Welcome to part three of the How to Create a Writing Process That Works series! (ICYMI: In order to help you discover your own process, I created a writing process series with tips for developing a process that works best for you!) Today we’re going to talk about revision. You can find the post on brainstorming here and the post on drafting here!
Revision can be both very fun and very frustrating. During brainstorming and drafting, the main goal is to get an idea written, but nothing about it has to be good. When we get to revision, it’s time to start caring about how good your work is. Few things are more rewarding than seeing your book start to come together, but it’s also intimidating when you can’t figure how to fix your issues.That’s a large reason why this process tends to go a little slower than drafting.
Revision can be one of the more challenging aspects of the writing process to nail down. There are several different approaches to pick from, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on the three that I think are the most accessible. You may find it best to use just one of these approaches, or some combination of all three.
First, no matter what, read!
Maybe you took notes while you were writing. Maybe you think you have a good idea what isn’t working in your draft. And maybe you’re right! But you won’t really know what you have to work with until you read your book. You might be surprised to find that something you thought was a terrible idea, isn’t so terrible after all. Or you might realize that a character you thought would be really important isn’t all that necessary.
I find it helpful to take some time away from my projects before I read. How much time is up to you, but I would suggest at least a week. A large part of revision is learning to be objective about what your book really needs. Time away will help with this. If you need a guide for what you should be looking for, consider this post on how to identify what’s wrong with your novel. Once you read and know what your book’s problems are, there are a few different ways you can approach fixing them.
Revise by chapter
I’ve found that this method works well if you’re a very sequential thinker or if your book needs a lot of work. It can also be helpful if you really have no idea where to start. Breaking your book down by chapter gives you a very clear work structure. You can go into each chapter and assess the issues, then make a plan to fix them. It’s also easy to set goals. If you have a chapter that’s a hot mess, your goal for the day might be to fix one or two scenes. If you have a chapter that’s in better shape, you might want to knock out the whole chapter (or two!) in a day. It’s also the most quantitative approach, and it’s the easiest way to track your progress. So if you’re someone who feels most successful when you can say you’ve revised half your book, then this approach may be for you!
Revise by problem
If you get more satisfaction out of crossing tasks off your list, then you might want to consider revising by problem. For this approach, you’ll move through your entire novel correcting one problem at a time. So if you have a character you need to cut, you’ll go through the entire book and remove him. If there’s not enough tension, you’ll go through the entire book and figure out how to add more tension.Then you’ll move to the next problem and do the same. I find this approach (and the next) can be helpful if you draft sequentially. Revising by problem helps you to see your book differently and will also give you a new experience when you go to read back through it. This method can work hand in hand with the next one.
Revise by storyline
Similarly to revising by problem, revising by storyline focuses on one aspect of your book at a time. In this case, we’re looking at your plotlines. For this technique, it’s helpful if you make a list of your major plotlines before you do your read through. Then as you read, check in with each storyline as you go and assess each storyline’s strengths and weaknesses. When you’re finished reading, move through your book and revise sequentially by storyline. In other words, start with your biggest plotline, and go through the first chapter with a focus on fixing just that storyline. Then do the same thing for chapter two and so forth until you reach the end. Once you finish your first storyline, take your second storyline and do the same thing. Not every chapter will have every storyline, but check in just to be sure. You’ll do this for each storyline until you don’t have any left.
Should you tackle your smallest or biggest issues first?
This is, of course, going to be entirely up to you, but unless you’re moving sequentially, I would highly recommend tackling your bigger issues first. It might be tempting to fix the smaller problems up front; they often feel more manageable and being about to cross them off your list is so much fun. However, keep in mind that the bigger a plot/problem is, the more space it’s taking up in your novel. Which means it’s entirely possible that you’ll address a smaller problem only find that you have to rewrite or delete your smaller solution in order to correct your larger problem. Tackling the big problems first can be intimidating, especially if your list is long, but it will often save you time in the long run.
How I learned what works for me
For me, figuring out how I revise best happened organically once I started getting feedback. In my early writing days, it was instinctual for me to move sequentially. That’s how I drafted, so it felt like that’s how I should revise. But when I started getting feedback from other writers, they often broke my book down by problem and storyline. It felt natural for me to go through and address their issues in the same way. I found that when I did this, it took me out of the story and made me more objective. When I revised sequentially, it was easy to get caught up in the book and I was more likely to make decisions with my heart. When I revise by problem and storyline, the problems are my focus–not the story. This has made it easier for me to make decisions a little more clinically. That doesn’t mean some cuts and changes aren’t hard, but I feel better about making them because they solve the problem. Now I only revise sequentially if I know there’s a lot that I’m going to have to rewrite.
Tips to help you find what works for you
Of course, your best bet is to try everything. That’s pretty much the theme of this series. You won’t know what works best for you until you try it. So give it a shot–even if you only try it once! You never know what surprising trick might unlock something in your process.
If you’re torn about which one to try first, I would suggest doing the opposite of how you draft; so if you draft sequentially revise either by problem or storyline, and if you draft out of order, try revising sequentially. I’ve found this helps me to see my story in a new light.
Also, don’t be afraid to get feedback. As you can see, that played a big role in how I revise. For tips on how to find readers, ask for feedback, give feedback, and evaluate feedback, check out my feedback series starting with: How to find the right early readers for your writing.
This concludes our Writing Process Series! As always, I hope this helps!
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Now it’s your turn: Do you prefer to revise sequentially or out of order? How did you learn what works best for you? Tell me about it in the comments!