Revising 101

Hello, my dears!

Welcome to Revising 101, wherein I share the joys of revising with you and hopefully shed a little bit of light on this process.

Which basically means that I tell you how I revise and you can ponder whether or not I’m crazy.

So! Here we are. You have finished drafting your manuscript. You have a completed first draft. It is most likely riddled with typos and plot holes and weak motivations and unsatisfying characters.


Writing a first draft is really freaking hard work. You have trudged through the messy process of drafting and now have a semblance of a book in front of you. But you are nowhere near finished.

Because now that you have written your draft, you can start getting it right.

Just like with writing, revising is a process that differs from writer to writer. So if the way that I go about things is just not going to work for you, that’s not a big deal—you know yourself and know how your brain works and that’s the most important part of all of this. Do you, dear writer.

So! My first step when I when a manuscript is to LEAVE IT ALONE for a little bit.

This is what YA author extraordinaire Rachel Hawkins often calls The Resting Time. This is the time where you let both your manuscript and your brain rest. So that when you pick it back up, you’re seeing it with fresh(ish) eyes and a clear mind. Use the resting time to read. Watch TV. Hang out with friends. Hell, write another book.

It’s hard to know how much resting time each book needs—and it’s completely up to you. But when the resting time is over, you will know it in yourself. Sometimes this is because you have a deadline and have no choice. If you don’t have a deadline, you’ll know because all of a sudden you’ll be thinking about your book and wondering about your characters.

It’s possible you’ll already have ideas to fill in some of those plot holes you introduced in the first draft or have figured out how to strengthen that weak motivation. And that’s wonderful.

When I know that the resting time is over, I pull up the document, copy/paste the entire thing into a new document and name it using the format Title.Revision 1.Date, turn on track changes*, and cold read my first draft. I do make changes as I read. I’ll fix typos and look up things I highlighted to fact check. I make note of things that are problematic using the comment feature and a complicated highlighting system that I like. But I try my best to read it without doing a lot of surgery quite yet.

After this cold read/light revision, I jump in and really start bloodying up the manuscript.

If I already know about certain weak parts that I need to work on, I’ll work on them as I get to them. And if there are sections where I just gave up and moved on while drafting, I’ll work on drafting the transitions or filling out a scene I left bare.

And this is how I work until I’ve finished my first revision.

It will look something like this when I’m finished:

A page from the first revision of Making Headlines.

Pretty bloody, right? This part two of the first revision is usually a doozy for me—I rewrite and move things around and remove entire portions and reconsider basically everything.

At some point, I have a bit of a breakdown and am convinced that this is the worst book ever written, which I tell to my sister, my boyfriend, and any friend who is willing to listen to me. But, even though I’m frustrated and annoyed and down on myself, I have to slog through the second revision, until I get to the end.

And then I start the process all over again. Because writing is a masochistic endeavor. (Normally this happens after a couple days off from revising.)

When I begin the second revision, I copy/paste the entire first revision into a new document, preserving the first revision as it is and beginning anew, following the same format as the first revision.

I read through, but typically revise as I go, instead of doing two separate passes. Normally, the second revision is less frustrating than the first. I can finally see the book taking shape. Sure, I’ll still have questions or concerns or sections that I’m not at all happy with—which I make a note of—but, overall, the second revision is a happy-making one.

Because when it’s finished, that means it’s time for other people to read it.

Next week: Critique partners and beta readers. Get excited.
*Yes, I work in Microsoft Word. If you don’t, I suggest you use whatever editing tools your software has. And if you’re working by hand, RED PEN TIME.

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