One of the hardest things about writing a novel is going through and reviewing it. Depending on who you are this can be the most daunting task of writing. It can feel very overwhelming when you have 200-300 pages of a document staring down on you, and you know you have to go through every line of it.
So, it’s very emotionally draining to think about and it’s often (for me) a part that is tempting to procrastinate and rushed through.
But this is actually a stage of writing that can be very exciting. It might not seem very exciting right away, especially when you’re working against a deadline. It’s a moment in your process where it’s good to step away and come back to with an objective eye before you start.
Depending on your ability to do so, it’s good to take some time to let those thoughts settle. Perhaps come back to it in a couple weeks or more, if you can. There have been times when I walk away from a manuscript and I don’t come back to it for a couple years (I had that luxury, because I was in no rush to find a publisher until I was sure I felt confident enough in the story).
When you walk away, you eventually sometimes forget what happens in your story. When I took those years I had completely forgotten what had happened in The Seven Stones, and that was bad because I created it! There were some notable things I had remembered, but others I had forgotten entirely.
So, I went back and made a note of all the things I remembered and prepared myself to need to scrap or recycle the scenes I hadn’t.
While doing your first revision of the manuscript (linear review), if the things you forgot come up again and you enjoy them then listen to your gut. You might enjoy the entire scene. You might only enjoy bits and pieces of it. So, take the bits and keep them and rework or delete what doesn’t really do it for you.
So, that’s what I look for on my first brush through a draft. I go through as a reader and see what I enjoy, what I don’t enjoy, what’s missing for me if anything, etc. Sometimes nothing comes up right away and that’s totally fine. Don’t stress it.
On a second or third run through of your draft (because you sometimes want to do the linear review twice), I tend to come at from a non-linear timeline. I think about individual scenes. Sometimes this depends on how you structure your novel, but The Immortal Zero Series is structured in scenes and I have multiple characters to keep track of. So this next step is extremely important.
I will quickly scroll through the document and make a note on which character’s scene this is, a brief summary (like a sentence-long) of what happens, and what the scene accomplishes for the plot. Sometimes I just use keywords.
Sometimes if there’s nothing that happens in the scene or I’m struggling to summarize it, then I know I can probably scrap that part or use it as a foundation for something else (maybe just use pieces of it). I’ve had complete scenes where nothing happens and entire chapters I’ve taken out. Be brave here.
At this point, I’m ready for my third or fourth revision. I go through and read in a linear fashion, and at this point I’m doing high-level grammar checks, sentence structure checks, making sure paragraph breaks make sense (basically make sure everything in general makes sense). And I’m thinking of a little bit of structure as well as plot.
For instance, I’m reading to check the flow of dialogue: do I question who is speaking? Do actions throughout make sense? Does Leas light her cigar twice? Basically, noticing and fixing small inconsistencies throughout.
I’m also keeping in mind the timeline of my story and noting if the scenes make sense in the order they’re in, making sure the topics of conversation don’t overlap too much (ie. Someone knowing something they shouldn’t too early in the plotline, etc).
These kind of – dare I call them mistakes – are a good example of assumed knowledge and knowing when to kept all the information you know as the creator from leaking out too much too early.
Basically, any structure or content that doesn’t work in an effective way by moving the plot to the next trajectory point, then I have to question whether to keep it or not.
Which gets into deleting your content. A lot of people struggle with the idea of deleting parts of their story. I’ll tell you a trick: you don’t have to delete. Just cut it out and put it into a document titled “deleted scenes – title of your book”.
This way you’re not actually deleting it and breaking your heart. You’re just moving it out of the main timeline and into a document you can review later. Which, by the way happens all the time.
I have never gone back and totally copy/pasted entire scenes back in, but I have taken small parts and reused them. This deleted document folder becomes a great cheat sheet for any descriptions you might have fallen in love with but can’t quiet place yet. Or if you liked a particular joke or piece of dialogue, maybe you will find the perfect place for it along the way.
And this takes a lot of pressure off, when you know it’s not being deleted permanently. This will free up a place in your manuscript for a fresh take as well.
You’ll find you have a lot of deleted scenes in those documents that might make for fun free writing activity prompts later on too. It’s always good to review your writing and see if you’ve progressed or not.
In some cases I feel like I’m doing a complete rewrite, but It’s not too bad because I’m dealing with bits and pieces at a time. And like I said before, you can always step away and take a break.
In some cases I have come up against a problem in the plot or other issue, and I can’t solve it by staring at it. I’ll usually move on and work on a different part or – especially if the plot relies on that scene’s outcome – I will just wait (a few hours, maybe a day or two).
By the fourth revision it should feel like gritty troubleshooting – the point where you’re challenging your story at every angle and poking it to see if it breaks.
For the fifth or sixth revision, I usually like to get a committed and relatively reliable friend to review the manuscript and provide a high-level reader’s opinion. This is important, because they have no prior knowledge of your story or the background information that you have.
If they’re honest – and you don’t react like a child if they don’t like it right away – then you can get some incredible feedback that will have you looking at things differently, and asking different questions. If they are open to discussing it with you, you have found a valued companion (make sure you note them in your acknowledgements when you get published!).
Or you can hire an editor – > PennQuist Editing Service
In any case, no matter what your process is I hoped this helps some of you. Just a brief outline on my own revision and review process and a bit of insight into what to do with the first draft of that novel.
The revision process isn’t as daunting as it seems and it’s never impossible. You can definitely do it. Put some music on, get inspired, chill out a bit and remember why you write.
If you have a story you’re working on and are stuck, contact me. I will try my best to answer any questions you may have, even specific ones if you’re willing to provide a background of the plot points for me. Always looking forward to helping other writers.