The Revision Process

The revision process in novel writing is brutal. No way around it.

I’m working through the revision stage of my fifth novel, and it takes a lot of time – a lot of time your mind wishes you could use to be writing your next novel.

But it’s necessary, crucial, required, and absolutely worth it. Even though it’s tedious, boring, frustrating, and constraining.

Ahhh – the life of an indie author.

The procedures I used with all of my novels have, admittedly, changed quite a bit over the years. I thought my first novel was so well written that I glossed over this stage. Ha. I laugh out loud at my naivety. But writing is a learning process. If you aren’t learning, you need to question your commitment to your story.

Here’s currently my procedure. It will change again. It always does, but it provides a short blueprint to getting the book to print.

  1. First Draft – in the first draft, I’m not too concerned about how the language feels or sounds. My first and foremost concern is the story. The plot. I want to flesh out a good story and worry about the details later. So I push quickly through chapters, letting the language flow anyway it wills. It’s a great accomplishment to let the story come to a close. But now the hard work begins.
  2. Revision – for the second draft, I read through everything in detail, and I undoubtedly realize how hastily put together some of my chapters are. I can also tell where I was particularly inspired and where I was sludging through the writing mud without my boots on. I use this revision to start evening out the language. I pay close attention to phrasing, and start to find and fix any inconsistencies in characters, names, places, or anything else. This is a tedious process. When I finish, however, the novel is much improved over the first draft.
  3. Next, I do word editing. I specifically target words I want to get rid of: “that”, “really”, “very”, “got”, “then” etc… It’s amazing how easy these unnecessary words can slip into a manuscript. When the sentences containing them are revised, the flow and meaning becomes more crystalized. The flow is better. The readers will be happier.
  4. Step four is a out-loud read! I will read the entire novel out loud in order to hear the flow of the words and hope to improve the overall feel of the novel. Plus, it’s a great way to spot mistakes.
  5. At this point, I’m ready to sent it to my Beta readers. This will be the first time someone else has seen my manuscript. Once I start to get feedback from my readers, I’ll adjust the story accordingly.
  6. Next, on to my editor. Once my editor gives me the assessment, I make changes and do one more read-through, sometimes two more read-throughs before it is ready for publication.

Editing is a trade-off. If I didn’t also have a full-time job, perhaps I would do more, but there has to come a point when the book needs to be released. These are the procedures which are working for me. They aren’t perfect, and I continually tweak them, but I’m happy with where I am. I’ve come a long way.

Novel Tips from Hemmingway

Just for the fun of it, I searched “how to write a novel” the other day just to see what sage advice people offer in the craft of novel writing.

I enjoyed reading through the varied answers from experts on the subject. Some I whole-heartedly agreed with and others I completely disagreed.

The best advice, perhaps, was a writer who said not to listen to anyone else’s advice – not even mine. I loved that one. I tend to be a lone spirit (for good or ill) wanting to do things my own way.

The worst advice came from someone who said to never write in public. Well, that’s silly. I love writing in public and have my most prolific writing sessions when I’m out and about at a cafe, or lounging on a chair with the sound of crashing waves behind me. Obviously, this person, whoever he was, did’t live on a tropical island paradise like I do.

Two tips from Hemmingway, however stood out to me. I suppose because he’s always been my favorite writer. I love his simplicity and directness. He’s elegant with less, so I was eager to hear what he had to say. I didn’t agree with everything, but here’s two which I thought were helpful.

1. Always read the entire manuscript before you start writing again. When the manuscript becomes too long to practically do so, then, at minimum, read the last 2-3 chapters before starting again.

This is a great way to build continuity into your project, and I must admit, I’m not good at following his advice. I usually just read the last paragraph and charge into writing again. But, that’s probably why I have a TON of rewrites and revisions when I start going back through it the second, third, and fourth times. Note to self: read it more often!

2. Always stop writing for a day when you know what will happen next.

This is great advice which I almost always follow. You don’t want to come back to a project without knowing what happens next. If you aren’t sure, then work it out in your writing session so you know where to start the next day. ┬áThe point is, you don’t want to have an unproductive writing session where you get nothing done.

So there you have it. Two solid pieces of advice from one of modern novel’s great writers.