Tuesday Topic: Editing & Revision

You’ve finally completed the incredible task of writing an entire novel, but now what? How do you begin the Herculean task of attacking novel revisions?

Do you look forward to editing and revising, or do you prefer the drafting process? Do you revise before or after you have other people read your work, and how much do you take outside feedback into consideration in editing? Do you use outlines or charts? How do you tackle big picture issues like pacing and plot holes? Moving onto micro-edits, how do you best catch the small errors in your work?

Let’s hear what the Writer Diaries contributors have to say!

Vicki L.
Not going to lie–I rely heavily on my CPs when it comes to revising. That said, I always do a round of revising myself before I even send my manuscripts to my CPs. I do use outlines and charts, and use basic ones before I draft and then get more detailed after I draft, to make sure there aren’t any plot hole/pacing problems. As far as the nitty, gritty stuff, I struggle mostly with emotion and showing. So, when I do revise, I pay extra close attention to both and am always adding more words. (I’ve yet to trim a manuscript.) And when I get my manuscripts back from my CPs, there’s always more emotion/showing work to do! But, like I said, I have amazing CPs and use their badass skills to my advantage. 🙂

How do I take outside feedback into consideration? Well, it was Chuck Sambuchino who said: “If you don’t have any big problems, you know your manuscript’s about ready.” So, that’s pretty much what I use to determine whether or not I need to overhaul anything. If my CPs agree on big problem issues, then I tackle them. And 99% of the time, I agree with all of their line edits. But when it comes to nitpicky, personal things, like, “This character cries a little too much for me,” you have to ask yourself: a) Do I agree with them? Is there a reason they cry often? and b) Has this been mentioned by another person? It goes without saying that you can’t please everyone. Even John Green has haters. So, instead, when it comes to the tiny, preference issues, you have to decide if their proposed changes work for YOU. But, like I said, if you get to the point where all of your big issues are solved, then it simply comes down to these little things. And that’s when you know you’re at a point where you can move forward with that manuscript.

Laura H.

My first “draft” is usually more of a really detailed outline. There are comments all over it from things I need to add, explain, or flesh out later. I never let anyone else see that, because it’s really more like half a first draft. I’ll go through 1-2 times for known issues, then send to my CPs to find things I haven’t thought about.

For big-picture issues that affect multiple spots in the MS, I’ll make a list. I tend to rely on CPs and betas a lot to fix typos, because I have trouble seeing them on my own. Two things I’ve found that help are reading from the bottom up or exporting to .epub and reading on my iPad with white text on a colored background (and a different font). All of those things help trick my brain into seeing what’s there, instead of what I wanted to be there.

When I’m drafting, I want to be editing. When I’m editing, I want to be drafting. 🙂 The grass is always greener.

Tawney B.

Well, I have yet to revise! Yep, I keep writing and never stop. I move onto a new subject. But with help from Riki and others, I am revising away! I’m going through each chapter one by one. I make lists and post its to remind myself to add answers to the mysteries here and there throughout the book. I’m still revising now and hopefully finish something soon!

Amy P.

I give my rough draft to my critique partners. They are the only ones who get to see the first iteration of a manuscript. I revise based on their notes and then send to the person who gets it next, which is either my agent (who will give editorial notes before we go on sub) or my editor if it’s a contracted book. The same was true when I was querying. I sent rough draft to CPs and then edited based on their notes. I absolutely LOVE drafting. It is my favorite. Revising is tough, but once I get going it does become almost as fun as drafting. Almost.

Amy T.
Oh man! Wish I could give my rough draft to my CPs, but it is always such a mess.

After my first draft I go back chapter-by-chapter and look for big picture issues: character development, plot problems etc. Once I’ve figured those out then I go back and do a thorough read-through to make sure the pieces and parts are fitting together.

When I feel like the draft is fairly clean, then I send to my CPs. After I get their comments, I look for common threads and try to address those problems first.

It’s a long & winding process, but in the end so very satisfying!

S.K. A.

Like Amy T, my rough draft is usually a big mess only I understand so I clean it up a bit and then get feedback. But overall I am a chronic reviser. Sometimes I’m okay with that fact, other times I’d like to smack myself around.

