Revisions and Editing

Now that November is over, wrimos the world over are taking a look at polishing up their first draft. (Assuming it’s finished. Which, I wrote seven chapters and over 97k words and my novel isn’t finished yet either, so having a complete novel isn’t necessarily dependant on whether or not a wrimo hit 50k).

Now, I’m not an expert on this topic. I’ve much more experience with the front-end of novel writing. The research, the plotting/pantsing, the character and world creation, and the writing itself. But this is the fifth NaNo that I’ve won, and so I’m getting more and more comfortable with the editing and revision processes. Still, I read several other blogs and articles about this topic and condensed it down.

Word of caution: I’ve condensed and tweaked things to reflect the type of editing process that makes sense for me, and is similar to what I myself do. This may not work for you.

Now, depending on whether you planned or pantsed your way through your novel, your revision process is going to be a little bit different.

Pantsing to Planning

For Planners, your first step is already going to be done for you. For Pantsers, I’m afraid you need to create an outline. It’s very hard to make a coherent revision and/or rewrite without a good understanding of where the novel starts, how it progresses, and where it ends.

Personally, I don’t worry too much about the grammar and nitty-gritty details at this point. For me, the first revision is a full rewrite. I take my first draft and I chop it into sections to be rearranged for better delivery. Often this reveals gaps that need to be filled in. When I did my rewrite of Legend’s Legacy I added extra scenes and extra characters. But most importantly, I deleted the scenes and characters that were cluttering the place up.

At first, it might seem like more work to start fresh, so I think we all have a tendency to resist the need to do this—but I’ve found that when I stop tinkering with something that isn’t working and try another approach instead, it almost always leads to a speedier solution.

-Writer’s Digest, 4 Truths That Will Revolutionize Your Revision Process

Once you’ve done your first rewrite, that’s when it’s time to start looking at the smaller changes. But just because you’ve done one rewrite, don’t assume you won’t have to do another. Even as I wait for feedback from beta-readers (my original group is very slow >.<), I know that I need to add some extra scenes, maybe an entire extra chapter or two. One of the characters I added didn’t get fully fleshed out during my rewrite, and I’d like to showcase him a bit more. Rather than simply waiting until the sequel to do so.

But while I wait I will open Legend’s Legacy up to random spots and edit for a chapter, 20 minutes, or the end of the novel, whatever I have time for really. I find that this way, I catch more of the small errors. If I start from the beginning and read it through, I stop catching errors after a chapter or two. It’s like I fall back into the mindset I had when I wrote it. My brain glosses over the errors because it knows what I was trying to say. This can be problematic, obviously. Especially because I worry that my beta-readers are going to fall into a similar trap.

In today’s super competitive market, agents don’t bother with manuscripts unless they’re clean.  They don’t want to babysit a new writer, unless they have great interest in that writer’s book.  Don’t risk this.

-How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book, A Writer’s Revision Checklist

Once you’ve finished catching your small errors and have gotten your feedback from the beta-readers (which is just a fancy name I’ve given to my family and friends who are proofreading for me), it’s time to decide if you need another rewrite, or just another round of tweaking. Assuming the only major changes I need is a chapter or two giving more weight to the characters who joined the cast during my first rewrite, I’ll write those chapters and send them back to my beta-readers as stand-alones before doing a final round of tweaking. If there are other issues that simple tweaking won’t fix, then I’ll just do a full rewrite and give it back to my beta-readers for a second round of proofreading.

Something I’m looking forward to doing was suggested in the Write to Done blog (How to Revise Your Novel at a Glance). You shrink your entire novel down into about 30 pages, then print it off, and spread it out on the floor/a table. It’s easier to track character arcs, conflicts, and the pacing of the novel when you can see it all in a single glance. Now, I’m not sure if I’m going to do it before my final tweaking/second rewrite, or after I’ve got it back from the second round of proofreading. I suppose it will all depend on what sort of feedback I (eventually *sigh*) get from them.

Finally, before you rush off to edit your first draft into a masterpiece, I strongly suggest you take a break. NaNo doesn’t start their “revision months” until the new year. Personally, I didn’t start revising/rewriting Legend’s Legacy until over a year after I finished the first draft. I needed that time to unwind and return to the story with fresh eyes. You might need less time, you might need more. If the thought of having to write more with those characters feels dull, then you probably need a bit more time. Keep in mind, that after awhile it might feel ‘dull’ because you’ve removed yourself too completely from the story. Occasionally see if you can get yourself excited by getting back into that world’s mindset. If you can, then it’s time to start editing!

Here are the sites I read, but didn’t reference/link to above:

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