A couple of weeks ago, I completed the first draft of a new novel. I’m now in the revision stage. The first thing I do is read the manuscript in its entirety and annotate it—or, as I used to tell my college freshmen students, “talk to the text” (back when you could call a first draft a text and not have it confused with messages you send on your phone).
Many ask what my reading/revising process looks like, so here I will take you through it step by step. Keep in mind that this is my process—others may handle revision completely different, and that’s just fine. There’s no right or wrong way to revise, as long as you do it.
Step One: Print out the manuscript, find a pen, and dig in.
It’s important for me to work with a hard copy of my book-in-progress. I like the direct interaction with it—holding it in my hands, turning each page, and writing in the margins. A bunch of cool stuff is happening cognitively and physiologically that aids in this process too (although I kinda suck at explaining those things). Nevertheless, I love doing this part because I get to read my book-in-progress as a story rather than the fragmented chapters I’ve been working on along the way. I’m even particular about the kind of pen I use—I prefer Pilot ink pens with the very fine point. I used to love the purple, but they’re impossible to find, so now I go with blue.
Step Two: Ink it up.
So what did I mean by “talk to the text”? Essentially, as I read and respond, I’m having a conversation between the reader and the writer. Yes, they’re both me. But when I take on the role of reader, I am stepping outside my writing shoes and reading it with as fresh a viewpoint as possible. I am taking on the role of “intended reader,” making sure I’m reaching my audience and achieving my purpose. After all, the heart of revision is “re-seeing” the writing in ways you previously didn’t. Thus, the notes I make range from edits and/or word changes; crossing out sentences, paragraphs, even entire scenes; asking questions of the characters or the writer; and making suggestions or directions to develop and/or improve the story, scenes, characters, etc. The more I interact with the words on the page, the more the story comes to life, as does my vision for it.
Depending on the length and condition of the manuscript as well as my schedule, these two steps could take from a few days to a week to ten days complete. Rarely, if ever, longer than that.
Step Three: Back to the keyboard
After reading and annotating, I return to my laptop, open the draft and save it as a new file, and get to work with the marked up manuscript beside me. Page by page, I implement the notes. Sometimes I can get five or six chapters done in one sitting. Other times it will take me an entire day to rework one chapter or even one scene.
When I finish this step, I call the first round of revision complete and turn it over to my agent and/or developmental editor. They weigh in with their own notes, and the process begins all over again.
Those who know me know that these three steps are probably my favorite part of the writing/revision process. I love seeing how far the story has come and how much potential it has to be even better. I focus not on the flaws, but on the possibilities. And when I come across some bad writing, I am removed enough at this stage to laugh it off, be kind to my writer self, and see the fix. And even if I can’t see the fix at the moment, I know there is one. There always is.
Discussion: What is your revision process like? Do you like it or loathe it? Why?
Reminder: Have you taken the mid-career writer’s survey yet? If not, do it here!