The Revising Process
Hello fellow writers and welcome to the final chapter of my installment on the writing process. By now you should be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, for at long last your book is nearing completion. However, there is still one last stretch of track to cover before you have finished your novel, the revising process.
In the last two chapters we have covered planning out every aspect of your novel and explored my multifaceted approach to drafting. Now it’s time to conclude your journey and tackle the revising process, transforming your novel into a complete manuscript.
For this chapter I have divided up the wide world of revision into three sections. First, I will review what revision looks like during the early stages of drafting a bit further down on this page. I will then then talk about revising a nearly completed manuscript in the following entry. Finally, I will help you prepare for the big one, revising a complete draft of your novel. But first let’s take a few steps back and explore the revising process in general and cover how it can be useful even during the earliest stages of drafting.
Stages of revision
As we discussed way back at the beginning of this guide, the revising process is composed of three types of edits:
- Embellishing: Improving word choice, enhancing plot structure, adding colorful details, and fleshing out scenes/dialogue.
- Pruning: Removing unnecessary text and even entire scenes to help improve the overall flow of your story and maximize the reader’s interest.
- Proofreading: Correcting spelling errors, grammar, formatting issues, and typos from completed text.
Goals for revision during the early stages of writing a novel include:
- Refinement of core text.
- Development of scenes, characters, and plot.
Goals for later stages include:
The role of revision during the early stages of drafting your novel
Some writers will tell you not to revise your story until you have completed a full first draft. To just keep on hammering away while the iron is hot and push through all the way to the end. Personally, I find this advice to be generally unhelpful as going back and tinkering with your existing text can help you to:
- Refresh older parts of your story in your mind.
- Add key details that lead to new scenes and plot devices.
- Place yourself in the reader’s perspective when evaluating your story and balancing your narrative.
One key caveat is that you should not attempt to revise a piece of text while you are still in the middle working on the initial draft, as spending too much time playing with the words themselves instead of deciding what happens next can kill your inspiration and momentum.
Revising existing plot, scenes, and text early on
Whenever I am working on a partially completed scene, I like to begin by simply reading whatever text I have drafted so far out loud. This helps me to refresh the scene in my mind, allowing me to visualize what is happening and ponder the goals I have for what comes next. During early stages, I might find myself adding considerable content as well, dropping in new details, dialogue, and descriptions as my writer’s sense clues me in that the patch I am going over is still a little rough.
The focus of revising during early the stages of writing a novel should be geared towards drafting more text rather than perfecting what you already have. Yes, if you see a better choice of word or phrase, it’s perfectly fine to tweak things as you go, but if you spend all of your time picking over every sentence of your existing text, you will likely impede your overall progress.
One day I might have an idea for a new scene, fleshing things out into a simple outline. A bit later on, inspiration might strike, and I sit down and draft a few hundred words of my fledgling scene. In a later session, I might review this existing text, smoothing and embellishing it a bit before completing the rest of the action. Then I would put the scene away for a few days or even weeks before coming back to it again, this time filling in detail and structure, bringing the draft into a complete first stage. I might come back a time or two as I work on the rest of the novel, adding pieces of foreshadowing and context that were produced while working on later sections of the book. Then, during the major revision of the novel, I would come back and take several distinct passes over the material, ensuring that my characters, settings, tension, pacing, atmosphere, word choice, etc. are as powerful as I can possibly make them, as well as that the logic, consistency, and continuity of my story is tight.
Writer’s block: Overly critical editor edition
Creating art is not a test. There is more than one way to do a good job and searching for a perfect answer to every problem will not only slow you down, it will burn you out. If you find yourself agonizing over a single word or sentence, simply write down what you are not satisfied with and why and then come back to it later.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by how raw your early text feels, just remind yourself that every successful novel starts out just like yours and that by the end of the project your book will feel a great deal more polished. If you find that you simply cannot stop yourself from tinkering with the words early on, come up with a series of rules so that you can keep making progress. For example, you might limit yourself to only fifteen minutes of revising existing scenes each day, or allow yourself to work on them only after making some progress on drafting and planning first.
Then it’s time for the culminating exercise of this installment: Completing your novel.