Once you’ve finished your draft, it’s time to revise. Whether you’re staring at a 300-page manuscript or a 1500-word blog post, revisions can feel overwhelming.
“How do I know I’ve revised enough?”
“What if I still find a typo after I publish?”
“Where do I even start?”
All are valid questions, and I’m hoping this blog post eases your revision process. It’s the once I use for myself and the one I teach my clients.
Step One: Step back
No matter what it is you want to revise, you need to step away from your computer for some time. The more we work on something, the more we start to overlook possible errors, including blog or logic holes, incomplete sentences, and more. Let your brain take a break so you can tackle revisions with a clear mind.
I recommend at least one week for novel-length material, and at least eight hours for blog-length material. For short stories, spend at least two days away from the project before you sit back down for revisions.
Step Two: Set a deadline
Some writers don’t like to set deadlines because it impedes their creative flow. I totally get, and I feel that way on some projects, too. However, setting a deadline, even a flexible one, provides structure and goals for your revisions. This can reduce how overwhelmed you feel during the process.
When I write a blog post, I know roughly when I’m going to publish it. That’s usually three weeks out from when I write it, but sometimes it’s more like six. Either way, I let it sit for two days, then I give myself eight hours to revise. If I’m still not happy with it, I repeat the process. Because I know the publishing date, I know how many times I can repeat the process before I need to get the post out to my readers.
For a novel, the idea is the same. Knowing when you want to publish or approach agents will help you figure out how long you actually have to do revisions.
Of course, unless these deadlines MUST be met, you can always be flexible and adjust the deadline. Still, it’s good to have structure in place to give you some guidance on how to work.
Step Three: Developmental revisions
Once you know roughly how much time you can or will dedicate to the first round of revisions, it’s time to start with your developmental changes.
Developmental editing means looking at plot, theme, character development, worldbuilding, and other structural elements, NOT individual sentences or grammar.
You want to start with your developmental changes because they may require you rewrite, delete things, or add new elements. Wouldn’t it suck to waste time editing a paragraph to sound juuuuuust right, only to later determine that the entire scene needs to be thrown out?
Trust me, it happens to all of us. But that’s why starting with your developmental revisions will save you time and effort in the end.
When you’re working on your developmental edits, take your time to really look at each scene and chapter. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this scene move the plot (or subplot) forward? Does this scene develop one of the characters?
- Does the transition between this scene and the previous one make sense? Will readers understand how we got here?
- Does this dialogue sound natural?
- Is my worldbuilding consistent? Are readers getting a clear picture of the world and how it functions?
These basic questions will get you started on tracking the development of your story and characters and prep you for the next phase of revisions.
Step Four: Revising your language
Once you finish revising your plot and characters, it’s time to look at language. This includes your grammar and spelling as well as your overall tone and style.
Before you can get started on this phase, let your manuscript rest again. After you’re satisfied with your developmental edits, let your manuscript sit for at least a week before you come back to it. This will reset your brain once again so you can come back to revisions with a clear mind.
Cleaning up how your manuscript actually reads is hard work, but it’s fun! I love this phase of editing both client projects and my own stories.
Without getting into the how-tos of grammar and the English language, here are some things to look for while revising your words:
- Is it easy to follow along with dialogue, or do you need more dialogue and action tags?
- How does your writing sound when you read it out loud? This is one of the best ways to check the rhythm of your prose.
- Have you checked for crutch words and phrases?
- Are you writing in active voice?
- Did you run a spelling and grammar check?
If you want more resources on self-editing, check out this blog post.
Step Five: Establishing your next steps
What you do after the copy/line editing phase of revisions depends on several factors, mostly your chosen path to publication.
For the indie and self-publishing authors: After you complete your revisions and are satisfied with the state of your manuscript, you should search for a professional editor. You can take your manuscript far on your own, but an editor’s touch will help your story shine.
For the authors seeking agents: If you’d rather go the traditional route through a publishing house, chances are you’ll be ready to submit to an agent after you revise. Before you do this, proofread your story one more time. Agents don’t expect perfection, but you should put your best foot forward no matter what.
For the writers publishing on Wattpad or other social sites: Just like the authors seeking agents, once you’re satisfied with your revisions, proofread one more time. Since you’re probably writing chapter by chapter, your overall process will be quicker than the above paths to publication.
For the bloggers: Whew, you made it through a whole post that mostly focused on manuscripts! Your process is the same, though instead of checking plot development, look for logic and consistency. Make sure you proofread one more time before you hit publish!
Your Next Steps
Now that you know how to structure your revisions process, it’s time to get the ball rolling! If you’re about to start the process, tag me on social media @btleditorial. I’d love to chat!
And if you’re in the market for an editor or need coaching through the revisions process, fill out my contact form or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your needs.