Tuesday, February 12, 2008


In my various stints as a contest judge, I’ve had more than a few of my peers tell me, “I can’t believe I’m judging the same manuscript this writer entered last year, and she hasn’t changed a thing!”

If that’s being said about your contest entry, then you’ve wasted your entry fees and the chance to learn from the critiques. Not that every judge’s comments are spot on target--as has been emphasized any number of times here in Seekerville--but there isn’t a manuscript out there, published or unpublished, that couldn’t be improved upon.

Revision is not a dirty word.

Even so, it may be slightly easier to swallow if you think of it as re-vision.

The idea of re-visioning is taken from a writers workshop I attended several years ago taught by David Michael Kaplan. Re-vision: Looking at your story a different way. Going at it from a new angle. Seeing it with new eyes.

And contest judges’ remarks, if you’re open to them, can help you do just that. What questions do they bring up about the way you’ve drawn your characters? About the direction of the plot? About the believability of the action? What are the judges saying about your target market? Your title? Your theme?

I’m in the middle of re-visioning one of my earlier manuscripts right now. I saw it as a longer, more involved book, but realized it went off on too many tangents, so I’m cutting back on the subplots and targeting a different market.

Another manuscript I’d originally written many, many years ago as a YA had a teenage protagonist with her stepmother as the antagonist. After it piled up its share of rejections, I shelved it, only to bring it out awhile back and re-vision it as women’s fiction, this time with the protag/antag roles reversed. With this change of perspective, it has become a much fuller, deeper story.

Success in writing means growing and learning with every effort. And one important step is listening to the questions raised by your critique partners and contest judges. It doesn’t mean you must acquiesce to their vision for your story--it’s your story, after all.

But if something isn’t working, maybe your vision needs altering. Don’t be afraid of the process. Polish those bifocals and take another look!


Ausjenny said...

thanks for your wisdom, its interesting hearing about the contests and how they help writers re-vision there stories.
i enjoy reading all the posts here.

(im not entering this week just commenting)

Mary Connealy said...

this has happened to me and you're right, Myra. The entry isn't getting a fair judging for their money because I click into, Wow, she ignored all my brilliant advice last time, I think I'll just save my breath this time.

I had one that had a fairly decent opening, pretty well done, polished, I really liked the hero and then, at the end of about fifteen pages..........she killed him off.
SUPRISE...here's the REAL hero over her, presto chango.
I told her, I want to care about the person you have die, but you can make me care in two really well drawn paragraphs, or maybe a page. When you killed off a character I'd invested fifteen pages of caring in, it left me with a bad, bad feeling.

No changes on second viewing. I don't know, maybe if I said it all again she's think, "Wow, TWO judges agree."
I don't know.

I just know I felt unappreciated. I've put a lot of time effort and though into my comments the first time. Repeated myself in more like two sentences the second time... hey, kinda the same length of time her dead guy should have been given.

Camy Tang said...

I completely agree with Mary. Now, sometimes an author will submit the same version of the story to two different contests and I might judge the entry in both contests if they're only a few months apart.

But if an entry I judged last year is in another contest and it's exactly the same, I feel unappreciated, especially if I feel strongly about the advice I happened to give.

Especially if it's something basic and major, like, "Your heroine is too perfect, she doesn't have a single flaw in the first 50 pages." or "Your hero has no external goal." or "You have five -ly adverbs and six passive verbs in every paragraph and you need to cut that down."

Myra, I like your RE-VISIONING emphasis. I can actually testify to this: I originally submitted a crappy chick lit to Zondervan (called The Corinthian Rules), which they rejected, but I went so far as to RE-VISION the storyline and characters and they bought it on proposal--that book ended up being ONLY UNI.

Tina M. Russo said...

I love revising. I live to revise. Contest revisions are a treasure trove.

My writing is very clean because of this revising obsession.

Hahahaha, the problem is I get so enamored with revising I don't get as many actual NEW pages done.

That is problematic.

There is something so magical about pulling out something you wrote a while back and shoved in the drawer...okay something with GOOD writing, not the garbage under the bed..and reading it as though it was written by someone else.

The shiver of the "oh wow, I don't suck after all" moment.

Then you are revved to edit and finish it (Yes. YOU HAVE TO FINISH IT, TINA)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Myra, I've had that happen in contests, where the entry is totally unchanged a year or two later and you're scratching your head wondering what the author's thinking...

Like maybe they've got money to burn?

And then last year I got an entry I had judged two years previous. I'd made comments, along with a couple of other judges I found out later and ...

The manuscript was tighter, stronger, more targeted at the H/H goals and conflicts and not only finaled but was requested by the editor. I don't know if a decision has been made as yet, but I know the quality of the writing in that opening 50 pages was stellar.

When I complimented her (and signed my name, Mary, you chicken) she wrote back that she remembered what I'd said before, that she heard the same thing from another judge and had gone at the ms. accordingly.


But what if the judge hates chick-lit sounding heroines and wants a complete re-vamp because it doesn't suit her taste, not because the story's problematic?

I've seen that, too.

And Mare, I remember you wanting that author to not kill off that guy...

I judged the same one.

My theory was that she should use his death as backstory, not forestory, then use his death as strength for the real hero to investigate the crimes undercover.

And she was a good, strong writer, I remember that, too. I wonder what's become of her manuscript because I haven't seen the title around. I hope she kept going, because she had talent.


