Revising: Where to Begin?

Once you’ve identified the revisions you want to make to your manuscript—maybe after considering the reverse outline method or asking yourself these questions about challenging feedback—the next step is diving into the revision itself.

As with almost everything related to writing, it can take some experimenting to find the revision approach that works best for you and your current manuscript. In fact, many of the approaches below are equally applicable to writing an initial draft. Some authors choose to write and revise chronologically, starting with the first page and working toward the final chapter. Others start with the scenes that they have the most ideas about, jotting down additional ideas as they go. And others write and revise in stages, choosing a focal area for each round and concentrating primarily on those story threads.

If you’re having trouble getting the revision ball rolling, try starting with a change that you’re excited to make. Maybe you’re dreading the first chapters of your book but can’t wait to expand upon a later action scene—give yourself permission to go straight to the scene that feels the easiest to address in the moment. This approach allows you to return to trickier revisions after you’ve built up some momentum.

Alternately, you might feel distracted by the thought of a difficult scene looming in the future, or maybe you’re more motivated to plow through a tough scene when you know that you have an exciting scene to work on afterward. In that case, you might choose to get the less appealing scene out of the way first, saving the scene you’re looking forward to as a reward.

When possible, try to start your revision with the changes that will have the largest ripple effects—such as cutting a key character or adding a major plot point. Prioritizing revisions in this way can minimize the frustration of revising sections that you later decide to cut entirely. It can also be motivating to know that the revision is going to get easier as you move forward. Of course, whenever you need a break from tackling larger changes, you can always switch your focus to smaller, more doable ones or take a break from revising entirely.

If you are looking for ways to minimize distractions during revision sessions, consider setting a timer and turning off your internet and phone for the full amount of time you’ve set aside. There are a variety of high-tech and low-tech options available—from basic kitchen timers to time-tracking apps to internet blocking programs. Some authors like to use the Pomodoro Technique, in which you write or revise for 25 minutes before taking a 5 minute break; others prefer to set aside larger chunks of time when possible.

Lastly, if you feel like your eyes are glazing over whenever you open your manuscript file, try changing the format. If you typically edit on your computer screen, try printing a few chapters, using a tablet or e-reader, or reading a section aloud. Even just changing the font and type size can help to trick your brain into seeing your manuscript with fresh eyes. Reading aloud can be particularly useful for dialogue-heavy sections and for picture book manuscripts.

Your Editor Friend,


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