The Revision Process

Amy Tan

Lesson time 13:48 min

Amy teaches you how to become your own best editor and to seek useful feedback from other writers.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Be Tough on Your Writing, Not Yourself • Reevaluate Your Characters, Plot, and Settings • Seek Informed Opinions • About Deleting Pages


[PIANO MUSIC] No book is ever perfect. I think that. Most writers I know think that. There is always room for making it better. And the way you make it better is a process called revision. I remember talking to a young writer in her early 20s who came to me and said, I don't know if I have what it takes. I had to revise it once, and now I'm told I have to revise it again. She was nearly in tears. And I was trying not to laugh. But I just said, you know, I revise about 100 times. For every page you see in my book, you can figure that I have revised it that many times. But when you're starting off as a fiction writer, if you haven't done this a lot, you might want to break that down into elements. So for example, look at some basic things, like what have you left out. Where do you have redundancies? Where is there confusion? We're talking about structure. We're talking about the flow of things. We can also look at whether this feels real. That's a question that often comes up with love scenes. Have you romanticized it too much? Have you used cliches? You really you have to look at love scenes carefully because they're done so often, and you want to make sure you haven't fallen into some trap. You haven't used the expression, actually, of fall into bed, which is something I did in an early story. And a very skilled writer circled that and said, cliche. You want to go through at another point, maybe, and look for cliches like that. Fell into bed-- what does that mean? Did you literally fall into bed? No. It's an expression that people use. What you should definitely do to catch what is false and where flabby language might be is to read your manuscript aloud. Read, say, 10 pages at a time, or more painfully, have somebody else read it and watch where they stumble. Oftentimes where they stumble is-- or where you stumble-- is a very good hint of language that is not working or where you used a word, a concept-- you really worked on it. You really wanted to make it shine and show how smart you are as a writer. And that whole effort that you had is-- the self-consciousness of it will show. You'll read it. It'll be awkward. It will not flow with the rest of the sentence. And you-- but I worked two hours on that. It's got to go. I think that part of revision is to let down your guard and to remember that these things about your book, your manuscript, that are imperfect is not a rejection of who you are. You may feel that because you say, they're my thoughts. They're out of my imagination. It's the way I see things. It is so easy to take this criticism as a personal criticism. Try to find some separation in your manuscript and you. It has to be personal when you're writing. It has to mean something. But when it comes to craft, that's different. And just keep that in mind. [PIANO MUSIC] The other thing you might do if you're looking at things in a systematic way so you're not overwhelmed is go through on...

About the Instructor

Amy Tan was 33 before she first explored her voice as a fiction author. A few years later, her debut novel, The Joy Luck Club, spent 40 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Now she’s showing you her approach to the challenges and joy of self-discovery through writing. Learn how to craft compelling beginnings and endings, find your voice, and embrace your emotional memory to bring powerful narratives to life.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Amy Tan

The celebrated author shares her approach to voice, story, and the craft of bringing narratives to life from beginning to end.

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