Myra Johnson said...

Tina, I'm the same way--LOVE revision! I love going back through an already completed ms. and seeing how I can make it even better.

And yeah, I usually get so hung up on revising that I have a hard time putting it aside and going on to something new. I figure I've already put so much effort into this thing, and if it's getting decent contest results but isn't selling, then I need to keep tweaking it until it does. Why spin my wheels on something totally new and unproven?

Melanie Dickerson said...

Re-vision points well-made. I recently switched the first scene around with another scene on my finished book, and now I'm wondering if I should change it back.

I have been revising too much as I write lately. But I wrote 900+ words yesterday. Aren't you proud of me, Ruthy? I hardly revised at all.

I always make changes after I get comments back from contests. But usually it's minor stuff.

Mary Connealy said...

I am blessed (okay, today I'm calling it a blessing) with a dreadful memory. So I don't remember titles'n stuff like Ruthy does.

But still, I'm not going to reread pages of a book and not recognize them.

I can't remember what point I was trying to make. Forget it.
I have.

Patricia W. said...

Re-vision: Looking at your story a different way. Going at it from a new angle. Seeing it with new eyes. I love it!

Now that might help me tackle that ms I finished and shelved because the idea of revision was just too daunting.

Janet Dean said...

Great post, Myra! Writers put their hearts and souls into their stories so naturally they're emotionally tied to the result. But, editors don't have that attachment. They may have a totally different vision for our stories. Being able to see our work with new eyes is important. Another example of how contests prepare us for publication.

carla stewart said...

Myra, excellent points on revision. I've only been on the receiving end of judges' remarks, but I do take them into consideration. Otherwise, why enter the contest in the first place? It's a litmus test for our work, and if it's not working, it needs an overhaul. Taking time off, like someone suggested, also improves my overall perspective. You gals on here rock!

Jess said...

I'm popping in to offer my words of wisdom. :-) I'm a finalist in Great Expectations on a ms. that's very close to my heart. Most of you know I hate entering contests. I come away feeling like dog poo most of the time. Not because of anything the judges say but because that's just the way I am. This contest has made me feel a little better. Not so defensive. Could be because I placed but maybe not. I think it's because two of my judges signed their names. No, I didn't agree with everything they said but I knew they read every word, did their best and weren't afraid to stand firm regarding their comments. My judges were: Tamara Leigh and Mindy O. I revised according to their comments and found myself feeling excited because I could see how much tighter my ms. became because of their thoughts & suggestions. But, more importantly, I knew there were a couple of people out there--people I actually "know" sort of rooting for me. They weren't invisible, not blank faces. Think about that when you judge your next contest. Signing your name will get you more respect. Might get you some arguments too, but probably not.

You know, this blog is a real service. I never fail to learn something. You ladies are better than great!

Mary Connealy said...

Hey, Jess, congratulations!
So is it over? Are there final rounds? Who's the final round judge?

Jess said...

The final round judge is Melissa Endlich.

Julie Lessman said...

Myra, what a great blog! Re-vision, huh? Never even heard of it in those terms, but, wow, does it make sense!

In a way, the concept is similar to what I learned in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maas (a book I definitely recommend!). It helped me to "re-visualize" my characters and plot to deepen them and take them to the next level. Contest judges initially weren't too crazy about my heroine in A Passion Most Pure because some saw her as "whiney." I didn't know it at the time, but it was today's subject of "Re-vision" that helped me to change the judges' perception to one of empathy when I afflicted her with polio via an actual 1907 polio epidemic that also claimed the life of her twin sister.

So "Re-Vision" is an excellent way to look at making your story even better and definitely a better way to perceive dreaded "revisions."


Myra Johnson said...

Congratulations, Jess! Thanks to your comments, I will definitely reconsider signing my name next time I judge a contest. You are so right--it helps to visualize the actual person who's taken so much time trying to help you with your writing. I realize I do tend to respect the critique even more when the judge is brave (and secure) enough to sign her name.

It's especially nice when you're able to strike up an e-mail conversation with your contest judge and maybe get even more clarification, or just a few more words of encouragement to keep writing.

Which, of course, is one more benefit of writing those all-important post-contest thank-you notes! I've connected with some really terrific writers that way!

Julie Lessman said...

Jess, I almost forgot -- SUPER CONGRATS on the final in Great Expectations!!!!


Mary Connealy said...

I carefully consider signing my name every time, and sometimes I decide against it. :)

But perhaps I don't have the courage of my convictions? I'm a coward? I can talk tough as long as no one knows who I am.

Or, maybe I feel, speaking anonymously, I can be totally honest with someone who is going to be hurt by my comments if I feel like I've really got a poor writer on my hands.

And maybe said poor writer will hunt me DOWN.

Missy Tippens said...

Great post, Myra. I, too, love that term--re-visioning.

I've not judged the same entry more than once and had that problem. But I've had the same judge on my mss two years in a row. The second time, she wrote that she remembered it from the year before, and she loved the changes I had made. She was excited about it and put her name on the entry. She's kept up with me since then (and we actually realized we knew each other previously from the AOL contest boards.) :)

I'm trying to remember for sure, but I think that entry was the mss I sold.

Jess, congrats on the Great Expectations!!! That's so exciting!


Cheryl Wyatt said...


Much wisom to glean...thanks for sharing, Myra!