In the movie The Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi trains young Daniel in the art of karate first by having him perform a number of chores--usually accompanied by the action, "Wax on, wax off." Daniel chafes against the tasks. He doesn't see the point of the chores--doesn't see that he's building muscle memory and discipline that will serve him to master karate in the future.
Now, that's not what my agent, Ben, has had me doing this summer, so this blog post isn't a perfect metaphor. And I'm a generally chill person (and also pretty chill to work with as a writer), so I didn't chafe at the revisions he asked me to make. But there are parallels to the "Wax on, wax off" experience, which is why I bring it up. My point is, when I submitted my manuscript--The Girl in the Sea--for agent representation, I thought it was, well, done. At least as done as a book can be prior to the professional editing process. I had carefully plotted it, and I can produce the ring composition and literary alchemy charts to prove it (I Instagrammed a picture of them over a year ago). I have published eight novels already, won ten awards, and I have never been a careless, "pantser" writer. I have taught creative writing for ten years, and people pay me good money to teach novel writing seminars. In other words, it's not that I don't know what I'm doing.
But it's when you are tempted to think you've "arrived" that you probably need someone to step in and force you to do a little, "Wax on, wax off." Ben could see things in my manuscript I couldn't, and he knows the market far better than I do. It's his job. I've always known I need to keep improving my craft (in theory, at least), but for a long time, I haven't had anyone who really pushed me to do so. But working through revisions on The Girl in the Sea this summer with Ben has felt like, "Wax on, wax off." Good. Again. Good--do it again. And as we near the end of this process of revisions and draw close to submission time, I'm amazed not only at how much better The Girl in the Sea is than it was when I signed with Ben, but how much stronger I feel as a writer.
If you, like me, find yourself in a position where you are privileged enough to be working with an agent or editor who sees the potential for your work to be better--even if you are a seasoned writer--Don't chafe. Wax on, wax off.