This is a common question for first time novel writers, heck even experienced authors wonder this from time to time. You know what you've written needs some work but you aren't sure how to go about it. Worry not! I will be writing a three-part blog series to help you tackle the process of revision and polish up your manuscript.
What is Revision?
Let me start by saying what revision is not: it is not fixing every single issue all in one go. It is completely overwhelming to try and correct the gazillion things you spot in your work. So relax. Revision is done in rounds. The amount of rounds and length of each will vary from project to project.
Revision is also not editing. These two terms are often used interchangeably when they are in fact separate tasks. Sometimes first time authors will picture themselves with a red pen after they finish their first draft, adding a comma here and there as needed. They may think this is the only thing that needs to be done upon draft completion. Not true.
Revision is often described as the "real work" in writing. It is the molding of a bunch of messy words into a true story. It is implementing character arc, narrative pacing, descriptive language, and other elements into your story that are absent from the initial attempt. Revision is not fixing grammar and conventions. That is editing. Editing is done after revision takes place and usually by a qualified editor.
Where Do I Start with Revision?
The answer to this question is not what you may think. You start revision by actually stepping away from your manuscript. That's right. Put your hands up and step away from the computer. You will need to let your work breathe for six weeks. Why? This will give you the chance to get some much needed perspective. When you first finish, you will be too close to your work to see your mistakes. Take the time to write some poetry, read a book, or squeeze in a short story. When it is time to go back, you'll have fresh eyes for your work.
Revision Part One: Taking Stock
Before you roll up your sleeves and dive in, the first thing you need to do is take stock of what you have. You need to do a full inventory in order to figure out what to fix. You will be taking notes for this part, so grab a notebook or open a fresh doc on your computer. Your first task is to reread your entire manuscript from start to finish...without making any changes. That's right. Yes, it will bother you at certain points. But your job is to write down notes for each chapter about what needs to be done, similar to a surgeon getting x-rays, MRIs, and other images done before making any cuts.
The rationale behind this is that there will be larger issues that go across the book or entire sections that may need to be cut. If you dive right in to chapter one, you may be wasting your time when you later realize the whole chapter needs to be omitted. It will also be too late to weave in a subplot you realize you need for the climax when you are at the end of the book. So reread, take notes, and digest your work as a whole. Examine your character arcs, pacing, and overall narrative structure. What changes do you need to make?
This will get you ready for part two...making your revision plan. Check out my post Developing a Revision Plan for next steps!
Want to get even more info about revision? Check out some of my guest posts:
Five Common Revision Problems and How to Fix Them
What an Editor Won't Do: The Myth of the Magical Editor