In last week’s post I talked about revising on your own and revising with help. Both hold challenges.
Revising on your own is tricky for the basic reason that you’re often too close to your own work. This means you may fall in love with your work and be convinced it’s perfect! Wonderful! Publishable! Or you may despair of your work and be convinced it’s garbage! Terrible! Unpublishable! Or you just may have a weird feeling there’s something not-quite-right but have no idea what it is or how to fix it.
Here’s what I recommend to do the most effective job of revising when it’s up to you to get it done:
(1) Put it away. Lots of people say this but you really do have to do it. After you’ve lived, slept, breathed a manuscript for weeks and months and years you have to put it in a “drawer” (file?) for at least a month before you can begin to see it through fresh eyes. Preferably you’ll leave it even longer. The best is if you can finish another work of meaningful length before returning to your first baby. That way you take everything you’ve learned in writing your next project and apply it to your revision of your first.
Other ways of putting some distance between you and your work so you can see it with fresh eyes include:
- Reading it out loud.
- Printing it out and physically turning the pages.
- Transferring it to your e-reader.
(2) Do the big stuff first. Although last week I asked you not to think of revising time as wasted time, I will say, revising the heck out of a paragraph you’re going to end up chopping does start to feel a little bit like a waste of time. So, once you have some distance from your work, give it a good, objective (as possible) read and really ask yourself: (A) Have I told the whole story or are there holes? (B) Have I told too much (backstory, description, etc.) (C) Are things in the right order? I recommend fixing these big things before starting on the smaller details.
(3) Ensure consistency. This is partway between a big picture thing and a smaller thing. Just realize while you’re writing and revising and deleting and moving, things have a way of becoming inconsistent. For example, your protagonist turns 40 in Chapter Six and then, in Chapter 12 she’s 39 again. Or she has a conversation about someone before she’s met them. (This actually happened in a fairly acclaimed published book I just read and the author actually had an FAQ about it on her website so, silly as it sounds, it can happen to anyone and that includes you).
(4) Work your way through the “common mistakes”. These can include overuse of adverbs and, one I’m really big on these days, filters. You’d be amazed what fixing these can do for your work. I recently worked my way through a 61,000-word manuscript. By removing filters alone I cut over 3,000 words. 3,000 words! That’s about five per cent of the length of my manuscript. I then also re-wrote two chapters and the end result was 5,000 words lopped out of my story. That’s just shy of 10 per cent. The exact same story was told in nearly 10 per cent fewer words and so each word stood out so much more than it had before. It was hard work but worth it.
(5) Dot “i”s, cross “t”s, etc. Many people pooh-pooh spell check and, it’s true, you absolutely cannot rely on it to edit your work for you but I struggle to understand why you wouldn’t at least run it on your work to have the really obvious mistakes (also the ones that make you look pretty stupid) picked out for you. It loaks slappy to hive tepos in your wark.
OK, that’s all I can stand writing about revising on your own. Time and children-home-from-school allowing I will post about revising with help next week!