So You Wrote a Book…Now What?
First of all, CONGRATULATIONS! I mean it. You did one of the hardest things in the world: you wrote a novel. That’s incredible, take a bow, pour some champagne & give yourself a high-five. You have pulled clay (words) from the earth (your mind), now comes the work of shaping it into a masterpiece.
Just a reminder that nobody but yourself will know what works best for you. So I’d recommend reading through this post with the mentality of “I’ll take what serves me and leave the rest”. Hopefully this gives you ideas for different things to experiment with until you find what system allows you to tackle revisions with confidence and ease.
I tackle revisions in phases, but only after I’ve taken some well-deserved rest. In my opinion, the best way you can objectively view your manuscript is when you come at it with fresh eyes. Allow yourself time to “forget” your story first and foremost. I recommend a minimum of 2 weeks, but ideally around 4-6. Just remember, writers aren’t kidding when they say that writing is re-writing so I hope you love your story, because you’re going to have to rewrite and reread it multiple times. Fair warning, I’m very “Type A” so I like to do a lot of upfront prep work before I jump in to actually revising so if this is not your style I totally get it, but it works for me.
Phase 1: The Read Through
If you’re like me then you work best with physical copies. I usually head to FedEx / Kinkos to print mine out and get it bound. I also just love seeing my babies printed out and it’s really cool to see how much it changes, grows or shrinks with each pass. Generally, I give myself a couple weeks to do a complete read through of my story & take notes as I go both in a separate notebook and the bound manuscript itself. Within the bound copy, I use a combination of multi-colored highlighters and pens (these are my favorite highlighters & these are my favorite pens) and assign a color for each type of notes.
- Red = Cut/Delete or copyediting errors
- Blue = Word replacement or echoes
- Green = Rework, move or shift
I read through each chapter and mark up the pages like a serial killer scribbling nonsense, but at the end of the chapter I write my overarching comments in the notebook. Some ridiculous examples of comments from my latest read through are:
- Bring her parents back from the dead
- Pepper in details about [redacted] like seasoning on a summer salad
- Make [redacted] less like a Disney villain
In the notebook, I also make sure to write down 1-2 sentences of what happens in ever chapter vs. what needs to happen in every chapter. An important thing to remember: notes are not only for things that need fixing! I made an intentional choice to also highlight moments I loved, things that made me smile or brought me joy, lines I absolutely thought I crushed in their delivery. It’s important to remind yourself why you wrote the story and the bits that solidify the desire to keep going for you. After this read through, I collect all of notes I took down and write myself an Edit Letter.
Phase 2: The Edit Letter
Rachel Griffin has a great blog post n how she does this for herself which I’ve adapted in ways that work for me. The TLDR version is that I go through all the notes and start grouping them into specific categories. Based on my latest story, these are the categories I used:
- World Building
- Character Arc
- Magic System
- Romance Arc
In each of these, I add the detailed notes I took during my read through as well as loose notes on how I think I could solve them. Something I never thought about until I read Rachel’s blog, anytime I reached for my phone/iPad or a distraction of some kind note it down to examine pacing a little closer. Also, if you have a critique partner, also known as a CP, and they’ve given you any notes of things to fix or work on, then add these to your edit letter as well.
Phase 3: Visual Mediums
I am a super visual person, so after I’ve written my edit letter I start tackling my outline in two different formats. First, I re-do my beat sheets. If you’re not familiar with Save the Cat, it’s a method for organizing the structure of your story to hit certain beats at certain points within the story to have the most (potential) impact. It is fantastic for my brain, I love it so much. Normally before I even start the drafting, I write out beat sheets for how I want (or think) the story is going to go. It changes as I draft and sometimes when I let inspiration run away with me. So re-doing my beat sheets with all the potential fixes for the main beats is a good way for me to outline where the big picture ideas need to land. Second, I break out the flashcards! Some of y’all are probably having some university PTSD flashbacks, but I promise if you are the kind of person who responds to visual cues then flashcards could help you. Removing the constraints of chapters and beats, I write out all of the important scenes that happen throughout the story. Whether it’s big moments like the catalyst or smaller soft moments that still greatly impact my characters, like almost-kisses or sharing one bed. I use 1 color for existing scenes and a different color for the scenes I need to add in. The reason I love flashcards, is because I can switch things up, cut and move scenes around before I even start writing!
Phase 4: Write, Revise, Repeat!
At this point, I’ve got a clear line of sight of what I love, what I need to edit, and what still needs to be created. It’s time to sit down and write! Now, you’re going to be tempted to fix everything all at once as you go through each chapter, but for the love of all that is holy DON’T DO IT! You should focus each revision pass on one of the above categories and tackle those in separate passes. I know it can seem like a lot, but trust me, it’s better than trying to hack and slash your way through the manuscript only to end up in tears, riddled with self-doubt.
Normally, I start with the biggest picture items first. Depending on the story, that’s usually plot and/or world building.
Don’t worry, with each pass you’ll realize you don’t need to read every single sentence at a line level. You can skim and find pockets to make changes. Revising this way actually saved me so much time in the long run. When I first revised Project Shadow, I got through about 80,000 words before I realized something still wasn’t working which led to me crying several nights in a row and actually stepping away from my story for almost a year. So please, just try it and see whether or not it works for you! Once you’ve gone through all of your categories and revised for each, it’s time for another break.
Phase 5: Another Read Through
Like I said, writing and reading go hand in hand so you better love your story! After your last revision pass, take another couple of weeks away and come back to it. Start another read through with all the changes & if there’s nothing big you want to fix, then send it off to your first set of alpha/beta readers. And above all else, don’t forget to celebrate another milestone!