My Top 5 Revision Tips

Working on revisions this month for my historical YA novel, I used some revision techniques that have proven especially helpful. I hope that by sharing them, your revision process will be made a little bit easier.

1. Find your weeds:
It’s difficult to tailor specific revision techniques to the varying types of writing an individual author bring to their work. So the first thing you must do is to identify your own propensities for disaster. You must be able to see the weeds in your garden in order to pick them out. How do you do that if the sun is blinding you? First and foremost, get the opinion of other writers or publishing professionals. Look though their comments for patterns to identify mistakes you regularly make (such as problems with point of view, dialogue, world building, or sentence structure). Put your work aside for at least a week, preferably much longer, and then come back to it and actively look for patterns yourself. Too many sentences in a paragraph that start with “I”? Too many confusing beginnings that are not properly anchored in time to other the scene/chapter before? Too many lulls in tension? You must be able to identify your areas of weakness if you are going to address them. Make a checklist so you can refer back to it to remind yourself of things to look for when you revise (see below).

2. Use technology to your advantage:
There are tons of benefits to using the “find” feature in Word. Do you tend to repeat a phrase too much? Are your characters nodding non-stop? Use “find” to check the number of times your narrator says “I knew” or is biting her nails. A little bit of sweating or throat tightening to show fear can be highly effective. But if your character does these things every time you have a vampire encounter, your reader will become annoyed. When you begin to notice those pattern from above where your character repeats things, use “find” to get an idea of just how often your are doing it. You may be surprised at how often you are slipping into a bad habit.

3. Make a revision checklist:
As you look for those patterns I’ve talked about, consider consulting a general revision checklist as well as making your own. This may even help you find your specific weeds when you step back and look at your garden from a more removed, clinical place. The following list may help to get you started, but you can add or delete items as appropriate:

Character development
Tension and Conflict
World building (Setting)
Point of View
Internal goals
External goals
Character arc
Word choice
Chapter arc
Sentence structure
Punctuation and grammar

4. Honor Your Process:
My friend and mentor, Pat Easton, is always telling us that iconic children’s book editor and publisher Dinah Stevens says “Your process is your process. Honor your process.” By this she means, as interpreted by me, that it doesn’t matter if you write longhand or on a computer, in a café or in your pajamas on your bed, or if you start in the middle and fill in the beginning and end. You may write too much and then have to cut, or you may not write enough and have to add in order to make it clear. (Pat Easton describes this as writers being like belly buttons: some are innies and some are outies, and both are okay). As long as you are producing, it doesn’t matter the method you use to get there. This is true even for revision, as long as you do revise thoroughly. Writers always talk about “drafts,” but I don’t think in drafts. To me, my work is one consistently changing draft. This is my process. But it is a draft which I weed regularly and thoroughly.

5. When you think you have revised enough, get a second opinion:
Just as it is wise to get a second opinion when it comes to your health, it is wise to get a second opinion when you feel something is ready to send out into the world. Don’t ask your mother, your spouse, your friends. Ask people who will tell you the truth.

What are your best tips for revision?

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