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  • Writer's pictureToni

How to start revising your novel.

At last, the resting period for your novel is over, and it’s time to start revising! You’ve been waiting days, weeks, or even months for this moment.

But now that you have your draft open again for the first time in so long, where exactly do you start?

That’s what we’re covering in today’s post!

Step 1: The first reread.

The first step is always to reread your novel all the way through from start to finish, as if you’re a reader who picked it up in the store.

If you haven’t touched it in a while (especially if it’s been months), this can be a bit of a shock to the system! Now that you have some distance from the original drafting process, you’ll probably find yourself noticing all kinds of things you never did while writing. These could be as big as giant plot holes or as small as realizing the name of one of your cities changed somewhere in the middle of the book.

Your first instinct will be to dig in immediately and start making changes, but don’t give in to the temptation! You may notice some things later in the book that completely change how you deal with the stuff you find early in the book, and vice versa. Instead, keep a notebook and pen next to you (or a blank document for those of you who are all-digital), and take notes on anything that needs changing as you find it.

Image text: Rereading your draft for the first time can be bittersweet. Be prepared to feel everything from pride to embarrassment to excitement to dread. It’s all normal! |

Keep in mind that rereading your book for the first time can also bring up some surprising feelings. You may find yourself liking your book a lot more than you did while drafting, or you may find yourself thinking it’s terrible. Both reactions are totally normal—don’t let either one stop you from continuing to the next step of the revision process.

(And by the way, I have a blog post coming up where we’ll go a lot more in depth on the first reread, so stay tuned for that!)

Step 2: Assess what needs doing.

Once you’re finished with your first reread, you should have a lot of notes in your notebook or separate doc. Your next mission is to organize these notes!

First, divide your notes into four separate categories:

  • Big Picture (plot, main character, etc.)

  • Middle View (subplots, pacing, etc.)

  • Zoomed In (writing style, sentence beautification, etc.)

  • Details (grammar, punctuation, etc.)

Within each category, try to organize your notes in order of highest impact. For example, in your Big Picture category, if you know that your main character’s motivation has to change, and that in turn will change the plot, then your main character’s motivation would go above the plot in the ranking because it has a bigger impact on the story.

Step 3: Start with the big stuff.

Once you have this list all categorized and organized, your basic revision plan will be revealed! Basically, you’ll tackle your notes category by category, from Big Picture all the way down to Details.

Start with the Big Picture stuff because it’ll have the biggest impact fastest. It’s easier to keep your motivation higher when you can actually see the changes you’re making having a real impact on the story right away.

Image text: Fixing typos in the first round of revisions is sort of like sweeping the floor before you pull it out to replace it—a bit of a waste of time and effort. |

Don’t move on to a lower category until you’re finished with a higher one. This means you might need several Big Picture drafts before you can head down to Middle View, and that’s okay! Or, if you’re a plotter especially, you may hardly need any Big Picture changes and can skip straight to Middle View in a single draft. This part is based highly on your personal writing process, so trust in that as you move through your revisions.


And that’s how you get started on revisions!

TL;DR version: reread your draft, take notes on changes you need to make, organize your notes in order of biggest impact, then start at the top of the list and work your way down over several drafts.

This is enough to get you started, but if you want to be guided every step of the way, I have a free downloadable for you! It’s a draft-by-draft revision guide that takes you all the way from your first draft reread to the final grammar sweep before you publish. It’s full of guiding questions to help you make sure you’re hitting all the important aspects of each revision stage. You can download it here!

And if you get stuck even with the revision guide, I’m available to give you personalized help! In my Editorial Evaluation service, I read through your entire novel, looking for areas that are already in excellent shape and areas that could still use more revision. Get an Editorial Evaluation.

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