Revisions in three steps

Editing.

Photo by flickr user Nic McPhee

Revisions are painful. Whether it’s a minor paper cut kind of pain or the mental equivalent of a gaping wound, if you don’t experience some amount of discomfort while revising your novel, there’s a good chance you’re doing it wrong.

To manage both the time and pain of revisions, I approach the process in three steps. There’s no sense agonizing over losing a favorite line when the whole scene will have to go in the end, so I start with the big picture. The first thing I do when I receive feedback from a critique partner is read through the general comments. Then I read through the mark-ups in the document itself, to see if there are questions there that I’ll need to address.

After thinking about everything my CP has said (and taking the time to go from staunchly defending my masterpiece to admitting my CP is probably right), I tackle the big issues. Maybe some aspect of a character needs fleshing out, or some part of the fictional world needs to be explained better. These are changes that affect most, if not all, parts of the novel in some way, so I like to take care of them before drilling down to the more nitty-gritty.

Once I’ve addressed the big issues, I look at things on a scene-by-scene basis. This is where I go back and look at the comments my CP left in the document to see if certain scenes or parts of scenes aren’t working. Typically, this step involves the most painful cuts and changes.

Step three focuses on line edits. At this point, I know I’m going to keep all of the scenes (at least until I get feedback from another reader), so I can agonize over whether I should have sunlight “gleam” or “glint” without worrying that I’ll cut that part later. I have the most fun with this round of revisions. The painful cuts have all been made, and I can focus on the polish.

How do you tackle revisions?

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