with a great YA section.

That month, I gobbled up books like crazy. This hunger for reading rivaled when I was a kid, when I’d stumble out of the library with a stack of books taller than I was, as many as I could physically carry. Rediscovering my deep love of reading is the best thing 2010 gave me.

But reading wasn’t all I did this year. I also happened to do a little work on Imaginary Girls, the book of mine that will be coming out in 2011.

Ha. I typed “a little work.” Talk about an understatement.

The first draft of Imaginary Girls was finished on January 1, 2010. I then went on to revise the manuscript over the course of this year SEVEN TIMES. One revision before showing my agent. One more revision after showing my agent. Then five more revisions with my editor. Some of those rounds of revision felt—and I think they were—pretty massive. I put my heart into that book. Then I tore it out and put it in again. I worked with an editor who really knew how to dig it all out of me, and the book that stands at the end is one I can honestly say I’m truly proud of… and I’m very hard to please.

All I know is that I’m going to look back on 2010 and be able to say—to myself, without any exaggeration—that I’ve never worked so hard on my writing in my life. I wrote the way Sugar said we should. For the first time ever in my life, I really did.

(I also started two new novels in 2010, which is miraculous now, looking back on all that time I spent in revisions.)

There’s more to this revision story, and maybe one day I’ll tell you why I ended up revising the book so many times. But I think the lesson here is that it is worth it to work hard to make the book as good as it can be. Even if you’re tired. Even if you think you can’t do it. (And I was tired, and I admit I thought I couldn’t do it.) It’s worth it to put your all into this again… and again… and however many times it takes. I have to tell you now, standing on the other side of it, it feels incredible.

Now… I can’t wait for 2011!

You’ll see this out in the world in six months, and all my hard work will have been for a reason:


What was the best thing that happened to you in 2010? And what was the hardest thing you did in 2010?

What a year, huh?

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7 responses to “The Year I Revised My Novel Seven Times”

  1. Nova…I live and work next door to a book shop (The Storyteller) in Thermopolis, Wyoming. Any chance you could schedule a book signing there? Room and board is no problem. I have a huge apartment! Many blessings to you and your love. A big hug to you, Paula

  2. The hardest thing I had to do in 2010 was put my money where my mouth was as a writer – pulling the trigger on two jobs and thousands of potential dollars in the midst of a shit economy and the birth of my first kid. But like your seven revisions, the hardest thing was ultimately the most rewarding. Nice post, thanks for sharing.

  3. I know all the work is worth it! Can’t wait to see the final result. And you startd TWO novels during all that? Next Christmas I want the determination of you and Jessica Burkhart bottled for me. That’s what I want.

    What was the best thing? I moved without a clue of what I was going to do to be with my girlfriend. It hurt like hell and I was terrified but.. I did it.

    Hardest? Moving without my family, and my trip to NYC.

  4. You are a rock star. SEVEN revisions in one year…my head hurts just thinking about it…but it’s inspiring and educational to know that it got the novel where you wanted it to be.

    Best thing this year? Personally, the birth of my son: professionally, landing an agent and a book deal.

    Happy new year, Nova!

  5. I love this post! And thanks for sharing your novel revision process. I’m in the middle of revising my novel (for the fifth time? Sixth? I think I’ve lost count. Plus the revision cycles can kind of bleed together) so I feel you. I just hope that one day I can get to the point where I feel as happy/satisfied with my novel as you are with Imaginary Girls.

    I did a similar type of blog post about 2010. The best thing, hands down, would be winning the contest that resulted in my first book publication. I’m not sure about the worst, though. Probably just the fact that my novel is not 100% where I would like it to be yet.

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