Thursday, April 4, 2013

How I Revise Pt. 2

On Tuesday, I posted about my revision process. Below is part two of that post. One thing that I'm surprised by is that I'm spending as much time and energy (if not more) revising this ms (my first after getting an agent) as I did before I had an agent. The work needed to get it done doesn't change and I still fight against the urge to say "It's good enough, I'll send it anyway." Real Actual Hilary has a great post about  the Ten Best Things You Can Do For Your Manuscript. Number one? Revise until there is no 'anyway.' Wise advice.

Part 1 of the post is here.

4) Make big changes. I tackle the big changes first. It may be a character that is flat, or has murky motivation. I re-write scenes, write new scenes, tear my hair out. I'll give you an example. From feedback, I knew I needed some context earlier in the ms that would give an action later in the book more meaning. So I wrote a scene. THREE TIMES. Until it was right. It was painful, I won't lie. It was the time during revision that I started to hate my ms. This is IMPORTANT. I think you need to hate your manuscript - at some time, just a little. Because it means that you see it clearly, warts and all. Hate it and then fix what you hate. It's the road to falling back in love with your ms.

5) Make little changes. Now is the time to change a name that has been bothering you. Or an action that didn't feel like it made sense to the character (She wouldn't say it that way. or She doesn't drink decaf.) This is also when you do two or three spell/grammar checks. Any awkward phrasing or weird spelling will out. I insisted on spelling abstainer as obstainer until the third draft - and not one Beta reader caught this spelling mistake. Also, watch out for crutch words - words that you are using too often and too lazily, almost without thinking. This is the time to weed those out, find alternate words to get your meaning across.

6) Print out you ms, get out your red pen and your little flags. I don't know why, but for me there is something profoundly different between reading on a screen and reading on paper. As soon as I print out the ms, a boatload of changes jump out at me. This is when the words you misspelled that spell checker didn't catch (like when you used they're instead of their) will rear they're ugly heads. It's also when you should read your words out loud. I'm not saying you have to read the entire thing out loud - though some people do this to good effect - but anytime a paragraph seems slightly awkward, or you find yourself re-reading a section, read it out loud. You'll hear what's wrong with it immediately.

7) Kill your darlings. You've heard this one before. You know you have to do it. And you may have been snipping with delicate rose shears until now, pruning, shaping. Good. But now is the time to be ruthless. If it's not serving the story or your character's voice - even if it's some really good writing - kill it. I did this yesterday with a phrase that I really liked. "Like a battering ram against a paper house." It's visual, it's evocative, poetic. But it was not working hard enough, not pulling it's weight. It doesn't add to the action of the paragraph. I cut it. Cut until it hurts, it will make your ms stronger.

8) One More Time.  After I go through all my little flags and make my changes, I put the ms down and read someone else's book. Right now I'm reading CROWN OF EMBERS by Rae Carson and IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS by Cat Winters. Think of this as a palate cleanser, to get the taste of your own words out of your mind. The next day (or sometimes two days later) I'll take out my ms ONE MORE TIME and read the entire thing from beginning to end. If there are any sections that I've still not made my peace with, anything that's still jarring me, I go back to revision mode. I resist the urge to say it's good enough until I read the last page with a smile and a sigh.

So, now a question for you - How do you know when your ms is ready? How do you know the difference between between endless tinkering and fruitful revising?


  1. Great post! You're right, there's a fine line between endless tinkering and fruitful revising. There comes a point where I know that I'm starting to do more harm than good to a manuscript and that's when I usually take a "Hands off now!" forced week away from it.

  2. I rewrote my ending upwards of six times, mostly because one of my betas kept telling me it wasn't good enough. Just spoke to my editor, and he kept gushing about the ending! This stuff takes time. And blood. And sweat. And hair loss.

    Instead of printing the ms out, I always read what I think are "final" drafts on my kindle. Surprisingly, I find it works just as well as paper (these days, printing the book intimidates me. Is it normal to be afraid of paper?)

    Okay, but I'm pretty sure you forgot a step. At what point does the heavy drinking come in?


  3. I revised my first book about 16 times. One thing that helped in the long process was having someone else read through it. My sister, my husband, and our sons have done that. They had marvelous suggestions of things I missed, or other suggestions. My sister, who is also my illustrator, was so helpful with the ending because it was okay, but not sparkling so I worked on it till it seemed just right.
    If you'd like to find out more about our books, please visit:


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