Revision: How do you even start?!

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Figuring out *what* you need to revise

Writers tend to fall into two camps: those who love revision (but hate drafting) and those who love drafting (but hate revision). I am firmly in the first camp. I LOVE revising my books. A blank page is terrifying, but deleting everything from a full page and rewriting it is oddly soothing. But where do you even start to approach a book once you have a draft that you know needs a lot of work?

1) First, set your book aside for a while, at least a few weeks, but more time is better. Then, give it a fresh, full read through.

Read with a few key areas in mind:

Character arc (your main character, primarily)

Romance arc

Pacing (Where is it too fast? Where were you bored?)

Info-dumping

Foreshadowing

2) Give your book to a trusted critique partner or two--writers/readers who won't nitpick you on a sloppy first draft and can read for bigger picture feedback. Have them read for any of the above, and ask them: "What questions do you have while reading?" Their questions will help you identify your major issues. Do they not understand character motivation? Does the big plot twist come out of nowhere? Is the romance arc too fast/too slow? Where were they bored?

3) Common things that come up in a first draft revision:

You may need to cut characters entirely/combine/blend characters for more efficient storytelling

Especially if you are a panster: Add subtle foreshadowing throughout the first third/half of your book, so the ending works

Cut a ton of navel gazing in the beginning... but add padding to the ending (which tends to be rushed in first drafts)

Cut info-dumping and find more artful ways to work information in throughout the book

You may need to add or, more likely, delete POVs... or possibly change the POV/tense (i.e.: from 1st person present to 1st person past)


Then this is *how* to actually revise

1) Make a list of things you need to do and boil them down into a few core issues to tackle in a big picture revision. Focus on the 2-3 BIG things that will fundamentally alter the DNA of your book once you've done them (i.e.: character arc, changing POV/tense, etc.). You can save additional changes for subsequent rounds. You may even want to tackle just one thing in a major revision, if doing so will have a large impact.

2) Set a deadline and make a plan on how to meet that deadline--how many scenes/pages/chapters do you need to finish per day/week to stay on track?

3) Be realistic but firm with your timeline. Don't overwhelm yourself with something too tight/unrealistic, but at the same time I don't advise letting a revision drag out. 2-3 weeks is ideal for a fast/frenzied revision (this is my typical turnaround), while 6-8 weeks is a great sweet spot. You may need longer if you're doing major restructuring or rewrites, however.

4)Use firm goal posts, such as contest entries (Pitch Wars) or events (a conference) or something seasonal ("I want to query before conference season begins), to push yourself to meet your deadline.

5) Setting a daily page count goal can work well--2 or 5 or 10 pages a day/week

6) Alternately, set goals by scene, chapter or problem. i.e.: "this week I will work on my romantic arc" or "tonight I will finish this chapter." Keep managing goals within your "headlights" can make a revision feel less overwhelming.

7) Get the supplies you need to be successful. You can try different methods/different things may or may not work. Examples:

Use a planner to keep track of your daily work/goals/accomplishments (such as a Passion Planner or bullet journal)

Buy a white board for tracking arcs/issues/spotting ways to fix issues

Use notecards so you can visualize scenes/issues

Use Susan Dennard's free worksheets (find them on susandennard.com in her "For Writers" section)

Print out your manuscript and use color-coded sticky tabs to mark problems

8) Don't be afraid to work out of order. Easing your way into a revision with something that feels easy, but that perhaps is at the middle or end of your book is fine. Working out of order can work well if you keep your process organized.

9) But a "linear revision," i.e.: starting at the beginning and working through chronologically to the end, is a tried and true method. You may need to work through your book in order more than once if you need to fix multiple arcs and find it overwhelming to do them at the same time. Several linear passes, focusing on a different issue each time, can break revision into several manageable rounds.

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