I realize we covered a bit of this in “How to Write a Novel”. But, dear reader, a quarter of a blog post simply doesn’t work to convey the fresh hell that is revisions (a hell I am intimately familiar with, and am revisiting right now, in fact).
So let’s get to it. You’ve finished your rough draft, and you’re wondering what you should be doing now, aside from cleaning up the ten coffee cups and sixteen billion Twix wrappers on your computer desk.
Enter STAGE ONE:
Stare blankly at your manuscript. Try to wrap your mind around what a colossal mess it is. Freak out.
Get out the manuscript again. Gear up with chocolate, coffee or tea, scented candles, and your coziest reading socks. Repeat after me: I do not suck. I will rewrite this. I am a literary genius. I am going to be published and make loads of money and appear on Oprah.
Now repeat it again, like you mean it.
Now sit down and reread what you’ve written.
Okay, so maybe it’s not great yet, but that doesn’t mean YOU aren’t great. Now that you’ve read it over and taken notes, you’ve got something to work with! You’ve discovers problems with character development, plot, pacing, world building and grammar and spelling.
And it’s on to STAGE THREE:
Creating a game plan.
Okay that’s not as easy as it sounds, is it? It can actually be pretty overwhelming. Like, really overwhelming.
BUT, if you sit down and take a few deep breathes, maybe go to other authors who have done this before and ask them what the best method is, or check out great websites like Susan Dennard’s (who has an epic battle plan laid out for revisions) it can be a little less intimidating.
At the very least, you can break it up “problem by problem” (Character, plot, pacing and world building), and do those edits one at a time, or chapter by chapter. Also, color coding, sticky notes and highlighters are helpful, both for organizing your work, and make this process a little more fun.
After you’ve mapped out your revisions strategy, you enter into STAGE FOUR:
I mean, editing your manuscript…sorry, easy mistake. No kicking anyone into wells, okay?
Remember, tackle one thing at a time, either chapter by chapter, or problem by problem. It may seem overwhelming at first, but if you take it one step at a time, your problems become a lot smaller and easier to tackle. Take your time with this stage, don’t rush it. Even if you’re eager to get it out to beta readers, rushing through revisions just creates more work for yourself later. It should be as good as you can make it before anyone else sees it.
Sending your work out into the world. This is the scary part, the part where you have to send something you slaved over for months out into the world. And you’re pretty sure that everyone is going to hate it. And not just hate it with the kind of “meh, didn’t finish it” hate, but the hated it so much they set it on fire and then ran it over with their car to put it out, left a bag of flaming dog poo on your doorstep, printed out a picture of your face and drew mustaches all over it, kind of hated it.
But it doesn’t matter, you gotta get stage five over with. So you send it off and hold your breath and…woah, one of them writes back and says they like it. And maybe a few you never hear back from again, but eventually all the advice comes trickling in and you take notes of the stuff you agree with, and disregard what you don’t, and make more revision notes for yourself and a new plan of attack.
And then it’s onto STAGE SIX:
The third draft of your manuscript, and the last big round of edits (maybe) that you’re going to be doing. You’re almost there.
Once you’ve finished all the major revisions it’s time for STAGE SEVEN.
Yes, I know, there’s one more stage. Just one, I swear!
This is all the small annoying stuff, typos and grammar errors and misplaced commas. Do a read through for all of this and mark it down, then back to the computer to edit one last time. Give it one last polish.
And you’re done!
You’re finished, celebrate! Buy yourself some chocolate (or if chocolate is what you’ve been eating up until now, maybe buy yourself a salad), shout about it on twitter, tell your friends and family, treat yourself to lunch. Do something to reward yourself for a a job well done. You finished a novel, holy crap!