Writing is the easy part. Revision is where the work resides and in order to slog through it with grace, you need to have a strategy. That is, you need to plan your approach otherwise you are just poking at words with a stick.
Start with a big-picture view of your manuscript and work down into the details. There’s no sense in fussing with punctuation and word omissions if your novel is not yet structurally sound. Be prepared to rewrite your book–my college professor used to tell his students, “It doesn’t begin to sing until at least the thirteenth rewrite.”
If that terrifies you, hang on. Let’s pause to do some math. First you had your idea. That counts. One. Maybe you outlined your chapters or developed and arranged scenes. Two. You wrote, word by word, scene by scene. Three. You rearranged your draft, added some research. Four. You renamed your character, changed his hair color, added his Meyers-Briggs type and gave him a quirk or two. Five. You shared sections with your writers group or took your first ten pages to a workshop. Six.
Even if your writing path has taken a different trail, chances are you have been tweaking your novel. You’re half-way to a singing manuscript. But now it is time to stop tinkering and start strategizing a revision plan. This is what mine looks like:
- Read for gaps in the big picture. Research missing details. Write missing scenes.
- Read for flow. Map the action. Read dialog out loud. Rewrite scenes to improve continuity and clarity.
- Cut. Ouch, yes, but necessary. Cut every scene, line and word that doesn’t serve a purpose. Be brave; cut your words. What you don’t say is as telling as what you do say.
- DIY corrections. Read for correctness and not just grammar–check your story for flaws. To be credible in fiction you need to be consistent with your details.
- Assign beta-readers. Review feedback. Make final changes.
- Hire a professional editor to proofread.
If you try to “revise” in one grand sweep, you will overlook too much. What editing publications has taught me is that you have to break down the process. When editing “This is Living Naturally,” the first read is simply for fit. Does the article fit the tone and message of the publication? Next I edit for clarity. Will the readers understand the story? Next I edit for correctness. Is the study cited accurate? Is that a comma splice? Did the writer mean “there” instead of “their”? Finally, I pass it off to a proof-reader because one set of eyes is not enough. And after that, I read it to to catch any omissions or errors in the final proof. If I tried to do all that editing in one sitting, I would either miss problems with structure, typos or facts.
No matter how big or small your writing project, you need to develop a strategy. It doesn’t have to look exactly like mine, but it needs to begin with the big picture and end with the smallest details. You also need to invite extra “eyes” to help see what your eyes have missed. Let your novel sing!