Revising a piece of work is a daunting task, and it can be even more daunting than writing it. But a lot of what makes revision difficult is not knowing where to start.
In order to make your revision process go a bit smoother, here are some revision strategies to help you along. And if you read to the end of the post, you’ll find six bonus tips. Enjoy!
1. Take a Break
Before revising anything that you’ve written, you should take break from it. Taking a break will allow you to return with fresh eyes and some emotional detachment, which will allow you to be more objective about your mistakes.
The same strategy is used a lot in art. When we look at something we’ve made for too long, we get accustomed to our mistakes, so it’s a good idea to take a break and think about something else.
Come back to your work once you feel a bit more clarity and objectivity about your writing.
2. Revisit Your Inspirations
There’s no better time to revisit your inspirations than while you’re taking a break from your writing!
Revisiting your inspirations will allow you to recapture some of that spark that led you to writing in the first place, which can help energize you and prevent burn out.
You’ll also have the chance to analyze what details you like about your inspirations, and incorporate those details into your writing.
3. Outline What You’ve Already Written
Once you’re ready to revisit your writing, it’s a good idea to create an outline of what you’ve already written, especially if it’s a longer piece of work like a novel.
Keep track of all your story beats and plot points, as well as where they happen in the story. To go into even more depth, you should write down what happens in each scene, and what your characters’ motivations are.
Try not to get too absorbed when rereading your work to create your outline. Instead, skim over your work so that you can get a larger picture of what happens in each scene.
4. Collect Editing or Revising Notes
If you’ve made any editing or revising notes while writing, now’s the time to collect and read them all. Keep track of each part your notes refer to, and how you can fix the issues brought up.
5. Make New Editing and Revising Notes
If you notice any weak areas in your writing while rereading it, then take the time to make some new editing and revising notes. Mark down where the problem is and any possible solutions.
6. Create a New Outline
After you’ve created an outline of what you’ve already written, you should create an outline of how you want your story to go.
If you have both an outline of how your story currently is, and an outline of how you want it to go, you’ll be able to compare the two and see how they line up or differ.
When creating the outline of how you would like your story to ideally go, remember to keep track of story beats, plot points, character motivations, and any other information you think might be relevant.
Then, see how you can change what you’ve already written to match up with the ideal version of your story.
7. Revisit Character Arcs and Thematic Intentions
Before you begin revising your work, you should revisit your character arcs and thematic intentions. Character arcs and thematic intentions are usually the things that get changed the most while writing, so it’s possible that you strayed from your original intentions.
If you have strayed, then you should consider whether or not you want to go back to your original intentions. It’s possible that you prefer your new character arcs and themes over what you originally had in mind.
If you do want to go back to your original intentions, then you should write down some ideas of how you can get your character arcs and themes to line up with what you had in mind.
8. Make Notes on Dialogue
Another important thing to consider is your characters’ voices. Everyone speaks in a unique way, and your characters should too.
The problem is that it’s easy to get carried away while writing, or forget the voices that you wanted your characters to have. This can lead to either a bunch of characters with the same voice, or characters with over-exaggerated voices.
For example, in the novel that I’m currently working on, I have a character who never uses contractions. It can be really easy to forget that detail while writing, so I have to go back and make sure that he doesn’t use any contractions while speaking.
Makes some notes on words or phrases that each character commonly uses, notes on which words or phrases they would never use, and make sure to have some descriptions of what each character’s voice generally sounds like.
9. Begin Revising
At some point you just have to sit down and begin revising.
Use the notes and outlines you’ve created in the previous strategies, choose a starting point (I suggest either starting at the beginning and working forwards, or starting at the ending and working backwards), and begin to implement changes that will improve the quality of your work.
While revising remember to focus on cohesiveness during your story. If it helps, start with revising the broader story beats and work your way down to revising individual scenes.
Since you’ve made it all the way through the revision strategies, here are a few bonus tips to help you while revising.
1. Consider Beta Reader Questions
Beta reader questions are questions that get your beta readers to think about the pacing of your story, the character motivations and arcs, and where the boring parts of your story are.
While revising, pretend that you’re a beta reader and try answer those questions about your story.
Doing so will help you see things more objectively, and help you recognize the good parts of your story and the bad parts.
2. Divide and Conquer
When you’re feeling overwhelmed about revision, try dividing things into ‘chunks’. Then create a schedule for when you’ll revise those chunks.
For example, let’s say you have 365 pages of story to revise. Instead of seeing it as a huge ‘block’ of 365 pages, try dividing it the story into 5 page ‘chunks’. Then, try to revise one ‘chunk’ each week.
3. Read Out Loud
Things tend to sound different when we read them out loud, versus when we just read in our heads. Reading out loud can give you a more accurate representation of the flow of your sentences, and can help you catch more errors, so try it if you can.
4. Take Things One Step at a Time
This tip is very similar to divide and conquer, but if you’re still feeling overwhelmed, then just take things one step at a time.
Start with revising just one sentence. It can be any sentence. Then move on to the next sentence. Keep revising things just one sentence at time, until you feel more at ease with revision. Then go with revising a paragraph at a time.
Eventually you’ll build up your endurance, and revising will slowly get easier for you.
5. Change Fonts and/or Mediums
Our eyes tend to skip over details after reading things in the same font, at the same size, for a long time. That’s because you get used to reading things the same way.
In order to see your work from a different perspective (both literally and figuratively), try changing your font and font size. To take things one step further, you can try printing out your story if you’re used to working digitally, or type up your story if you’re used to working with pen and paper.
6. Highlight Parts of Your Work
In order to have a visual breakdown of your writing, try highlighting parts of your work.
For example, you could highlight all the exposition, dialogue, action, description, etc. using different colors, so that you can visually see where you need to break up long sections of just one kind of writing.
Or you could try highlighting based on sentence length, which will help you make sure you’re varying you sentence lengths enough.
Or you could highlighting different words, such as adjectives and adverbs, to see if you’re overusing them.
Revising can be a difficult task, but the best advice I can give you is just to break things down. Divide processes into steps, separate words visually, turn ideas into notes. And most importantly, view your work with objectivity.
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I publish posts each Wednesday, so check back next week for some new content.