Strategic Tips for Novel Revision from One Beginner to Another

Maybe it’s been a couple of months since NaNoWriMo or you have a novel draft pining for your attention and you’re thinking: I would love to revise, but I have no idea where to start!

I feel you.

Turns out that there are not very many blog posts about novel revision that describe the logistical HOW of the herculean task. Do you buy a whiteboard the size of a wall and get all Jackson Pollock with post its? Do you roll 19th century and lay your handwritten pages over every surface like I anxiously watched Jo March doing in Little Women? I mean — maybe!

Writers should do exactly what works for them. As a writer who lives by that rule, I hesitated when I considered writing this post. However as a person who spent years (yes, years) spinning their wheels trying to revise one novel draft only to gain a lot more momentum with a second one in progress, I’d love to share what I’m learning.

Tip #1: Think in passages 

If you have the draft of a novel, you have written a series of passages that tell a story. When I think about revising an entire chapter, I get overwhelmed. But revising a passage? I can totally do that. Short form revision is so much more rewarding. It’s helpful for me to trick myself into believing I’m just writing a series of short form pieces.

Tip #2: Organize digitally 

Locating a passage is much easier if I have them organized. Not only can I copy and paste what I want to keep then rework, I can also make easy adjustments to my macro-structure. You might use Google Drive with folders for each chapter and docs for passages. Maybe you want to make the best novel writing investment ever and try Scrivener (thanks, Brooke!).

If your manuscript is in one long document, reread your draft and organize as you go! It’s actually pretty fun.

Google Drive

Tip #3: Think in sections

Remember plot maps from middle school? They’re helpful now! Novels always follow the same structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. Five basic sections. Why not map your novel in a similar way to take the pressure off grasping your story at a high level?

High level plot
Multiple perspectives

Tip #4: List questions and free write

There will be things you don’t know about your characters, setting, and plot when you’re rewriting — like a supporting characters backstory or like, how it will end… Write those gaps down as a list of questions and spend some time free writing or drawing or mapping or writing a new passage on each as you need. Other inevitable gaps can be addressed in the next draft.

Tip #5: Pace yourself

Because smoothing out plot and developing character and setting in draft two is a reasonable goal, let’s assume every passage won’t be “perfect”. How long would it take to revise one passage? A few days? Having a loose schedule will help keep the fire lit. My current schedule has me revising 2 sections of my book every 1-2 months. I’m behind but making progress, which is better than a dead stop.

The most important thing I’ve learned in the process of revising a second novel is learning my process. It’s been hard to convince myself that that’s enough — but maybe it is…

Write on, writers!

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