How do you approach revision? Do you just sit down and trust your instincts? Do you just let whatever happens happen? The chances are if you have a haphazard approach, you’ll have haphazard results.
When revising, you should have a plan. You should have a methodical approach that’ll cover all the requirements of the revision.
Here’s the ten-step process I use …
10. Read Your Work Until You’re Sick of It
If you think that first draft is great, you’re kidding yourself. The first draft is a spill. This is where you just need to get everything out. It might contain the potential for greatness, but it’s going to need work.
Read it, reread it, and keep doing that until you can get no more out of it.
9. Put Your Work Away for a Period
Sometimes, deadlines don’t allow us this leeway. But, if you can, put your work away – for a minimum of one week, but for as long as three months (or longer) if possible.
When you finally go back to it, it should be with a fresh perspective. You might’ve even come up with a few new ideas during the interim. Often, stepping away from your work – and removing that pressure to produce – frees your imagination.
8. Start Reading and Rereading Again
Attack your work with a new vigour. If you’ve given yourself enough time, it’ll be like reading something for the first time. This’ll help with your objectivity.
7. Send It Out to Alpha Readers
Develop a network of like-minded people with whom you share your work and exchange feedback. Make sure they’re people you respect, and who understand what you’re trying to do. They don’t have to be writing the same genre as you to provide good feedback. But do be conscious of people who specialize in a certain genre, and read everything through the filter of that genre, e.g. they only read romance, and expect everything else they read to be written the same as romance would be written.
6. The Feedback Revision
You should now have some feedback to focus on. Get back to revising. Address every point. Even if you don’t agree with feedback, consider why that feedback was offered. Is there something about that particular point you should consider, even if it’s a different facet of it? If more than one person has given you the same feedback, then it’s probably valid.
5. The Double Read
Read a chapter, then read it again. The first read is just to familiarize yourself with everything and where it’s all heading, and the second time is to address it with that familiarity fresh in your mind. Just because you’re the author doesn’t mean you’re going to remember every line you’ve written. This double-reading technique imprints the prose on your mind on the first pass so that you can revise with abandon on the second.
Finally, don’t do too much daily – only about twenty or pages or so (which will actually amount to forty pages or so when you read everything twice). The mind tires easily, so it’s best to stagger the digestion of the material.
4. The Red Edit – Structure
Change the colour of the font to red. This forces the brain to process the information differently. If possible, change the font also. Examine how your writing works as a whole. Does it make sense? Are you delivering your information in the best way to communicate your message? Are your characters layered? Are they necessary? Are there areas that are overwritten which could be more succinct? Etc. Be merciless. Test your writing’s defenses and exploit it’s weak spots. If, at any time, your response to a query is, I think it’s okay, then it’s likely it’s not okay.
As with the double read, try not to do too much daily.
3. The Blue Edit – Copy
Now change the colour of the font to blue. Again, if possible change the font to something else.
Focus now on the copy, correcting grammar, and punctuation. Examine your writing line by line. is it clear? Is there a better way to say things?
Importantly, give yourself lots of breaks as you’re doing this. It’s very easy to slip into reading your writing without registering anything.
2. The Normal Read
Return the font to whatever colour and type you’d normally use. Sit down and read your book as if you had picked it up to read recreationally. Whereas in previous steps, you would’ve read only a small, set amount daily, now read it in big clumps to see if the flow works. The pacing is something that’s hard to judge when you’re deeply immersed in the copy itself.
1. Run a Spellcheck
Even if your spelling is brilliant, run a spellcheck. Often, spelling errors are a result of mistyping, rather than not knowing how to spell.
If you’re using Word, turn off the grammar checker. The grammar checker can, unwittingly, introduce errors. if you have a fine understanding of grammar and can recognize when this is happening, great, but if not, it’s best to proceed without it.
Does this seem like a lot of work?
It is – but writing is. People who believe they can vomit out a first draft and give it one quick read and revision before sending it out are deluding themselves.
Writing is a lot of hard work.
Don’t ever believe otherwise.