How to Revise Your Novel
Before you take the leap and send your manuscript out to publishers or even editors, you want to make sure your work is up to your own standards. A first draft is just that – a draft. The journey to a finished novel is still far from over. Judging your own writing can be hard, but here are a few tips on how to revise your novel.
Embrace the Rewrite
Knowing that you need to scrap your work and rewrite is a sign of a good writer, not a bad one. No one produces a perfect first draft. It isn’t possible. Studying your work and realizing that you have the power to make it better is a beautiful thing.
After your first draft, rewriting does not involve fixing a comma here, removing some repetition there, adding some detail, or backspacing on some wordiness. Rewriting is an overhaul of how you tell your story. Before, you needed to tell your story, but now, you need to optimize how you tell your story. As Kristina Adams wrote in The Writer’s Cookbook, “Most of the writing process doesn’t involve writing.” It’s time to fall in love with all of the other parts of being a writer.
Take a Break
You’ve just finished a first draft. That is an amazing accomplishment. Months and months or even years of your heart and soul were poured into these words. As much as you love them, you’re sick of them. You will either see perfection or garbage and nothing in between. Step back from your draft and take a break.
Spend some time rereading some of your favorite books. Notice what it was that made you fall in love with the words in the first place. Read in your genre and out of your genre. Familiarize yourself with amazing writing. When you’re itching to get back to your draft, you’ll be better equipped to take note of the presence or lack of those qualities in your own work.
Focus on Developmental Aspects First
These developmental aspects include the structure, the characterization, the pacing, and all of the other big picture pieces of your draft. Before you started writing, you probably crafted some kind of outline. Depending on your style and preference, you may have paragraphs and paragraphs for each chapter or only a few sentences. It doesn’t really matter. What matters now is throwing that outline out the window and creating a new one. The direction of your draft has inevitably changed since you first typed “Chapter 1”. Forget what your novel was supposed to be and figure out what it actually is.
The change in direction could be for the better, but did that new decision you made in chapter 10 contradict something you wrote in chapter 2? Does a character’s verbal tic from chapter 1 stay consistent through the end? Are the actions of your protagonist realistic to the kind of character you described them to be? It’s time to figure all of that out.
Taking the time to rewrite an outline will force you to think of these details under the scope of your finished first draft, not just the ideal image you had before you started.
Lisa Preston, in a Writer’s Digest article, referred to this as “tasking your computer”. The technology you have available to you can make this process exponentially easier if you know how to use it.
Search and replace, grammar and spell check, editing websites, computerized readers, and even online forums can all be tools in your writing arsenal. Search and replace can be utilized to spot repetition in your work, word processors’ built-in grammar and spell check can help point out more obvious mistakes, and websites such as Grammarly can pick up on the more subtle errors. Computerized readers will help you catch something you’ve missed or phrasing that sounds off. Use online forums to storyboard with other authors or even have them read and give feedback on some of your work.
You do not need to be the reclusive writer locked in a room with paper and a quill. Use these tools to make yourself a better writer and your novel will be better for it.
You knew what you were writing when you wrote it. You know what happens next. You have expectations and insights that a new reader will not. Because of this, you will often miss some mistakes that you made or find some details obvious that are not clearly outlined.
Often, the best remedy for this is to read out of order. Read your chapters and paragraphs in random orders to help make the words feel new and foreign to you. If you do not know what’s coming next, you won’t have any expectations about what’s coming. It will also help to read your work out loud. Hopefully, you can find someone who is willing to listen and give you feedback. If not, however, reading aloud to yourself is still a valuable exercise in catching your own mistakes.