For many writers, getting that first draft down can give them a rush of excitement. The words flow freely, the ideas come at lightning speed, the book seems to be coming together just as they had in their head. But then comes the hard part: revising. The writer can feel overwhelmed with the “mess” he’s created. In an effort to clean it all up, he starts painstakingly “editing,” correcting syntax, adding some things, taking out other things, cleaning up punctuation and spelling. Often, this process can seem like torture. And there’s a good reason why.
Revising and editing is a multi-stepped task. You may clean everything up and make it look pretty, but your story or book may still not work because you haven’t addressed the underlying issues that need to be fixed.
To be your own best editor, you need a plan. Here it is:
1. Read your entire draft.
Grab a cup of coffee or tea, and have a pad of paper at your side. As you read, make some general notes and impressions on the pad – what things are working for you, what things don’t, places that seem overwritten, others that need beefing up. Avoid the
temptation to correct anything on the draft; that will only slow you down. What you’re looking for is the big picture.
2. Identify the problems.
Take a look at your comments and see if a pattern emerges. Do you have problems with structure, character development, awkward writing, point of view, length, plot, subplot, etc.? In all probability, there will be multiple issues that need to be addressed. Make a list of these.
3. Make a Revision Plan.
Take each element that needs fixing and at the top of a piece of paper, write it out (eg, “Shelly’s motivations for leaving her husband are weak”). You can also do this on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Next, draw a line under the problem. Then brainstorm all the
possible solutions to the problem. Write more than you think you’ll need. Write some crazy ones, too. Don’t censure yourself. When you’re done, review what you’ve come up with and circle the solution you think will work best. You might even end up circling two and trying both to see which one actually works better. Determine how you’re going to tackle these revisions: One at a time? Or more organically? There’s no right answer – just whatever makes the most sense to you.
4. Rewrite – don’t tinker.
If more than one-third of your manuscript (or of a section) needs to be revised, put it aside and start fresh. Yes, I know that sounds like a lot of work, but believe me, this is the most effective way to revise a manuscript that needs more than just simple
polishing. The problem with trying to fix what’s already on the page is that your brain becomes wedded to what’s already there. It’s difficult to come up with a fresh way of thinking when you’re faced with what already is. Somehow, the very fact that words are put on a page in black and white lends certain legitimacy to them. Plus, you know how hard you worked to get a particular passage right, which makes it really hard to let go of. (This is why the “director’s cut” of films is never as good as the released version; because directors can’t separate the work they put into a scene from whether it serves the story. That’s why there are film editors.)
5. Make it sing.
Now that you’ve fixed the big-picture problems, it’s time to go back over the revised manuscript and polish your prose. Look for redundancies, too much reliance on adjectives and adverbs, clichés, weak nouns and verbs, dialogue that goes on too long, paragraphs
that need to be broken up, poor word choice, problems with syntax, punctuation, and spelling.
About the Author:
Diane O’Connell is an independent editor, writing coach, and publishing consultant with over 25 years’ experience. She specializes in working
with first-time authors. To find out more about her services, please visit her web site at http://www.docls.com. Or, email her at [email protected] “I can state categorically that my
first novel would never have been published without Diane.” – Cody McFadyen, author of 4 international bestsellers, including Abandoned: A Thriller.