The A-bomber

I have a confession: I am an A-bomber*.

            *when it comes to revising.

A quick refresher: A while back, I posted about MentalRevision tools and made an observation about fixing a manuscript with a sniper line versus A-bombing it. Basically, my meaning was that sometimes a well-placed, well-crafted line (a sniper’s bullet) can clear up a whole issue and save yourself from obliterating everything (the A-bomb).

At the time of that post, the revision tool was formulated based on my critiques of other people’s works. I’d even talked some of my friends’ fingers off the big, red button…or in this case, the delete key. What I didn’t realize until I was preparing to speak about it at a recent workshop is that I am totally an A-bomber. One-hundred percent, through and through.

Nearly every time I receive major feedback on a novel, I find myself opening a new document – blank page and blinking cursor – thinking, “It’s just going to be easier, cleaner, and faster to construct a draft this way.”  And then, “I’ll cut and paste a lot of things in here from the old stuff – most of the book, in fact.”  But as I went on, I’d get farther away from the earlier iteration and less of the text worked. By the time I was done, I had an entirely different book on my hands.

In a post-mortem of my most recent (shelved) novel, I figured that I had written it from scratch three times (though, to be fair, I revised those rewrites a couple times each). This self-realization scared me because I’d been blind to it for years – joyfully hitting the delete key seemingly on a whim. What, dear friends, drove me to be so trigger happy?

My theory: A-bombing is the polar opposite of a writer refusing to change a single word when being critiqued. I want to make my work “right” so badly (i.e. I want to please my critiquer) that I happily toss out the baby, the bathwater, and – hell, even the tub – in order to create what I perceive as the desired solution.

So, going back to the original topic’o’the week, how do my first and last drafts compare?

Often, they barely even resemble each other.

And, ultimately, that’s a big issue. My A-bombing led to a series of FIRST drafts, rather than a series of REVISED drafts. Suddenly, all comments from agents (“felt first-drafty”) and friends (“It was a different book than what I read before”) made sense. The lesson became loud and clear: Revision and Rewriting are different things and should not be confused.

Now, as Taila mentioned, there may be times when a manuscript needs an A-bomb (or at least a tactical bunker buster to a second act), but it should be used as a last resort and there should be several trusted readers who turn the keys with you.

I’ve just started the first major revision of my newest WIP. And I’m happily staying far, far away from the big, red button. 


This is a really interesting way of looking at revision & rewriting. Love the conclusion about needing trusted readers to turn the keys with you. So, so true.

"Revision and Rewriting are different things and should not be confused." Really great. You, sir, are a wise man.

Thanks, Ryan & Beth. It took me a long, long time to make these realizations. I hope they help in what I'm doing now.

I enjoyed this! I laughed because I saw myself in so much of what you had written. I too, am trying to stay away from that big, red button!

Thanks for the post. Will try to keep this in mind!

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