Revising Your Work

Writing your book is never done. It is only finished when you finally decide to quit working on it. You could actually revise it for years and still find ways that you think would improve it because every time you look your writing you see it differently. As a writer you are very attached to your words and since you are the one who put them down on paper you are reluctant to change them. Revision takes a certain mindset. After all, you have spent a long time getting those carefully chosen words down on paper and now you are being asked to destroy your good work.

There comes a time to take a long hard look at what you have written. Many good writers say that they have spent more time reworking and editing than they actually did writing. Remember you can write the very best sentence of your career but if it absolutely doesn’t belong in what you are writing it has to go. Revision is not proofreading for typographical errors and revision is not using your spell check to correct misplaced words. Proofreading is an important part of the writing process but revision is looking back on your work and making changes to make it better. Sometimes revision is cruel. You need to go in cold emotionless, with a scissors in hand. You need to add words, subtract words, move words around and substitute certain words for other words in order to make your story flow and keep your readers wanting to know more.

Did you follow your initial outline? Did you make an initial outline? If you made an initial outline, good for you, you have made the revision process easier because an outline should be a crucial part of your writing process. An outline keeps you on track and keeps you from having to do a ton of editing later on.
Each time you sit down to write take a little time to review your research notes and character sketches. Fix any problems that jump out at you now. Correct any rough dialogue or descriptions. Don’t over censor yourself during the first draft but the tighter you can keep your first draft the easier your editing will be later on. Keep on top of inconsistencies or they will get out of hand before you get to the end. The outline and notes I asked you about earlier are the best way to determine what needs to be fixed. You can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken.

During the extensive writing process you can easily get caught up in the story and run off on a tangent that takes you way off the road like a missed road sign. If your book doesn’t actually follow your notes take a “gut” check. When your manuscript and notes don’t agree it can be instructive in the sense that each note is a test, if you think you have come up with a better way for your story to progress, check those notes. You may have found a better way to get to the end of your story or you may be headed to a dead end. Over the many weeks and months it takes to write your story you need a road map to make sure you get to the right destination without too many fatal detours.
Periodically do a 50 page edit. It doesn’t have to be exactly 50 pages but it should be at about of quarter mark of your book. Sometimes you get so caught up in the minutiae that you lose sight of the whole story and how it all fits together or you forget some little detail that is crucial to the outcome of your story. This allows you to stay on top of your story and makes editing at the end much easier. Remember your story lives beyond the margins of the page. It lives the the context, theme and mood of the story. When you are editing don’t forget these areas of your book.

Keep track of your revisions through a timeline. Anytime you make a revision, mark the revision and save it as a new file. It doesn’t matter if you have 50 plus files by the end. You will be happy if you need to go back and retrieve deleted material.Use spreadsheets to keep track of your stories theme, mood, characters, plot points, conflicts etc. Any narrative component can be tracked by a spreadsheet. One way to this is by word count. This character needs some additional backstory at word 4500, this scene needs some beefing up a word count 5300, something just isn’t right at word 10002. This way you can easily go back later and find the spot what needs extra attention.

While doing your editing look for these things and replace them. Awkward or unclear language, inconsistencies, plot holes, lack of variety in sentences, overused words, clumsy expressions. Have you ‘dribbled’ out information instead of giving out enough of it at one time to make sure the reader doesn’t become confused?
Did you create unique details about the setting a scenery, are there wobbly tenses and/or POVs, sentence fragments or run-on sentences. Is there an access of adverbs or superfluous words? Do your characters act consistently, both the main characters and the protagonists? How about bad or broken formatting.
What about reason and logic? As a writer you know the point the story has to reach but at times it is all too easy to mislead ourselves and others. Do you artificially twist situations to get to the point you are trying to reach? If you do readers will be annoyed. Don’t leave loose ends hanging. Is there sufficient variety in your story, this includes exploits and locations, the length of sentences and the expressions your characters use? Get the details right.

Once you are satisfied with your novel consider sending your manuscript to beta readers. This could include friends but should also include professional people if possible. You may know a freelance editor or people who are critical readers. As responses come back start your rewriting with any big changes they suggest. You may want to consider additional rounds of beta readers and rounds of revisions until you are comfortable with your work. At this point once again check for typos, A novel is a tremendously complicated undertaking and few people get it perfect the first time around. Your willingness to review well and revise deep will be the key to creating a great book.