As far as the actual process, after finishing my first draft, I do a happy dance and I smile. Then I sit and cringe because that’s when the real work starts for me. I like to revise a lot, so I focus on different aspects each time. The first time I’m writing I go for the general idea and the characters’ journeys. Second time, I focus on the big plot, more detailed descriptions, and character voices. The third time, I try to make sure I have things explained well, and that I have the humor splashed around along with the emotional moments. I check on facts (dates/timeline/repetition), show vs. tell, sentence structures, etc and from there on, I fix and delete, fix and delete. Then it goes to betas and I revise again. Then to CPs, revise, editor, and done. Unless I feel it needs one last revision ’cause I’m so hard to please. [Shrugs]

Carey T.

This is a super complicated question for me! Gah! Ok here goes. I revise A LOT of my writing as I go. For example, I usually re-read the few chapters leading me up to what I am writing now. It helps me remember the voice, events, words I’ve used to much, etc. So I catch a lot there.
But then when I am done done, I go back through and re-read.

The first novel I wrote from a table of contents I had created and bu following the story line of pretty much every princess story ever written. So, I knew there really wouldn’t be plot holes in that one. When I sent it to readers, I would take the feedback that seemed consistent, and revised.I queried it hard and got some agent feedback, so after a year, went back and rewrote a new first chapter, made some last changes, then was finished.

My second novel that I am querying now had sticky noted scenes that I made first, then used those to draft. Then I read and re-read like the first one. I also had an R&R on it, so I essentially rewrote the last half of it, along with a new first chapter and some key scenes.

The one I am working on now I created a Save The Cat outline in excel, plotted it, then started writing. This one is going MUCH smoother. It flows better. The nice thing about that is the plot is much tighter, so I am hoping I won’t have to do a ton of major revisions. Editing, I seem like I am always doing. Whenever I open any of my work up, I naturally start cutting and refining. I don’t think that is ever truly over.


I too write a draft, tidy it up, and get feedback. I like to get ‘big picture’ feedback as early on as I dare have patient CPs read, as I find that it’s the big picture, despite my planning, that I need assistance with. I’ll draft a couple of times getting that right, then do detailed edits last with more CP feedback at appropriate points. I do plan, and during revisions have drawn up a table of WHO is in what scene, what PLOT thread is there, etc, so I can revise appropriately.

Detailed edit wise I have a list of things i look for and I go through picking them out and tidying it up.

Jessica W.
I revise a lot while I write. It’s something I would like to get away from because it results in a lot of extra work on the front end and then a lot of those scenes get deleted or changed anyway. Regardless, I usually have a pretty polished manuscript when I’m done with the first draft because of it. I then send it off to one critique partner at a time. I apply the comments I get from each one before sending to the next one. If there are comments from the first person that I’m not sure I agree with, I hold off on those changes to see if the second person says the same thing. This way, it kind of improves with each person, but I also don’t make major changes I’m not sure about unless I start seeing a pattern on comments back from my CPs. After that, I will send it to a few beta readers. As long as none of them have any major big picture issues, I go through it a few more times for typos and crutch or passive words I missed. Then I’m ready to start querying the manuscript!

Kelly D.
I think most writers tend to have two different types of revisions going on: big pictures changes to resolve critical issues with pacing, plot and structure and in-line modifications designed to improve the quality of the writing itself.

For big picture edits, Im becoming really interested in visual methods of making these kinds of changes. Right now, Im making colored index cards of the major plot points in my current manuscript. Im hoping that when I revise later, I can move the cards around and have an easier time of spotting big picture issues.

For inline edits, Im typically looking for places to insert feelings and internal dialogue. I tend to be a very plot driven writer and I often find that my drafts are lacking that emotional connection between the reader and the characters. I really rely on my Critique Partners to help me gauge if Ive established an effective relationship between my characters and the reader.

Catherine C.

Revisions are essential to a polished novel, though most writers I know have a love/hate relationship with them. Early on, I wasn’t a fan of revision. I’ve grown to love it. The hardest part of revision for me is that it takes time: time to let the draft sit for a bit so you can view it with fresh eyes, time to read through the draft and re-map the plot lines and character arcs (because it never comes out exactly the way you thought it would!), and time to wait for CP/beta feedback. I’m more of a “writer reviser” than I am a “fast drafter” and I’ve tried to quell that a bit. Revising while writing/drafting is a natural thing for me, but it makes for a slooowww first draft.

One key to success in revision is fundamental: be open to change. Whether it’s adding a scene or cutting a chapter, revision isn’t successful if you think everything is right the first time. And it’s never right the first time. That’s why CP/beta feedback is so valuable. If two or more people have a similar comment on your work, it’s worth considering how you can revise it.