rewriting: not just sutures

I used to think “revision” and “rewrite” were one and the same. That was back in the days when I thought a first draft was the skeleton with flesh and blood and brains, just needing a transfusion and perhaps a skin graft or hair transplant.

Now I know the truth.

That first draft? Plan on holding its soft hand as you skip along to the Center for Investigational & Experimental Revision (CIER). Shield its eyes from those fiery gates you pass through. Innocence is a necessary blessing.

You’ll fill out all the papers at the triage counter, crossing every “t” and triple-checking your insurance information. Then you hand over your fresh, naive Little Draft to the white-cloaked Resident CIER Editor. You trail after them, down the sterile hallway and into the examination room.

The First Examination

Your little one strips down, fully trusting in you — Dear Writer-Mom — that everything will be OKAY.

CIER’s Chief Nurse Editor scans your little one’s skin color, the hair, looks for jaundice and bruises and cuts and normal wear and tear.

Then she checks your Little Draft’s ears and clucks. She listens to the heartbeat and you hold your own breath. She tests L.D.’s reflexes by rapping sensitive places with a Flintstone hammer.

And then Chief Nurse Editor whips out a scarred gray box and opens it. You both catch your first glimpse of syringes. An evil-looking scalpel catches the cold florescent overhead light.

Your heart stops.

Little Draft looks up with the first glimmer of fear in her eyes, and you smile your reassurance while you wonder how easy it would be to stuff Nurse Editor into the biohazard barrel, gather your precious baby in your arms, and flee back to the safety of your desk drawer.

But it’s too late.

Deconstructive Surgery

It’s best to give in.

You can stay in the room if you’re a glutton for punishment, but the Editing Triage Team encourages you to stand outside and watch through the observation window. Because this first deconstruction is a messy, messy process.

The CIER Revision Specialists won’t just peel back the skin for a simple look inside. They’ll pull it off. They’ll drain your Little Draft and then dismember her. They’ll pry her apart at the joints. They’ll lay the solid bones in one pile, and toss the fractured and dented and discolored ones in the corner. They know from experience that just one crooked bone will weaken the final product.

It’s best to rebuild from the bottom up.

L.D.’s organs? Each one is measured, weighed, and biopsied. Some will surely be in perfect working order! Those lucky characters are put on ice for later. A few need surgery, a nose job, a couple sutures… but they’ll recover just fine.

The remainder are put in the bin destined for CIER’s incinerator.

It’s for the best.

Reconstructive Surgery

Once the still acceptable bones are pieced together, another cart is rolled in. It’s piled with tubs of putty, calcium, titanium screws, genetically engineered marrow, and even little bone molds.

You’re ushered back in and told to Get To Work! Your Little Draft is missing some bones, and it’s up to you to fill those gaps in. Sometimes there are more missing bones than others… and it would be SO EASY to just throw the good pieces into a bin to use later on a franken-baby.


There are all those good bones. The keeper organs. The shiny skin and vibrant blood. It would be such a shame to waste it all.

All eyes are on you. It’s your Little Draft. Your baby. You made it. You’re responsible.

What will you do?


Want to learn more about all that skin-peeling and joint-dismembering? Check out Holly Lisle’s How To Revise Your Novel course. [affiliate link]

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