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So You Want To Commit Novel: Revisions

Originally published July 2010

You’ve been through developing an idea, writing the first chapters, synopsis, plotting 1 & 2, slogging through the muddle in the middle, and writing a satisfying ending.  Now the short, out of order, and ugly first draft is done.

This book has eaten your life for six months to a year or five.  Pat yourself on the back.  The rough draft is done.

What happens next?

I take a day off from that project.  Or a week.  Or a month.  It depends on what else is happening in my work life.  Usually at this point I have a book coming back from an editor needing revisions yesterday, or a short story commission, or an editing project for the Book View Café.  Something is always in the works.  Banging my head into something entirely different removes me from the novel for a bit and gives me perspective.

If this is your first novel and you have nothing else to work on, go clean the oven, or go backpacking, catch up on all the chores you left dangling while your muse took over your life and you finished the book, do something different for a bit.

When your head clears and you come back to your masterpiece of a novel, do not despair at the stack of notes you need to incorporate into the text.  Do not tear your hair out (yet) just thinking about the amount of work you have to do.

Apply butt to chair, hands to keyboard and get back to work.

You have a finished draft.  You have a story arc and fleshed out characters to work with.  I enjoy revisions more than drafting because it’s more like a puzzle and less like work.

I start on page one and work forward.  Some days all I do is rearrange scenes and smooth out the transition.  Other days I add scenes and discover two more scenes are missing to make the first one work.  I ponder shifting point of view.  I kick myself for not realizing that the house on the corner is a 19th C carriage house instead of a 1920s Craftsman Bungalow.  I mean really, it’s so obvious.

Other days I glide through five chapters barely changing a comma.

One day the theme of the book will slam into my face and I stare gobsmacked at nothing for an hour or thirty-six until I figure out how to work that in.

Take as much time as you need to revise.  For me, that’s about half the time I needed to create the first draft.  Subsequent passes take proportionally less time.

At the end of this draft I have a lot fewer post-it notes dangling from my scene cards.  My second draft often increases my word count by 35%.  Other writers lose that amount.  It depends on your method.  Everyone is different.

At the end of draft #2 I am ready to send it to a few trusted beta readers.  But I wait a day or two to make sure I don’t dream a different ending or remember something very important that needs inclusion.  Then send it out I do.

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