Easy Steps to First-pass Revision

Fewer than half of all novels begun see their way to THE END. Most novels are abandoned, so when you finish, you’re way ahead. Congratulations! But what now?
Writing Tip for Today: There are as many revision methods as there are novelists, but a few  ideas seem to surface again and again. Try these easy ways to start down Revision Road:

  • Give It a Rest. Any writer will be very close to the story as he/she finishes the first draft. Too close. By shelving your draft, you are in a sense letting it cool off. I recommend two weeks minimum for first-time novelists, longer if you can manage it. And while you’re waiting, start your next novel, short story, article or poem.
  • Read It Through. After your novel’s “gestation” period, get out your manuscript and read it straight through. Have a notebook handy to jot down things you see as you read. For instance, if your character is wearing khakis at the beginning of a scene, be sure she isn’t wearing jeans at the end (unless she’s changing clothes in the scene). Some writers get fancy and use color-coded sticky notes or pens to denote different elements, subplots or other changes.
  • Start with Story, Theme, Character. Not necessarily in that order. Make the observations that you can, given your expertise in seeing the “Big Picture.” Do what you can to make the story believable, the character sympathetic and the theme consistent. By doing work first on these Big Picture items, you may save yourself work later. Why rework sentences that may be deleted altogether?
  • Repair Some Sentences. If you wish to work on the writing itself (usually referred to as line editing or copy editing), that’s your choice. Do what you can, but don’t fall for the thinking that deleting your “ly” words or correcting grammar mistakes is all you need. Most first-timers need STORY help. This is where it pays to get a pro editor–a good one.
  • Do You Need a Pro Editor? It’s up to you, but most first novels will benefit from a professional edit. If you “can’t find anything wrong” with your first draft except for typos, it’s a SURE SIGN that you need a professional editor–preferably one who specializes in MACRO or SUBSTANTIVE editing. Writing a successful novel will probably require expert editor eyes, so plan to find a good one. WARNING: ANYONE may call herself an editor. There aren’t any licensing requirements, so beware.  To find a good editor, I recommend that writers begin with any writing organizations they belong to, or ask published authors for a referral to a good editor. Going rates vary widely, but expect to pay anywhere from $30/hour to more than $100/hour. Get your editor to sign a contract up front!

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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