I once read a quote that said that drafting is when we shovel sand into the sandbox, and when we revise, we turn those piles into a sand castle. I love that visual!
Revising is truly where the hard work of writing is done. It is the stage when the first draft is complete, the ideas presented, the content is there. Then during the revisions, the beauty is uncovered, molded, and presented. That sounds very neat and orderly, but revising can be anything but.
Ask any writer what their revision stage is like, and you will get the process and approach that works for them. Ask several writers, and you will get varied approaches and strategies.
Revising can also take on different lenses. Are you doing big picture revisions? Looking for plot holes or gaps that impact the flow of the story? Are you looking more narrowly at maybe word choice and sentence structure?
I was recently chatting with a group of student writers and they asked me how I approach revision, so I shared my process.
- First Revision
o This is right after the first draft is done. Personally, I need a hard copy, so it is printed out and usually in a binder. As I read through the draft, I am marking it up. Not so much editing, as noting places where the story stalls, or where the dialogue does not sound authentic, or where I need to do a little more research to make sure I am getting details correct. Typically, it is two read throughs at a minimum. Then all the notes and changes are made on the digital draft.
- Second Revision
o This one is based on the feedback of beta readers or other experts I have had read the manuscript. I typically send them a hard copy so they can mark their thoughts, questions, ideas, or impressions, right on the pages. Depending on how many beta readers there were, I may have more than one marked up manuscript in front of me as I plow through, read their feedback, and make revisions accordingly. This can be lengthy and time/energy consuming. This is also very enlightening, because this is the first chance I get, as the writer, to see how the reader is connecting with my work.
- Third Revision
o This is the fine-tooth comb through. The close editing stage where I make sure the manuscript is truly ready to begin the submission process. Some writers hire editors for this stage, but I typically do not. I try to make sure that a bit of time has passed since the last time I read the manuscript (a week works for me) so that I come to the story with fresh eyes. I also try to read it in as few sittings as possible. Doing it all in one sitting is ideal, but not always realistic.
- Fourth or Fifth or Sixth Revision
o These revisions happen on an as-needed basis, based on the results of the submissions of the manuscript. At this stage I also submit to writing contests, so I may have feedback from that, or feedback from agents or publishers to which I have submitted the manuscript. Sometimes their comments, and even their rejections, can give me more food for thought and ideas for further revisions.
- Requested Revisions
o Often, once a manuscript is under contract, the editor, agent, or publisher may ask you to make specific revisions. Publishing contracts often have language that addresses this issue, and specify the responsibilities of the writer in this regard. These revisions usually have a very specific focus.
Revision may truly never be completely over, but the fact is that each time the work goes through a revision, it gets better. So instead of thinking of the work of revising, think of it as the opportunity of revising.