Swoon Author Shana Silver's Editing Update: 7 Steps to Revision Success
I always joke with my writing friends that I draft as fast as possible to get it over with and get to the fun part of the process: revising. When first drafting, I often have to bribe myself to get the words down (write for 15 minutes and you get to check the internet for 5!). But when it comes to revision, I don’t need to trick myself into doing it. I love it.
I’m a Project Manager in my day job, which means I thrive on thorough planning. Therefore, I take a methodical approach to tackling edit letters. My philosophy is to break each change down into a bite-sized, manageable task so it feels less daunting to accomplish than trying to tackle all changes combined. Here’s my step-by-step approach to tackling revisions.
1.) Split the letter into two parts: easy tasks that can be knocked out in a paragraph or less vs. more complex changes.
A small, easy task might be to adjust a description or clarify a character’s emotion in a scene. I love to make these small changes right away so I not only get them out of the way but feel like I’ve made progress. Examples of more complex changes are combining two characters or removing a subplot and replacing it with a new one (both things I tackled in this revision!).
2.) For more complex changes, brainstorm each one separately.
I do this by separating each change into a different file (I revise in Scrivener, which easily manages all files related to a project) and outlining what currently happens in the existing draft. This not only helps me remember what I currently have but gets the wheels turning in my mind to figure out how to fix it. From there, I start to map out how to solve for the change. I do this first on a global scale across the entire novel and then start breaking it up into scene-level changes. Sometimes I’ll map out multiple options to solve for the same change until I figure out which one has legs and works best. I usually reserve a full week (or more!) to plan the revision and fully think it through. I think it’s important to do all the prep work up front so when it comes time to actually take a metaphorical scalpel to the novel, I’m confident in how to make the cut.
3.) Create a revision guide for each individual scene.
For each scene, I write out exactly what needs to change, be added, or be deleted. This way when I’m working on the scene, I can focus on only those changes.
4.) Write new scenes first.
I like to knock out any new scenes right away for a few reasons. First, it helps ground me in the mentality of the revision if the new scene already contains the changes I need to make to the rest of the book. For example, if I need to combine two characters, I’ll write the new scene with those characters already combined so I start to get a feel for the combined character’s voice and mannerisms, which helps me revise existing scenes. Second, if I write them early, by the time I get back to them on the next pass, enough time has passed that I can read them with fresh eyes again.
5.) Revise by change, not by chronological order.
I’ve found that I get the best results when I focus on a particular thread across the entire book vs. trying to do every change required in a scene in chronological order. For example, I might do one pass where I combine two characters into one character in every scene those characters appear in, but I don’t touch the other elements that need to change in those scenes. Yet. The next pass will be to delete the subplot and replace it across every scene that it impacts. I like doing it this way because it helps me focus on a particular thread and get it right in terms of story arc and beats. It also ensures that I go back over each scene several times over the course of my passes, so by the time I’ve completed all the changes, I’ve already given the book several reads.
6.) Line edit and read through.
This is the easy part! I’ve made all the large and small changes and now it’s time to do a final read through. I fix minor consistency issues here, voice up scenes that need a little more oomph, and adjust sentences as needed.
7.) Send it off!
Just kidding. THIS is the easy part. Being done!
No matter how you revise, what’s important is finding a method that works for you.