You finished the first draft of your novel! (Yay!!) And it’s probably a hot mess. The good news is, it’s supposed to be–so you’re doing things right! As exciting as it is to finish a draft, I know first hand how overwhelming it can be to tackle revision. Here are some tips that have helped me create quality revision plans time and time again.
Pick an approach
Before you get started, I suggest picking an approach. The two I’m most familiar with are chapter-by-chapter or storyline-by-storyline. (If you know of more, let me know in the comments!) I recommend deciding this up front so you can plan and take notes accordingly.
The idea of this approach is that you’ll go through the book sequentially and address an all of the problems in an individual chapter at one shot. So if you realize your character is acting odd, storyline A is weak, and an aspect of storyline B doesn’t make sense, you’ll fix all of these problems in each problematic chapter before moving on to the next one. This approach will probably work better for people who prefer to multitask.
If you’re less of a multitasker (like me) you might want to give this approach a try. Instead of juggling multiple problems at once, focus on one problem at a time. In this case, if you notice your character is odd, storyline A is weak, and an aspect of storyline B doesn’t make sense, you first go through the book and fix your character in every scene where he/she is off. Then you do the same thing for Storyline A, then Storyline B. I personally prefer this method, but that’s because I know it works for me. If you’ve never tried either, give them both a shot at some point to see what works best for you.
Read your book
Now that you have your approach, take a step back and see what shape your story is in. It might be tempting to start revising based on how you felt when you were writing, but this is often a bad idea. Scenes that seemed good as you were writing may need some work for one reason or another, and scenes that seemed bad at the time may be surprisingly good when you read through. I would recommend giving yourself some time off before you dive in so you can see things with fresh eyes. Shoot for at least a week if you can.
Once you start, don’t make any changes as you read–especially early in the revision process. Your goal here is to simply see what you have to work with and to identify your novel’s problems. Document problems as you go on a blank piece of paper. If you’re going chapter-by-chapter, try writing down each chapter number than listing any problems. If you’re going storyline-by-storyline, have a page for each character/storyline, then document page numbers and issues on the appropriate page. Or figure out some hybrid that works for you (if you’re going with storylines, maybe document issues by chapter then sort them by storyline later). Again, these are just some suggestions. Only you will know what works for you. Don’t be afraid to adapt these ideas as you see fit.
Here’s a post on how to identify your novel’s problems. I suggest keeping these things in mind as you read, then mentally going through each area again once you finish and have a better idea of your complete book.
Once you know what your problems are, consider taking some time to work out your solutions in an informal way. This is how I start every brainstorming and revision planning session. I’ve got a whole post with tips and the benefits of freewriting, so I’ll leave it at that for now. 🙂
Address bigger problems first
No matter which approach you take, I highly recommend addressing the bigger problems first. The bigger problems require the most work and are easier to manage when more of your book is movable or expendable. If you take the time to fix the smaller problems first, you may end up having to trash some of your solutions to solve your larger and more detrimental problem. And then you’ll have to go back and re-solve a problem you’ve already given time to. In some ways, being a writer is like being a doctor. If a patient comes in with multiple issues, doctors will always treat the most life-threatening problem first because it’s essential to the patient’s survival. You should treat your book the same way. And if you do, you might even find that your smaller problems solve themselves.
Don’t try to fix it all in one round
I know I say this a lot, but it can’t be stressed enough. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a number of problems in your book, don’t try to fix them all at once. Use this list as a guide and take them one at a time. There’s no limit to the number of revisions you can do to a book. Make it as manageable as possible and do whatever you have to in order to keep moving forward.
That’s it for this one! As always, these are just tips and guidelines that have worked for me. Modifying writing advice to meet your own needs and workstyle is essential to developing a happy writing life, so don’t be afraid to experiment!
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Now it’s your turn: How do you approach revision? What works well for you? What have you struggled with? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.