Almost time for ReviMo 2015! What You'll Need with Linda Ashman

Thursday, January 8, 2015

What You'll Need for Your Revision Journey
(reposted from 2014)

by Linda Ashman

Happy New Year! First of all, kudos to Meg for using ReviMo to focus attention on revision, often regarded as the ugly stepsister of writing. Lots of people ask me, “Where do you get your ideas?”—but rarely does someone say, “Tell me about your revision process.”

That’s not surprising. After all, ideas are glamorous (Inspired! Brilliant! Clever!). Revising, on the other hand, is painstaking, repetitive, and—yes—sometimes tedious. And yet, as one of my former bosses liked to say, ideas are a dime a dozen. Sure, they’re essential. But turning ideas into something tangible and usable, well, that’s where the treasure is.

And where the real work begins. It’s not easy to transform a scrap of an idea—no matter how brilliant—into a compelling and marketable manuscript, so it’s good to be prepared.

I’m a big fan of lists (they make me feel more organized than I am). So, as you tackle your revisions this week—and beyond, I hope—here’s my list of things you’ll need for the journey:

1. Stamina. Ideas often arrive in a momentary flash of inspiration. Revisions, on the other hand, require hours, weeks, months—sometimes years. Be patient with the process—and yourself.

2. A playful spirit. Carl Jung said, “The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” Presumably, you’re a writer because you love stories, language and words. So play with them! Experiment with voice, rhythm, structure, point of view. What brings your story alive?

3. Openness. Sometimes the story you begin with isn’t the one that wants to be told. If your idea starts taking you in a new direction, follow it. You can always go back if it turns out to be a dead end (and don’t be afraid of dead ends—sometimes they point us in the right direction).

4. An objective eye. If, like me, you find that the revision process sometimes brings on a severe case of brain fog, it helps to step back. Go for a walk, clear your head, and ask: What is this story really about? What am I trying to say? How can I say it more simply, clearly, and concisely?

5. A sharp knife. (A metaphorical one, of course.) If you’re writing picture books, in particular, be merciless with those long, rambling descriptions, and anything that isn’t visual and doesn’t move your story forward.

6. Small rewards. Writing is hard work, so it helps to have some carrots to keep you motivated. My own carrots? Cookies. Yep, a couple of cookies, or maybe a scone or muffin—along with a good cup of joe—keep me going through the afternoon lull. Walking, gardening, and trips to the library help too.

7. Commitment. There’s always a point in my revision process where my manuscript looks so messy, convoluted, and ugly that I’m ready to abandon it and move on to something “easier.” After many years of writing, I’ve come to accept that it always gets worse before it gets better. And I know it won’t get better unless I keep slogging through the morass. If I’m not willing to do that, I’ll never finish anything.

8. A touch of perfectionism. Save this one for the end of the process, after you’ve gotten all your ideas on paper, experimented, trimmed, and essentially completed your story. Now is the time to be a little bit obsessive—to clarify that slightly confusing passage, find exactly the right word, trim anything extraneous, fix typos, make sure your meter is flawless (if you write in verse), and polish, polish, polish.

9. Faith. I’m not talking higher powers here, although if you’ve got those connections, by all means, use them. I’m talking about faith in yourself. It’s tough when you’re struggling with a story. What’s the point? Who wants to read this? No one’s going to buy it. Chances are, no one’s pushing you to write this manuscript—or any manuscript, for that matter—so the motivation’s got to come from within. No one can guarantee that you’ll sell your story—but you can guarantee that you’ll do your best work and finish it.

Above all, as you pull out those scraps of ideas and half-finished manuscripts this week and beyond, remember why you’re a writer. Because you love words, perhaps. Or love stories, or art, or books, or writing as a form of self-expression. When you’re struggling through your manuscript for the fiftieth time, it’s good to remember the “love” part. Yes, revision can be a slog. But, for me, it’s a joyful slog. Enjoy the process.

Thanks for inviting me, Meg. And happy revising to all!

Thank you Linda!


Linda Ashman is the author of more than 30 picture books including, most recently, Little Baby Buttercup, illustrated by You Byun (January 2015). Her books have been named to the “Best of the Year” lists of The New York TimesParentingCookie, and Child magazines, the New York Public Library, and others. She's also the author of The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a "how-to" ebook for writers, and regularly contributes to, a blog about writing and illustrating picture books. For more information, visit

If you haven't read Linda Ashman's The Nuts & Bolts Guide to Picture Book Writing, I highly recommend it!


Stacy S. Jensen said...

Yes. I'm ready. Gathering my manuscripts. How did I miss Linda's new release? January seems to be moving ahead without me. Ready to report for revision work. :)

Rachel Hamby said...

Just found this on my Kidlit411 email. So glad I did. I have a PB to work on, so I'm ready. Linda's book on PB writing has a lot of great tips for revising.

MegMillerWrites said...

Glad you found us Rachel! Happy revising!!! :D

Nat Keller said...

I have 2 PB's that I have ready to work on- I have files, I have post-its, and most importantly, I have coffee!!! :D

Lauren Kerstein said...

Yes, "LOVE," that describes why I write perfectly. I can't wait to read Linda's new book!

MegMillerWrites said...

The key ingredient!!! Happy revisions! :D

MegMillerWrites said...

Go Stacy!!! I know, I'm behind in a 1000 different directions, eeesh! Hope your revisions go swimmingly! :D

saputnam said...

Sorry for not posting earlier... I have been going through my PiBoIdMo drafts and have picked out a dozen that I think will fly