Revision. Oh my God, Revision.

Revision. Oh my God, Revision. Say it with me: Revision.

 Let’s get right to it because that’s the first lesson in revision. You have to edit your writing. And you can’t write anything worth reading without it.

[Tweet “Let’s get right to it because that’s the first lesson in revision. You have to edit your writing. And you can’t write anything worth reading without it.”]

 When I was in graduate school, I had to publish papers in exercise and mental health. Ann’s research here *. Don’t bother clicking on that link. I only provide it to prove that I did, in fact start my publishing journey writing about exercise psychology. I hardly believe I did it.  I did not enjoy it.

 Right around the time I was about to graduate with my doctorate, my mentor said to me,

“You are one of the worst writers I’ve ever seen.”

 I remember wanting to laugh and die. I knew he was right, and it’s a credit to my parents that my self-esteem was high enough to keep writing. Finally making a career of it, both as a scientist and now as a novelist.

 Writing fiction is an entirely different kind of writing than science writing. In some ways, writing papers that summarize research is easier. There are rules, lots of them. Writing stories mined from your imagination has far fewer rules to guide you. This sort of writing is part art, part craft, part insanity.

 I’m not sure what combination of grit and magical thinking convinced me I could do it. But that is a different essay. One that I’m working on with my therapist.

 My experience with my mentor and difficulty writing my scientific papers does beg the question: Why did I keep going? The answer is love. I loved writing fiction in a way that I never loved writing about exercise physiology. And the thing that kept me loving it was revision.

[Tweet “Revision makes your writing sing the song you want to hear.”]

Revision makes your writing sing the song you want to hear. It takes the rough ideas that are first to fall on the page and nurtures them with care and craft. It is fulfilling the promise of communicating carefully. Something we don’t get to do when we are speaking. Revision is the gift of time that we wish we had in conversations.

 Recently, I read this quote from Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor at the New Yorker: “The difference between an amateur and a professional is that an amateur really likes everything they do”

 He and my graduate school mentor would be best friends, that’s clear, but I heard him. If you’re going to be a professional, you’ve got to revise your stuff.

 Having said that, I revise everything. Texts, emails, tweets, and essays. I rearrange, I rewrite, and when I’m done, I ask my friends who are very skilled at close reading to help show me where I’m unclear. They put commas in. They say to me, “Ann, right here, I think you can do better. I’ve seen you do better.”

 My editors, friends, and publisher are the people who help take my work from something a little shiny to something that gleams. It’s through their eyes that I often see what is best and also flawed in my writing. Without revision, I wouldn’t be an author because while I’m not the worst writer globally, I’m not the best I can be. Through revision, I keep learning, and as long as I keep learning, I’ll keep writing.

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Affective and metabolic responses to hypnosis, autogenic relaxation, and quiet rest in the supine and seated positions


  1. Bill Gilliland on January 22, 2021 at 8:04 pm

    Inspiring! Thanks.

    • Ann Garvin on January 24, 2021 at 1:51 am

      Revision is crazy and inspiring 🙂

  2. denise on January 23, 2021 at 6:17 am

    I’m in revision hell.

    • Ann Garvin on January 24, 2021 at 1:52 am

      Understood. 🙂 Same.

  3. Katherine A Austin on January 23, 2021 at 2:53 pm

    So true. I don’t see things until I see them but revision gets me there faster.

    • Ann Garvin on February 23, 2021 at 10:42 pm

      Isn’t that the truth? I see nothing until I can’t unsee it.

  4. Annette Glahn on January 25, 2021 at 1:45 pm

    Very well said and motivational. I love the comment “make something a little shiny to something that gleams.” Thank you, Ann.

    • Ann Garvin on February 23, 2021 at 10:43 pm

      I missed this comment but so glad you found this motivational!!
      So happy that you are writing. xoxoA

  5. Sunnymay on February 1, 2021 at 5:32 am

    Being in a Writers Group for 5 yearsis where I learned how to read raw manuscripts, to revise and line edit. It’s a whole lot easier to polish someone else’s work than your own.

    • Ann Garvin on February 23, 2021 at 10:44 pm

      God, so true. I’ve lost so much objectivity on mine. thank you for reading this :). So glad you are writing.

  6. J. A. Hopkins on January 23, 2024 at 11:12 am

    I love and hate revision.

    It is wonderful when I see all the elegant changes I can make… new words instead of old repetitive words (which I always seem to put in), great inspired changes to the plot, the list goes on…
    But then the horrible chapters that defy reason and revision. and break apart in little pieces like tempered glass. Or chapters that want to go in two (or more) directions. Or middle chapters that beg to go first. This list goes on too.
    Somehow I muddle through after lots of procrastination and finish the damn thing. Then hope to God I don’t have to revise it again.

    • Ann Garvin on January 23, 2024 at 2:50 pm

      I feel this so deeply. I feel so much the same. In the morning I’m so ready by 2PM I need a pep talk.
      I’m giving you a mental pep talk right now.
      x A

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