9 revision techniques that will knock your writer socks off
Yay, you finished a first draft! Give yourself a delicious piece of Marie Callender's chocolate satin pie, because you deserve it, dude.
If you are like me, you ended up with a VERY ROUGH draft, the type of draft that if anyone saw it, you would wear a paper bag on your head for the rest of your life. You feel 25% proud, 25% done with life, 25% hate for your draft, and 25% ready to revise. (Maybe that last 25% is a little generous.) Wherever you are in your emotional writing journey, you are probably wondering where to go next.
There is not one “right” way to revise your novel which is why I’ve compiled a wide variety of revision techniques from many GREATS (a.k.a. successful authors). I encourage you to experiment with each one until you find what works for you personally. No matter what, my guarantee is that at least one of these techniques will knock your freakin’ writer socks off!
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Set goals and create a plan.
Because a writer could technically revise FOREVER [insert Sandlot scene here], a great first step is to create a plan with a completion date. This goal will make you accountable for your time and split up the daunting endeavor of revising an entire novel into more manageable tasks. Although your plan should be personalized based on your writer style, I recommend that your plan include the following:
A longer break
Goodness, you’ve just finished your first draft of a novel! Give yourself some time. I know you want to get on the New York Times bestseller list like YESTERDAY, but your writer soul needs rejuvenation time. Many authors out there recommend taking at least a month away from a draft before revising. Try it out. I bet you’ll find that time away from your draft allows you to see your story from a fresh perspective and discover better solutions with your newly energized mind. If you get bored, many authors recommend working on another project or reading books on writing and revision. You’ll still feel productive as you work on your craft, even though you are officially on a break.
Itty bitty breaks in between chapters
It's also a good idea to plan mini breaks every couple of chapters. You are running a marathon, not a sprint.
Small goals that add up to big results
Revising a novel is overwhelming, so make it manageable. Set small daily goals that add up to big results like finishing a second draft! For example, you could edit two scenes per day. Or you could work on a certain number of pages or chapters per day. Achieving small goals will help you stay motivated and productive.
Tasks organized by level of difficulty
Some authors recommend arranging your list of scenes or tasks in order of decreasing difficulty. You will most likely have more energy and enthusiasm right after a long break than after revising the majority of your book. Use that energy wisely to tackle the most difficult areas of your book first. It will make your life easier later on.
Print your draft
Once you have your goals and schedule set, print a physical copy of your manuscript and grab your red pen. This will give your eyes a break from the glaring screen and engage your brain through physical touch.
Focus on one thing
As you revise, you may notice gaps in your story, and you will probably want to fill them right away. Your revision time is sacred and should not be tainted by writing. You will get your writing time later. Instead of adding more to your book as you go along, write down your ideas on a separate piece of paper or in the margins of your copy. You could organize these ideas into a table with columns (like problems/solutions or characters). Whatever you do, do NOT add anything until you finish revising. Focus man.
Read your story aloud.
This will help you slow down and avoid skimming. You will also be able to hear the flow of each paragraph and catch if it sounds choppy or if you repeatedly use the same words or sentence structures.
Start with BIG issues, not grammar.
You will be tempted to revise sentence by sentence, but this is your first draft! You will probably have issues with entire scenes, chapters, and characters. You may even notice gaps in your story or you may realize that your beginning does not set up your ending. These are major changes that will require the reworking of entire pages or chapters. Sentence-level edits will most likely be erased, so don’t waste your time sweating the small stuff. Save it for a later draft when you are already happy with the content and organization of your story.
Plan for multiple drafts.
Let’s face it, a first draft is rarely “all fixed” in one setting (not that a perfect draft actually exists, but you get the idea). You are going to have to pass through your story multiple times, so make each readthrough count. Many authors recommend focusing on something different for every new draft. For example, in the first run through, you could focus on plot, then next time characters, then setting, and then dialogue. This will help you avoid potential revision burnout. The draft will look new each time as you focus on something different.
Use the reverse outline technique.
Both planners and pantsers (those who don’t plan before writing) will love this tactic. AFTER you write your draft, you write a one sentence outline of each chapter. Take a look at your sentences all together and ask yourself: Does the overall plot flow? How is the pacing of your story? Does each chapter move the plot forward? Should you rearrange any scenes? Then go through each chapter and write a one sentence outline of every paragraph. Ask yourself: Does every paragraph have a point? Does every paragraph move the story forward? Do the sentences flow or are there gaps? The reverse outline is my personal favorite revision technique. If you take one thing from this post, take the reverse outline technique and implement it.
Explain your story to a friend and let them ask questions.
Summarizing your story will help you clarify and simplify your plot. Allowing a friend to ask you questions about your plot and characters will help you discover plot holes or things that may cause the reader confusion. Remember to take notes so you don’t forget your new insights.
Have peers review your work.
If you feel stuck during or after the revision process, send your story out to a peer. Ask them to take notes on what you have done well and what you could improve. Their questions and concerns will provide fresh energy to your starving writer soul.
You are officially a revision master.
Now that you have nine ways to revise your novel, I invite you to choose one and implement it today. Don’t be afraid to try something new. If it doesn’t work, throw it out and try something else. As you experiment with the revision process, you will develop your writing skills and your confidence. You will learn about what feeds your writer soul. You will FREE THE WRITER.
Share your favorite revision techniques in the comments below. And remember, if you find yourself feeling blocked, grab my free guide to overcoming writer’s block.