For many writers, drafting is the easier part. Revising can seem daunting to the extreme. Once you’ve got the words on the page, how do you actually go about editing them to achieve the vision you had in your head when you started out?
This post is here to help the uncertain reviser to set themselves up for success. Read on for 5 tips and tricks on how to revise your completed draft!
1. Do A Soft Run
My personal practice is to wait a day or so, then do a soft run on revising. This is where I edit mostly for spelling, grammar, etc. and to get the feel of the story as a now-complete whole so I can find where the minute issues are as well as the larger ones. I will say that a soft run does not work for everybody. Some writers need to shelve their work for much longer than a few days before they’re ready to tackle it again. If you feel ready for a soft run after a few days, go for it! If not, that’s fine. You can skip straight to Step 2!
2. Go In With A Game Plan
Before you start really tackling the nitty-gritty of revising, do some footwork. Take time to think about what rubbed you wrong in the first draft. Take notes on what needs to be reworked: maybe the pacing was wonky, characterization was inconsistent, the beginning was great but the middle sagged, or there were plot holes. The soft run can help with this if you’re willing to take notes on what stands out as problematic as you read. Be honest with yourself, because the revising process only works if we’re honest about what needs work – and that means not blasting your draft as a failure, either. Be focused, professional, and honest about what DOES work as well as what DOESN’T – you’ll need the things that do work to create the skeleton of the eventual final draft on which all the sinew of revision must hang. Then develop your strategy for tackling what doesn’t work from there!
Example: When editing BEAST, My Nemesis, I ended up with 145k words after adjusting the ending. I decided I wanted it closer to 120k. This allowed me to look very closely at what I was willing to cut when I actually got into the trenches with it, tightening the story’s flow MUCH better.
3. Pace Yourself
Especially when doing first round revisions, I always encourage writers to take their time. Block out enough space that you don’t have to rush through your edits. It is so easy to let a problematic portions of the story slide simply because letting it go is easier than doing the hard work, and being overtired, on a time crunch, or trying to do too much revising in one chunk can all contribute to this slippery ease. As much as possible, try to set aside enough time for revisions that you can tackle anything that arises, no matter how difficult it is.
4. Prepare to Kill Your Darlings
This is a much-loved phrase in the writing community and I don’t think it stands as true anywhere as in revising. A huge chunk of the revision process in my experience is going in with the mindset that you will cut lines, paragraphs, dialogue exchanges, and in extreme cases even whole plots, subplots, or characters as you continue to whittle your story into the best version of itself. This part HURTS, but if you’ve taken an honest assessment of your story, decided what works and what doesn’t, and are willing to do the hard work, this phase can even be fun – like carving a sculpture, it allows you to see the finished product emerging in greater detail from the superfluous early-draft padding.
5. Step Back. For A WHILE
Your ability to truly embrace this step is going to depend on two things: where you are in any sort of publication process and how great your willpower is. 😉 Using myself as an example, I wrote and edited my series Tales from the Prospects (of which Beast is Book 4) in about 5 months. Then I spent a couple more months soft-run revising all five books. Then I read it with my mother, who is my primary sounding board. After all that time, I knew there were huge problems with the story, but I couldn’t really see the forest for the trees at that point. I had a vague sense of what didn’t work but not a clear vision of how to fix it. I was still too weary from the drafting and too attached to certain parts of the story as they were.
So I stepped away, for almost two years. I just let that baby rest and didn’t even touch it. It wasn’t until this summer that I finally got the courage to open the draft, and I was shocked, absolutely shocked at how clear the solutions to all those daunting problems had become. By combining all the steps in this revision process, I was able to polish up a draft that’s now ready to go to my CP this fall. The story has shed some plot twists, some favorite scenarios and dialogue I was in love with…but it’s a story that finally makes sense. Something I’m actually proud of.
Not everyone has two years to spare for a draft, especially if you’re on a publisher’s deadline (this is why I tend to draft an entire series before I even consider publication or pitching, but that’s a story for another post). The key to this step isn’t some magical length of time, but simply to put distance, time, thought, and even other projects between you and your current story before you do a hard round of revisions. Approaching it with a fresh eye and a mind that’s not so attached to the first draft and your favorite parts of it can do absolute wonders for the process of sculpting the story you’re truly after.
Got any revision tips for your fellow writers? Leave a comment on this post and spread the love!