Revising can be one of the most demanding stages of any writing project. It can be both frustrating and fulfilling, energizing and exhausting. Having just completed a major revision of my YA novel, I know this firsthand. But overall, I have to say, I found this phase of my book project extremely rewarding. One thing that helped me tremendously was having a clear road map of what I wanted to accomplish.
Basically, I set myself four tasks: 1) to strengthen my story arc; 2) to introduce more dialogue; 3) to create a new character as a foil to my heroine; and 4) to create more emotional drama around my heroine’s choices and circumstances. This road map helped me stay focused and on target in making changes. The results really strengthened my story. I think this is the number one thing to remember about the revision stage if you’re about to enter it: incisive, insightful, and targeted changes can really push your project to the next level. If you keep this goal of significantly improving your draft in mind it can be a huge motivator.
Recently, I came across some helpful tips in an article called, “Simplifying the Self-revision Process” by Brian Klems, the online editor at Writer’s Digest:
1) Start at the beginning: As Brian puts it, “Editing is easiest when you follow the story the same way your readers would.” Whether you are proof reading or editing, work your way through your manuscript from beginning to end. This not only helps you catch pesky typos, it also allows you to see how your characters develop and your plot unfolds from a reader’s perspective. This makes it more likely that you’ll pinpoint plot weaknesses or places where your characters’ motivation and emotional arc can be strengthened.
2) Ax passive voice words and constructions: During revising and editing, Brian suggests that you “circle every instance when you use passive terms such as was, were, are, is, and have been. Writing passively is common for most writers (I do it all the time in my first drafts), but it slows down stories and makes it less exciting for readers.” How true this is! So if you identify and circle passive words and sentences, you can transform them into active constructions in order to make your story more dynamic.
3) Can all clichés: We all tend to fall back on these tired, overused turns of phrase when we’re in draft mode because we use them as “fillers” and keep moving forward. But our readers deserve better. As Brian notes, “We’re writers—creative writers—who owe it to our audience to steer clear of lazy writing. And using clichés is lazy writing.” Challenge yourself to come up with more colorful language.
4) For valuable practical advice on successful revising, take a look at the widely-used guide, Write Great Fiction: Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell.
And write on!